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Electric Forest partners with To Write Love on Her Arms for Breaking Barriers project [INTERVIEW]

When Bassnectar released a heart wrenching video in conjunction with Electric Forest and To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), the creative PSA went immediately viral with over 1.5 million views on Facebook. The video featured footage inside Sherwood Forest, where several roaming Forest Family members were captured answering a ringing telephone. On the other end of the line was Lorin Ashton, remaining anonymous throughout the call, as he asked questions about friendships, family, and hope.

Electric Forest has been partnering with TWLOHA since 2016 when it’s producers, Madison House and Insomniac, made it their mission to slate more mental health awareness activities into their programming. They reached out to Chad Moses of TWLOHA, whose role at the organization over the past decade has been using music as a platform for discussing mental health. They granted him a 10′ x 20′ space in the festival grounds to construct a creative project in support of community, togetherness, love, and mental health.

The initial project involved simple business cards, where Forest attendees were to write down “the one thing you need to say to yourself” upon entry into the festival. They were instructed to then come back at the end of the weekend and write down “on thing they needed to hear the most.”

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“The next year, EF calls and asks us what else we can do to raise awareness,” said Moses.

“They told us Bassnectar would love to be apart of this kind of project. They then talked to their artist director, who had a wonderful idea: what if we got this project off paper and quite literally electrified it? What if we used phone lines to get people to open up anonymously about things that may be heavy on their hearts?”

The projects continue to evolve and thrive with each passing year, according to Moses. “Pretty much every conversation I’ve had with their team has been amazing, it becomes bouncing ideas off each other, and they’ve never once told me ‘no’ for any reason. These are inherently creative people who love the process of creation.”

For 2018, TWLOHA has partnered with Electric Forest once again to create the Breaking Barriers Project, located on Main Street in the campgrounds. Quite literally: a wall, created with the acknowledgment of  everything that seeks to keep separate us from our fellow Forest dwellers – the Forest Family built a physical wall together, decorated and dominated by their aspirations for growth, with their barriers left in the past.

CE sat down with the non-profit organization during Electric Forest weekend one to learn more about the groundbreaking creative project.

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The thing we love most about TWLOHA’s projects are how they grounded in identity politics. Last year, there was a feminist underpinning to the anonymous calls to Bassnectar. This year, the Breaking Barriers project is rooted in post-colonial/post-race concepts — particularly the notion of Border politics. Can you tell us if this inspired the idea behind the wall project?

“What started this project was a conversation with one of Electric Forest’s producers, the kind folks at Madison House, and they came to me with a problem. They said, we have to legally set up these barriers to avoid potential tragedy with vehicles driving into the crowds at the stages; and we want to make something divisive like this potentially beautiful and creative and intentional.”

It’s postmodern pastiche. It’s progressive action. It’s spiritually ascendant, especially this element of intention setting. Most of all, it’s spewing with the most powerful creative, connective force as we know it: Love.

“Yea, the wall is super imitational and intentional, where you can take as little or as much as you want, figuratively and literally,” says Chad Moses of TWLOHA. “But the people who’ve interacted with it, you can feel their gratitude surrounding the wall.”

Where exactly are you folks heading up this project inside the festival?

“We have two booths on site. We’re back inside the venue at Ranch Lobby West, right past Tripolee, as usual. And the booth on Main Street, which is very intentionally focused on explaining the wall’s purpose and how they can interact with it throughout the week.”

So how did this idea come into fruition?

“As we’re talking and brainstorming up this idea of the wall, I get transported back into my childhood. My friend’s dad had a piece of the Berlin wall in their home and I asked, ‘What is that?’ His dad told me the dark history behind it, how it was used to keep friends separated, and how, when it came down, it was the happiest days of those people’s lives. And I was struck with the idea that there are these kinds of things that are inherent in our own lives, things that are holding us back from connecting with one another — and these things aren’t necessarily physical manifestations.

With creativity, with community, that barrier can, should, and will fall. Whether your struggling with addiction or your own mental health or fractured relationships, nothing can get in the way of the notion that these things are impermanent.”

In terms of mental health, how do you think it will help people?

“The imagery is rooted more so in yesteryear than present day, but at the same time there are still people today that are driving these walls. You know, people come to Forest every year with tons of baggage, they’re super prepared with their camping gear, and their gifts, and their fully planned out festival attire. But a lot of times, they come with deeply rooted subconscious baggage too.

The entire purpose of that wall is to acknowledge the emotional baggage that we packed for ourselves — some people are arriving at Forest with heavy heartache. EF exists for family, for purpose, for community. That purpose for us is to let people know: all that stuff that you dragged in, we will take it for you.”

How did the Breaking Barriers wall project go at weekend one?

“We collaborated with this one artist, he called himself Adam One, who happened to walk by and ask, ‘How can I help with the wall?’ We tell him we need this wall saturated with color, that this should be free flowing. He says, ‘I have an idea’ and paints this huge circle of hexagons. ‘This is a super microscopic version of a seed,’ he says.

We all have an enormous potential for growth, but it gets covered by all this crap — anxiety, self-doubt, depression, pride, ego, the list goes on. But when we break it down, it’s going to allow this seed to grow. The point then became: Can we allow nature to help us overcome all these man-made structures?”

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For Forest Family attending weekend two, the producers and partners of Electric Forest — invites attendees to be a part of an interactive growth experience at their 2018 gathering at Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Michigan. Set an intention for the weekend, develop your goals, recognize the words and symbols that create distance between us, break down your barriers, and start your Rothbury experience with a deep breath of fresh air.

This wall represents the things that threaten to keep us apart, and focuses on the ways that we strive to develop as human beings. The Forest is built upon acceptance, kindness, freedom, respect, peace, and love. As the second weekend winds down, the wall and all of our internal barriers will be dismantled, deconstructed, and destroyed. Its pieces will then be distributed to attendees and offered as a token of our aspirations for improvement, and a reminder that the walls in our lives are not permanent. The Barrier Project pieces will be a symbol signaling that the unity we feel in The Forest can also be experienced back home.

All photos courtesy of Meg Ryan for Electric Forest.