A tree grows at the Kimmel Center twice a day for PIFA

 Rendering of the Kinetic Tree to be constructed in the lobby of the Kimmel Center for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Rendering of the Kinetic Tree to be constructed in the lobby of the Kimmel Center for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The third iteration of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) will feature a tree that more than doubles in height and people swimming in public fountains.  Organizers say the common theme is “the culture of making things.”

PIFA touches down in April, with three weeks of performance and installation art throughout the city by more than 60 artists. The centerpiece will be inside the Kimmel Center, where designer Mimi Lien will make an abstract tree out of cheap construction lumber.

“As a theater designer, that is my medium,” said Lien, who recently received the MacArthur Genius Award. “I use 2x4s and plywood all the time.”

The tree will be a constructed stump ten feet wide on the floor of the Kimmel lobby, with branches suspended by tension wires about 30 feet up. To take advantage of the tremendous height of the lobby, the tree will perform twice a day, the first time exploding to 80 feet high, then a few hours later collapsing back to its smaller size.

The growth and retraction of the tree will resemble patterns of moving from order to chaos and back again.

“I am fascinated by push-pull of that,” said Lien. “The tree is an abstract form that feels both mathematical and organic at the same time. “

The tree marks the tone of the festival, which will include a circus of yarn (“Knitting Peace” by the Swedish group Cirkus Cirkor), a clay forest created in part by the public (“Stand” by Shay Church), and swimmers in public fountains performing found-object musical instruments (“Concerto in Sea Major” by the French group Aquacoustique). This year PIFA loosely organized around the artisanal retail and restaurant trends of wanting to know where consumer products are made, and by whom.

“I think the way we consume culture is absolutely part of that,” said artistic director Jay Wahl. “People are looking for cultural experience that are deeply enriching, deeply engaging, challenge the way they understand the world, but also relate to the way they see themselves in an urban landscape. I think you can do all that and have a good time.”

Wahl has curated both local and international acts. The opening show will be a massive performance installation at Penn’s Landing, “Article 13.” The work about immigration and international borders was itself devised by crossing borders – it is a collaboration between Compagnie Carabosse from France and Teatro Linea de Sombra from Mexico.

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