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Floating Art Project Finishes Bay State Tour In Stockbridge

A massive balloon covered in lights with a jet of flame shooting into it floats above a stage with a drum kit, drummer, and guitarist below
Josh Landes
LA rock duo No Age perform under New Horizon, a sculpture by Doug Aitken

A multimedia art project that has trekked across Massachusetts finishes its voyage in the Berkshires this weekend.

Thursday night, glass of white wine in hand, artist Doug Aitken stood in a field in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and looked back on the past two weeks.

“Here we’re finally at the Berkshires with New Horizon, and looking at Field Farm, this vast, sprawling field of green, the trees framing it," said Aitken. "And in front of us is a 100-foot mirrored sculpture.”

Since mid-July, Aitken has been on a tour of the properties under the purview of the Trustees of Reservations, the nonprofit that served as a patron for the project. The aforementioned sculpture is the centerpiece of each of New Horizon’s six stops, all the way from Martha’s Vineyard to the Berkshires.

“It’s a hot air balloon which is used as a nomadic studio, and then when it lands in different places, we’re able to have happenings," said the artist. "Every happening is a completely different combination of conversations, speakers, musical performers, ranging from Scott Bolton, the author of The Juno Mission with NASA to Mac DeMarco, speaking to the crowd in Plymouth to tonight, Destroyer and No Age.”

Destroyer – the alias of Canadian singer-songwriter Den Bejar – took the stage beneath the silver monolith to perform as the sun set.

As the natural light receded over the mountains, the exterior of the balloon burst into ripples of color streaming up and down its vast, shimmering circumference. In the basket below, great belches of flame kept it taut in the cool night air.

“The irony of this project, the irony of New Horizon, is really that so much time went into creating it, building it, figuring out how to fly, how to make a sculpture that could fly, but really the energy in the project is improvisation," Aitken told WAMC. "The energy is in improvisation in that we’re working with the wind, the sun, the rain, the landscape, and we’re creating something that is completely feeding off the personality of each landscape and is continuously moving.”

At first, Aitken was approached about creating an artwork for a specific Trustees location. He hit a dead end trying to pick between different landscapes, and decided to shoot for something much more ambitious.

“I said why don’t we not choose a location, but if we can create a shape-shifting artwork, something that’s changing continuously, but more important, is nomadic, we could actually make a contribution," he said. "We could do something that is moving from society to society, from people to people. People could see it out of the corner of their eye in a way they’d never see inside a museum. But also we could have these polyphonic dialogues with all these different areas. This isn’t a music festival, it’s not a cultural festival, it’s a moment in time for people to get together and really provoke each other and share ideas.”

This weekend in Stockbridge marks the last opportunity for New Horizons to fulfill that mission.

“Naumkeag is the last chapter of the project, and there you have this kind of huge green valley flanked by mountains and forest, and there I think we’ll really focus on the balloon at night, the New Horizon sculpture at night," said Aitken. "Watching it illuminate and the patterns and the choreography of light and that will be set to the musical composition Terry Reilly’s ‘In C.’ And ‘In C’ as you know is the first written piece of minimalist music, and also Terry is 83 years old and he is one of my closest friends, so for me it has a kind of great personal resonance.”

The night ended with swells of light flooding the balloon as it hovered above the earth behind Los Angeles rock duo No Age, framed by the dark Berkshire hills.

New Horizon will be on view both weekend nights at Naumkeag in Stockbridge.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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