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Organizers prepare for Figment festival on Greenway

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  May 10, 2012 06:30 PM

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Butch the dinosaur.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for

Robot-maker Peter Dilworth brought his life-size protoceratops dinosaur “Butch” to the Faces of Figment event.

With less than a month to go before they take over a large swath of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, the organizers and artists of Figment Boston are gearing up for what they hope will be their biggest festival yet.

This is the third year the free, participatory, annual arts weekend has been held in the Boston area, and its second time on the Greenway. The 2012 festival will stretch from Dewey Square into the Wharf District Parks and feature 79 art projects — the same number as last year — but several of this year’s projects are larger and more ambitious.

The organizers would like to see the turnout grow, as well.

“We’re hoping to really get the word out and get a lot more people on the Greenway,” said Jason Turgeon, who produces Figment Boston and brought the concept here after its 2007 beginning in New York City. “I mean, the Greenway’s huge. We could take a lot of people down there, so we want people to find out about it.”

Last year’s event fell during two warm days of clear, sunny skies and attracted about 3,000 visitors each day, according to the organizers’ estimates. Because of the location, Turgeon said, many people stumbled onto the event without knowing what it was but stuck around to participate.

“That’s the great thing about the Greenway,” Turgeon said. “My whole idea is that somebody gets out of the subway and is, like, having a bad day and finds Figment and is just like completely, ‘What the hell was that?’”

About half of this year’s participating artists will be new ones, and many of those who participated last year will return with new projects. In Dewey Square, for instance, all of the pieces will be different from last year.

Many of the organizers and artists participating in Figment Boston connected with each other and with the Figment movement through Burning Man, the week-long, festival of arts and eccentricity held annually in the Nevada desert. A similar ethos guides their festival: be creative, be inclusive, and have fun.

a fire for Figment 2.jpg
(Jeremy C. Fox for
The “Toxic Bloom” sculpture at the Faces of Figment event.
The same goals were apparent at the Faces of Figment event in Jamaica Plain on April 20. The event was planned as a fundraiser and a way to introduce Figment supporters to the artists, but also, Turgeon said, with hopes of attracting new artists to the event.

“We’re trying to bring new people from outside our world of we all know each other,” Turgeon said. “We’re trying to really bring in some new faces.”

Many Figment artists are associated with the Somerville-based group Artisan’s Asylum, where several members also participate in the Burning Man culture. Karen Christians, a goldsmith who teaches at Artisan’s Asylum and is one of Figment Boston’s key fundraisers, said opening the door to everyone is key.

“The whole point is that we can make something for everybody,” Christians said “And that, to me, really represents the whole sense of inclusion.”

Christians, 58, said people of her generation often ask her what they can buy at Figment, or if they can sell things there. They are surprised, she said, to learn that no commerce takes place at the festival.

“It’s art for art’s sake,” she said. “When’s the last time you just got to go to something and play with the art?”

Clare Densmore, communications director for the festival, stressed that Figment Boston is “about creativity more than it is the production of art.”

“We’ve been toying with the idea of not using the word ‘art’ anymore because … it’s limiting,” Turgeon said.

Already the festival embraces educational and activist activities, as with the project that Densmore and her mother plan to present this year, which will encourage children to make collages about issues such as bullying, healthy living, and the environment.

“So they’re learning about the issues and then they’re explaining the issues in their own way,” she said. “It’s about creative expression.”

This year’s festival also features a collaboration with the Firefly Arts Collective, which has awarded grants to three projects that will be featured in Figment. One of those projects is “Magnetosphere,” created by a collective called New American Public Art that consists of Bevan Weissman, Dan Sternof Beyer, Kawandeep Virdee, Joey Asal, and Brandon Stafford.

Weissman explained that the project is a globe roughly four feet in diameter with interior magnets that allow visitors to adhere various metal objects to the sphere and combine them on its face. There will be metal pieces available for use, but people are also welcome to add whatever bottle caps, unwanted keys, or other bits they may bring with them.

“So people can work together to world-scape and create little intricate details and landforms, or cities, whatever they want,” Weissman said. “So it’s this generative art phenomenon where you can sort of illustrate your own story. If it’s not what you’d like, you can change it, and that’s within the bounds of what the intent is anyway. … We’re hoping it will create these personal narratives alongside what’s already there.”

The project epitomizes the organizers’ belief that art should be accessible to everyone, whether they can draw or not, and that interactive art — not intimidating, untouchable, static objects that hang on gallery walls awaiting viewers’ appreciation — is the wave of the future.

“It’s not really about the end product,” Weissman said. “It’s about meeting a stranger and saying, ‘Oh hey, can you hand me that piece? What do thing would go here?’ and making a friend. It’s that interaction itself that I think is the art.”

David Koren, who founded New York’s original Figment festival five years ago, said he doesn’t consider himself an artist, but having the conventional notion of artistic talent is entirely beside the point.

“If you start broadening what you think art is, and just kind of like let that keep expanding until the point where art becomes just any intentional act,” Koren said. “The socks I picked this morning are art.”

Figment Boston will take place June 2 – 3 on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, beginning at 11 a.m. each day. For more information, visit

For a gallery of images from Figment Boston 2011, click here.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @YTDowntown.

a projection.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for

At Faces of Figment, Michael Dewberry tested out his project, “Shriney Dancer,” which uses two Xbox 360 cameras to capture motion in a room and project an image onto a nearby wall.

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