by Stephanie Malik
2018 marked the 5th installment idiosyncratic FORM music festival, which takes place annually in the isolated, self-sustaining, futuristic, carless, eco-utopian community of Arcosanti, Arizona. It is immediately obvious that this surreal, experimental town that plays host to the FORM festival is integral to fostering the open collaborative artistic atmosphere that is so unique to the festival itself.
In fact, the town’s distinctive architectural domes and their cohesion with the surrounding natural environment is exactly why the founders of FORM (the indie-electronic band Hundred Waters) knew in Arcosanti they had found FORM’s perfect home. FORM was founded on principles similar to Arcosanti’s brainchild, Paolo Soleri, and his theory of Arcology from the 1970’s. Arcology (a combination of Architecure and Ecology) encourages and promotes artistic collaboration among individuals, while also integrating sound environmental principles that make minimal impact on the local landscape.
Within this environment, FORM has thrived spawning numerous collaborative efforts, including the photo series presented here, which exclusively premieres the newest work by the highly sought after LA-based designer Eleanore Guthrie of Knorts. Here, Guthrie brazenly takes her Knorts label into new territory by debuting her first ever all-black collection, “K-noir-ts” in an avant-garde conceptual series modelled entirely by artists performing at FORM. Shot on site around Arcosanti during the festival by Berlin-based photographer Tonje Thilesen and styled by frequent Hundred Waters collaborator Phil Gomez, the following images effortlessly capture the easy, natural, airy, and experimental atmosphere cultivated by this one-of-a-kind environment.
One immediately obvious defining spirit this photo series conveys is the tranquil, serene, and comfortable feeling that both the festival and atmosphere encourage. Further enhancing this is also surely the distinguishing textures of the Knorts garments being modelled, which, indeed appear to reflect the comfort and natural expression Soleri aspired to create in his conceptualization of Arcosanti in the first place. As someone who doesn’t personally even own a pair of jeans because I find them tragically uncomfortable, Knorts is alarmingly and unexpectedly soft. On set many models relish in the fact the clothes they are modeling feel something like pajamas. Morever, the way the fabric can easily stretch to accommodate multiple body-types – both male and female—I think contributes the gestalt of the overall series aesthetic that is unimposing on the body as Arcologist principles aspire to be unimposing on the surrounding natural terrain and landscape.
Intuitive, natural, and a refreshing lack of egoism permeates this collection on all levels, from the environment, to the musicians serving as models, and certainly even the clothing itself. The universality of denim is fully exploited here for maximal otherworldliness in its malleability of shape paradoxically combined with its characteristic grounding, as a stable organic fabric.
Some describe the feeling of Arcosanti as akin to entering the similarly middle-of-nowhere feeling spiritual places like Joshua Tree, which lend themselves to artists feeling liberated and perhaps more willing to expose more vulnerable dimensions of themselves. One particularly charming example of this is Jean of the death-core experimental hip hop group Ho99o9 (pronounced “Horror”) donning his red lacy Lolita-esque gloves with a no-holds-barred endearingly cheeky grin topped with an artfully disheveled Knorts hobo hat. This nearly whimsical aesthetic stands in stark contrast with the Ho99o9 live show which incorporates dark, intense, confrontational theatrics. This is a perfect example of FORM encouraging artists and collaborators to show different sides to themselves in tune with their surroundings and nature.
On reflection, it may even prompt one to listen more closely to the multidimensional elements of the music by the artists themselves. For example, despite what some might term a somewhat “aggressive” delivery on the Ho99o9 the title track of their debut album United States of Horror, one notices upon closer listening the lyrics to be somewhat uplifting and encouraging others to live true to themselves, “Livin' my life, not givin' a fuck with no regrets/ stay true to yourself/ Don't let nobody bring you down.” Now that’s a sentiment so sweet nearly Mr. Rogers could get behind it! And one that could easily be missed by a superficial listen. I think it also demonstrates a way in which the atmosphere of FORM is conducive to artists and their collaborators perhaps feeling safe being more vulnerable and exposing other sides of themselves than they would otherwise. (Personal side note: Jean and Eady of Ho99o9 used to be my upstairs neighbors in the Echo Park area of LA and they are both amongst the calmest, gentlest people I’ve encountered here in LA. They handled my 9 lbs. Pomeranian Teddy with the affection and care of a toddler. Thus, this “other side” we are seeing of some of these artists in this series is certainly exemplifying a genuineside the public might otherwise not ever be exposed to.)
In this photo series, we also see Gomez using innovative styling with Knorts' garments that might otherwise be discouraged by more commercial media. Both Nicole Miglis of Hundred Waters and Kenzie May wear Knorts tops upsidedown and backwards, showing an element of playfulness but also experimental approaches to wearing clothing in nonstandard ways dictated by bourgeoisie American society. However, here Gomez manages to balance the avant-garde with the accessible—grounding the experimental in something that feels genuine. Intrinsically these visuals and ideas explore the concepts on which Arcosanti was founded by taking different approaches to styles of living and paradigms of thinking about the function of pragmatic aspects of daily life like architecture (and in this case clothing too).
We also see Tray Tryon of Hundred Waters, content to be submerged in a fluid space and surrounded by a snakelike white hose around his neck. With no vexed expression on his face, we see reflected the essence of Arcosanti as both a philosophy and community. It is not a place for a style or agenda to be imposed, it is a place for gently merging with the surrounding natural environment and discovering new creative territory—not struggling against it to impose some contrived ego-driven artistic perspective. In this desert oasis, perhaps the greatest collaborator for these artists is nature itself, allowing the experience of full freedom and curative inspiration in a space that is as open as it is nurturing.