The Wooly Fair gets cosmic

By AMY LITTLEFIELD  |  June 22, 2011


The word "absurd" recurs frequently when you ask the creators of this year's Wooly Fair to describe the annual arts carnival.

Which is no surprise, since, in past years, the rumpus has involved costumed adults on tricycles, a tower of mini-gardens, and a chamber filled with lights, sound, and casts of human breasts. "Boob hell," says Sam White, creative director and founder of Wooly Fair.

By the way, we're sitting inside a UFO-like structure made from plywood, PVC pipe, and an industrial version of shrink wrap as he says this.

That's because this year — its seventh year running — Wooly Fair is headed to the moon. Their vessel is a space station made from 21 pods shaped like some cross between a flying saucer and a circus tent. Each will house the innovations of an artist, designer, or creative type.

"You can't really categorize the people that come to participate," says Anna Shapiro, the mission's ground control — and event — coordinator. "It draws people who are eager to collaborate, to play, to build something outside of themselves that is unusual and extraordinary and absurd."

See what I mean about that word?

The event showcases the ridiculously talented arts community in Providence, with performances and art by groups like the Tape Artists, who were responsible for "boob hell" — part of the fair's torturous "Funtanamo" display of 2008.

If you're wondering about Wooly Fair's name, it has to do with White growing up on a sheep farm in Massachusetts. Also, he says, it's because wooliness is associated with chaos. And, adds Shapiro, because wool is warm and fuzzy.

Shapiro is wearing a cap with a WASA logo — like NASA, but for Wooly Fair. It looks just like a NASA logo, but with a dancing sheep.

Artists interested in taking over the pods have submitted applications based on four criteria — displays had to be ingenious, interactive, sustainable, and "attempt to change minds." In the weeks leading up to the event, artists will inhabit their pods — although they are not permitted to sleep there — and give birth to their creative visions.

Entries accepted this year include titles such as "Dinosaurs in Space," "The Divination Tent," and "Space Mosaic."

"I know," White wrote in an email. "I have as many questions as you do about some of this."

But I think that's actually the point.

At the July 30 festival, the pods will weave around a grassy area at the Steel Yard arts center. Cables covered in lights will connect them to a flagpole at the center. Each pod will have some method of communicating with its pair, White says — perhaps through semaphores or the language of coffee pots.

"In the end it will be kind of this cerebral cortex construction," says White. "It's going to be bizarre, but it's going to be wonderful."

Attendees will need to pass through "naturalization" — whatever that means — and pay $15, unless they have already purchased tickets at a discounted price through the Wooly Fair Kickstarter campaign online ( Inside, they will likely find moon buggy races, a space ballet, a circus workshop from Marvelous Marvin, and musical performances from the Sugar Honey Iced Tea, Tig & Bean, and a boy with bagpipes. At least one guest is expected to arrive in a real cosmonaut suit. The event is family friendly 2 to 6 pm — but from 8 pm to 1 am, the adults take over.

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Related: RISD tunes up its moonbuggy, Is genius immortal?, 10 exhibits that are worth another look, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , NASA, Anna Shapiro, Steel Yard,  More more >
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