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OPUS 1 paints Columbia’s woods with innovative visuals and music

WASHINGTON — The woods of downtown Columbia, Maryland, will serve as a living, organic canvas Saturday for OPUS 1, an interactive art installation featuring an eclectic mix of sight and sound.

Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods will host the inaugural one-day festival, which comprises 11 large installations.

They include:

  • The Lighting Cloud, an inflatable air pavilion by architect Jesse Seegers that offers both a performance environment and a backdrop for dynamic projection art
  • The Projection Cube, which surrounds the viewer with video art curated by multimedia artist Peter Burr
  • The Mutual Wave Machine, an interactive neurofeedback installation by Suzanne Dikker (in collaboration with other artists and neuroscientists), which organizers said “embodies the elusive notion of ‘being on the same wavelength’ with another person through brainwave synchronization”

The tree-filled space around Merriweather Post Pavilion offers new creative potential to artists who already think outside the figurative box, said Ken Farmer of Wild Dogs International, OPUS 1’s curator and producer. 

And for the viewer, the festival offers an opportunity to break free of those glowing rectangles that frame an ever-growing part of modern life.

“The idea of getting away from screens is fundamental to the experience,” Farmer said. “We’re so inundated by media culture now, whether it’s cellphones, computers etc. — taking that to the level of screens being displayed in a forest canopy as something where content is less of a sort of isolated portal and more of an immersive experience.”

Another advantage of this unconventional pop-up gallery in the forest: an installation’s interaction not only with the viewer, but also with other installations nearby.

“I think what this site allows is something — I keep using this word — ‘journey,’ where you’re moving between works, but there is a level of voyeurism and sort of overlap or interconnection between the different installations,” Farmer said.

“So while you may be at the Mutual Wave Machine installation — sitting in this pod with an EEG [electroencephalography] headset on, manipulating the sound and visual environment around you — you might be looking across the forest and see someone standing in front of a green screen with their facial features being projected at a large scale into the surrounding trees.”

Such a one-of-a-kind cultural experience is a good match for Columbia, which itself has aimed to embody the best of both city and suburban living. OPUS 1 exemplifies how the 50-year-old community is growing its cultural offerings amid a reboot. 

Vanessa Rodriguez, director of marketing for Howard Hughes Corp., said she wants to help bring arts and culture to a new level.

(Howard Hughes, which oversees Columbia’s redevelopment, is presenting the festival.)

“While we have the storied Merriweather Post Pavilion, and it’s such a beautiful setting, I really wanted to take it and work with Ken on bringing a different side to that and re-imagine what else this area can be used for,” Rodriguez said.

OPUS 1 runs from 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free, but organizers encourage reserving tickets online.


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