As you cross the threshold of the doorway, it suddenly becomes very dark. The sounds of crickets chirping and coyotes howling echo in your ears as you find yourself inside a cowboy’s cabin, littered with rural cooking supplies of the past.
The small room surrounds you with rough wood paneling streaked with varying shades of brown, and next to a rocking chair draped in tattered fabric is a doorway leading you past the cowboy’s simple bedroom and into the darkened canyon of the Wild West.
It’s not often that you experience a film before you get the chance to watch it, but Art International Radio’s immersive exhibit Canyon Candy, walks you through scene after scene of giant flowering cacti emerging from dead bodies, before it spits you out at a wide-open theater space, where you can watch the action that caused the cacti reincarnation in the first place.
You’d expect an exhibit this multi-faceted to begin as a complete concept, but it all started with the soundtrack of the film: a 16-minute EP released by the pop-electric duo Javelin last April, said the exhibit’s Curator of Performance and Installation, Joe Ahearn.
Filmmaker Mike Anderson heard Javelin’s music and made a film to match, before AIR’s Gallery Director Alanna Heiss convinced him to bring his movie-making skills to the art scene. Together they created a landscape-soundscape duo that allowed viewers to experience the canyon for themselves, and just as with the film, Anderson set the scene and Javelin made the cricket-coyote soundtrack.
“It’s funny,” Ahearn said, “Javelin went on this trip [to the South West that inspired them to make music which inspired Mike to make a film, which inspired Alanna to push for the creation of a landscape that Javelin was inspired to create the soundtrack for. It makes for a nice little creative loop.”
It took months of planning, three weeks of intensive set creation, and a crew of around 40 people to complete, Ahearn said, remarking that it was one of the most ambitious projects he’d ever been involved in during his years at the Clocktower Gallery.
The film itself features a cast of silent characters embarking on the newfound West, encountering all of the excitement and hardships associated with the Western genre, with the addition of cacti reincarnation for the loser of every duel. Although it looks nearly identical, the film set was destroyed long before this installation was created. “This set is more ambitious. The film had more painted backgrounds,” Ahearn said.
The title Canyon Candy is a reference to peyote, a hallucinogen found in cacti, said Ahearn. “These reincarnation and psychedelic themes sort of tie into one another. The whole idea of being lost in the desert and having visions, or the focus on the “vision quest.” One of the most reoccurring themes in the whole project is cacti re-growth out of death.”
“I felt like I was the cowboy in the film,” said gallery visitor Erik Kim. “I liked the idea of reincarnation, and all the different ways the exhibit showed it: I saw it, heard it, felt it,” he said.
Flavorpill called the installation “awe-inspiring,” and the WILD Magazine wrote, “I highly recommend it to any and all WILD readers who dare.”
Javelin’s Canyon Candy
108 Leonard Street, 13th Floor
New York, NY 10013