When it comes to materials, Newsubstance tends to lean towards steel, acrylics, glass fiber, and wood for this kind of work. But O’Mahony stressed that this all varies. “Every job needs a different approach,” he said. “One day, we will be using steel; another day, it will be foam. Over the years, we have learnt what works and what doesn’t in different environments. What might be viable for one show will be totally wrong for another.”
Artists must also consider the inevitable chaos that will surround the piece; music festivals mean loud sounds, inebriated attendees, and elevated moods. “You just have to assume people will climb on it, over it, through it, so we have to design everything with a massive tolerance on it,” O’Mahony said.
Poetic Kinetics and Newsubstance use large crews of their in-house staff, plus fabricators, to execute the building process of their pieces. “I have a staff of 10 people running the studio, and we hire as many as 50 people, depending on the complexity of the project, particularly when they have a performance aspect,” Shearn said of Poetic Kinetics. Artists produce the works in the studio’s 7,000-square-foot space in downtown Los Angeles.
Once a piece is built, it hits the road and is assembled at the festival. The on-site crew is given anywhere from a few weeks to a few days to put it all together and make sure everything is perfect. “We bring our entire shop with us in trucks to festivals,” Shearn said. This includes materials and tools for metalworking and welding, as well as everything from drill presses to sewing machines, duct tape, and bubble gum.
Most creators have a team running shifts during the festival, to take care of any small fixes and make sure everyone is safe. In the case of Poetic Kinetics, the on-site staff may also be operating, controlling, or driving the art; with Newsubstance, on-site artists may also be participating in a performance. These are the lucky few that get the added bonus of riding high above crowds of thousands, or overhearing attendees chat about the piece.