Below is the complete transcript of my interview with Patrick Shearn, the President and Co-Founder at Poetic Kinetics. If you’re unaware of the extraordinary work of Poetic Kinetics take a moment to view some of the images of their festival art below.
Graham with Tixr (Tixr): My name is Graham Berry. I’m here with Patrick Shearn, Co-Founder and President at Poetic Kinetics. Patrick has generously agreed to give us a little bit of his time so that we can write about some of the projects that he’s been working on. Patrick, I’ll just jump into things, if it’s OK with you.
Patrick: Go for it. You bet.
Tixr: Okay, cool. The first question that had for you, I know firsthand what an amazing community of artists you have here at Poetic Kinetics. What can you tell our readers about the team that makes it all possible?
Patrick: Yeah. This space that we inhabit and the community that we are part of is sort of a spin-off of both the film community and the Burning Man community. It’s particularly fortuitous because we have the brain trust and the work ethic of Hollywood, which is sort of one of the more refined creative machines on the planet. They’re really efficient and they really understand how things can happen and you don’t say no in that environment. It’s really like, how can we make it happen. That in combination with Burning Man, which is this social experiment of unrestrained creative freedom, devoid of corporate attachments and commercialization and name tags and plaques and price tags. Its art for the sake of giving, art for the sake of art, and it’s presented to everyone that goes to see it as purely a gift and not something that is so monetized or career based or whatever. So we started this space that we call Abundant Sugar. It’s been in existence for 12 years. It was founded by a bunch of people that wanted to go and create extraordinary things out in the desert, predominantly from the film community. We have the track record of getting it done, doing things right, thinking outside the box, and going beyond even our own expectations. It’s been very successful, both from a business model, but also from a sense of camaraderie and life experience and adventure. We make a real effort to hire friends and hire people with similar attitudes towards things in the world, and sort of a can-do, gung-ho, we’ll do it for you, blood, sweat and tears mostly because we love each other and then secondarily because there’s a paycheck attached. We trade off and work for each other. It’s an interesting experiment. It’s been really, really fun.
Tixr: Next question. This one is for the aspiring artists out there. Before the astronaut and the Coachella snail and even before the giant puppets in the Beijing Olympics, what were you doing to get your start in the community? Where did you and other people on the team go to learn the skills to do what you do?
Patrick: What I get that you’re asking is, as an aspiring artist, where would you look to either get the skill sets you think you need or to develop the work ethic or the attitude to be successful. I would have to say that the way I was raised makes a lot of sense to me, in that my mother’s an artist, most of my siblings are artists. The way I was raised, art was something that just, it happened. It was more a thing like eating or breathing or something in that vein rather than something to attain. It was much more process based rather than result based. Some of the stuff we’d all be . . . my friends would come over, everyone’s friends would come over, and we would be drawing around the kitchen table and making a mess or whatever. Some of the art would make it onto the refrigerator, and some of the art would go in the trash can, and it was never precious. It was never, I am what I create. I never felt judged based on my creative capability or expression. We were raised in a very highly prolific creative environment. If I was going to aspire to try to tell somebody who’s aspiring, one of the huge things is just do it. Just get up and do it and make everything a creative decision. How you spread the mayonnaise on the bread could trip off some creative thought about some other application of some other material on some other surface, or whatever it is. Play with things. Turn things upside down. Imagine combinations of things that are completely unexpected. The second thing is ambition. They always talk about paying your dues, and all that kind of stuff. I’ve got to say that I really believe that if you show up and are willing to sweep the floor just to be in the conversation or just to be able to absorb what’s going on in that environment, people respond to that. People respect that. I certainly would never take advantage of somebody. But if somebody shows up and says, wow, I really like your work, I really would like to participate in what you guys have going on here, I’m much more interested in that person than somebody who sends me a cold resume or somebody who comes in with all kinds of attitude about where they are in the art world. We are very much collaborative. Setting aside the “artiste” in the quotation marks, and going for life and process and learning and sharing, I think you get much further. We have a model of training and giving and sharing our skills rather than hoarding them and feeling competitive.
Co-Founders, Patrick Shearn and Cynthia Washburn at Poetic Kinetics
Tixr: The next question that I have for you, where do these awe-inspiring ideas come from, these massive creations that you’re building? Do the clients provide a lot of direction, or does the team dream up this stuff on their own? Could you talk a little bit about that creative process?
Patrick: Yeah. I assume you’re speaking specifically to the music festival world, predominantly. In that context, I look pretty carefully at the client. I’m under no illusions that it’s not commercial art, in that there’s a specific mold I’m trying to fit into and a specific price point I’m trying to hit. I’m kind of hesitant to say its art, in a sense. I think I am drawn to, in the context of trying to please a lot of people or trying to light up a lot of people or create spectacle on that level, I’m sort of pulled towards things that are universally understood and simple and iconic and probably on the positive side of things. So, snails. Everybody knows what a snail is, and they’re non-threatening, and at a huge scale they’re cute and playful. At a smaller scale, they may be squishy and slimy, but and then an astronaut is . . . most every person, I would imagine, hopefully by today every man and woman had some dream of being off the planet and being an astronaut, or at least wondering what it’s like. So it’s a pretty easy direct line to getting inspiring and getting people lit up. Then, we’re operating at scale, so the sense of, was the astronaut art? I don’t know. It’s a scale model of something that pretty much exists. So on the one level, the art of it was the dreaming big and the ability to inspire a lot of people to take you seriously. If I was handed the same amount of money to go make art, I don’t think I would make an astronaut. If that makes sense. I think I’d love to turn people on to the same degree. Maybe someday the festival owners will trust me on that level, but I’m playing it the way I’m playing it right now.
Tixr: Some of your art is seen once and never again by so many people, again speaking about the festival art, how do you like it to be remembered? What’s the lasting impression you hope people will take away from seeing some of the things you’ve built?
Patrick: A sense of wonder and awe and shared experience. Like, we all met under the snail, or . . . I run into people all the time who have interesting, personal memories of those experiences, and that’s always rewarding. It’s really nice to understand that it wasn’t just in a gallery space, but actually was very immersive and immediate for people.
Tixr: Perfect. There’s just a few more here. Escape Velocity’s finally touched down. Where would you like the final destination to be? What’s the ideal home for the beloved astronaut?
Patrick: Yeah. The astronaut, in no small measure, was inspired by the realization that there is a real lack of government funding for space exploration. It was a huge part of what was going on when I was growing up. I think in no small measure it is a huge part of why this country grew the way it did, became a dominant force in the world the way it did, and inspired a lot of technical advances and a lot of really great innovation. It’s really kind of sad that it’s fallen prey to lack of scientific interest on the part of many government people, and lack of funding as a valuable thing for a country to pursue. There’s corporate space research, and that’s interesting and cool, on possibly a resurgence of that. But I really would like to inspire the kids to consider science as more than a pain in the a** in school, but actually you can see that there’s maybe a place to go with it that is crazy and creative and big and beautiful. To that end, we’re looking at trying to find a home in a science or space museum that can continue to educate kids and inspire kids the way we were hoping to at Coachella.
Tixr: What’s next for Poetic Kinetics? Are there any upcoming creations that you can talk about for 2014 that we can look forward to seeing?
Patrick: Well, that’s usually a problem. Everyone wants to have their festival be the biggest surprise, or their commercial launch or whatever it is be a top secret thing so they can manage the publicity around it. We are currently in an exploration phase of something that is pretty exciting. It’s bigger than the astronaut, and if it goes and if it works, I would guess that half the people on the planet would see it. Something like that, some kind of crazy number like that, I’m just guessing, which is pretty exciting. It’s incredibly technically daunting, and we’ll have to see. It’s taking all my time right now. I’m consumed by this . . .
Tixr: Cool. Thanks for sharing that.
Patrick: My pleasure.
Tixr: Last question that I have for you, let’s say I’m trying to create an unforgettable festival experience, and I’m thinking Poetic Kinetics can help me. What do I need to know or have to do this thing with you?
Patrick: To come and work with us, is that the question?
Tixr: As far as, yeah, if I’m trying to create my own festival [like a small Coachella or EDC], and I’m thinking you guys would be a good partner for it. Is there anything you can say up front that would be good to be thinking about?
Patrick: Oh. Yeah. We’re always speaking to festival promoters and festival developers. I think taking people out of their everyday existence to the best degree possible, making it as interactive as possible. I’m really rejoicing that music festivals have incorporated art to such a large degree. I think it makes total sense. I think trusting the artists more, funding the artists better, and embracing that evolution rather than fighting it would be my advice.
Tixr: Awesome. Thank you so much, man.
Patrick: No worries.
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