Come and get your Swerve on

Times Staff Writer

The real impact of the visual art at this weekend’s inaugural Swerve Festival will depend on local weather patterns around Barnsdall Art Park.

Ten 10-foot pinwheels with panels decorated by artists such as filmmaker Mike Mills, photographer Terry Richardson and visual artist Chris Johansson will be staked into the grounds around Barnsdall, where the art in this temporal installation will fully reveal itself only when the wind blows. If it blows.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a windy day,” says the festival’s art curator, Aaron Rose, known for co-producing the traveling exhibit Beautiful Losers.

The custom-made pinwheels are one of several oddly compelling installations in the Swerve Festival, a three-day love letter to “West Coast creative culture” -- or at least the vision of it embodied by skateboarding, surfing and graffiti. With a calculatedly mischievous bent, this multimedia festival features a slew of screenings, music performances and an interactive, open-air art experience designed to engage audiences in nontraditional ways.


Despite the potential problems of a weather-dependent art installation, Rose was determined to intersperse art throughout the festival, placing it in obvious locales as well as where festival-goers might stumble on it accidentally -- on their way to the bathroom, perhaps.

“I worked on one of the Lollapalooza tours where they had ‘the art tent,’ and it was horrible,” Rose says. “The idea of creating art around the park seemed much more inspiring than just hanging a bunch of art on the walls. I wanted to find ways of presenting art in an outdoor environment.”

To that end, Swerve will feature an installation that blends nature and technology. Twenty-five “Listening Trees” in Barnsdall Park have been outfitted with vintage, powder-blue headphones along with iPods loaded with original music from a host of bands, including Animal Collective, Black Dice, Japanther, Money Mark and Mika Miko.

“What I love about the Listening Trees is that once you put on the headphones, you can have a private moment in the middle of this very public space. Despite being in the middle of all this activity, you can totally check out,” Rose says.


Born of a drunken union between street art and high art, the Swerve Festival flaunts a gleeful willingness to traipse across traditional boundaries between music, filmmaking and visual art. It’s a vibe honed to perfection by festival director Jonathan Wells.

Wells founded and spent a decade shepherding the now-defunct Resfest, a digital film festival that was most notable for helping legitimizing music videos as an art form. When action sports network Fuel TV came calling about creating a new festival, he transitioned naturally to Swerve.

How does a festival initiated by a cable network with a music lineup programmed by ASCAP come to embody such a self-consciously do-it-yourself subculture? It’s all part of a cross-disciplinary aesthetic that validates artists’ commercial success with ample street cred.

“There was always an undercurrent in Resfest’s programming that focused on subcultures like DJing and graffiti art,” Wells says. “And these cultures are very tied to skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. The filmmakers and the artists we’re featuring come from New York, the United Kingdom or wherever, but they all share a similar do-it-yourself sensibility.”

Painter Sage Vaughn, who created a mural for the art program, will also premiere a music video he co-directed with animator Syd Garon for N.A.S.A., a band comprised of Sam Spiegel (a.k.a. Squeak E. Clean, a.k.a. brother of Spike Jonze) and Brazilian DJ Zegon, while N.A.S.A. performs at the festival’s opening night party.

Other art projects in and around Barnsdall include a trio of free-standing murals; a free Sharpie tattoo booth manned by the Smell’s semi-official muralist, Jesse Spears (sadly, the ink will eventually wash off); and a free Polaroid photo booth set against a graffiti-inspired backdrop created by art duo Gents of Desire.

If that isn’t enough, Swerve Festival will also feature nearly two dozen music performances -- among them We Are Scientists, Foreign Born, DeVotchka, the Black Angels and Illinois -- as well as conventional movie screenings. Most notably, these include the West Coast premiere of the Ian Curtis biopic, “Control,” and a documentary about skateboarding impresario Steve Rocco, “The Man Who Souled the World.”

“The No. 1 reason we chose to present the art, really the whole festival, the way we did was to make Swerve a fun experience,” Rose says. “I really wanted it to feel like a big art playground. I don’t think art has to be serious to have an impact.


“This is a chance for people to experience films and bands and artists that don’t get a lot of mainstream exposure but are having a huge effect on alternative culture.”


Swerve Festival

What: A three-day celebration of “West Coast creative culture,” featuring film, art and music

Where: Films, Vista Theatre, 4473 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; music and art, Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; closing party and performance by We Are Scientists at the Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., L.A.

When: Friday through Sunday

Price: Art and most music performances are free with registration, except the closing party, $5. Movie screenings $10 to $20. Attendees who arrive at any event via public transit or a bicycle receive preferred access.