On the Beat

May 24, 2014

Strummers can jam on public art piece ‘Banjostand’ at World of Bluegrass

This year’s World of Bluegrass in Raleigh will have a site-specific piece of temporary public art, the “Banjostand.” Artist Bland Hoke plans to use actual banjo parts to build it.

A recurrent feature of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass festival is people wandering about, instruments in hand, looking for a place to jam. At the 2014 edition in Raleigh this fall, they’ll have a spiffy new place to do it: the “Banjostand.”

Bland Hoke, a Wyoming-based artist specializing in site-specific temporary art, was commissioned to build the Banjostand – which he’s making out of actual banjo parts. He’ll be in the Triangle several times between now and IBMA’s Sept. 30 start date to design and build it. We caught up by phone recently.

Q: Were you a bluegrass fan before this?

A: I’ve gone to a couple of festivals and enjoy the music, but I was excited that this will be temporary – and in the field of public art, that’s an opportunity to covet. Permanent projects, you have to put a lot more consideration into durability and longevity. So to do something temporary is a breath of fresh air, because it expands possibilities. It affords you more of an opportunity to think about where it’s coming from, how to use materials innovatively and where it will wind up when it’s done. Life-cycle thinking is what interests me about this project.

Q: How did this come about?

A: I’ve always been interested in materials from the waste stream with no practical use, that might be on the way to the landfill. So I reached out to guitar, pick, string and instrument manufacturers. It’s a process designed for serendipity, where you cast a wide net for surplus. You don’t know what they’ll have, but you try to figure out which businesses might have a bunch of materials that can be repurposed. It turned out that Deering Banjos in California had several hundred parts that did not meet manufacturing standards: 300 necks and 200 pot assemblies.

Q: What will you do with them?

A: I presented a number of different potential designs ranging from traditional bandstands with the necks forming a railing, to creating a bandshell structure that’s more like an acorn out of the necks and pots. That’s where we’re at now. The idea is to create a social space for jam sessions to happen. So many people will be walking around IBMA with instruments, and having a place for jam sessions seems like a way to align with that. It will be a bandstand made of banjo parts, a “Banjostand,” where people can play. And it will be built around the Sir Walter Raleigh sculpture, so it will be like you’re playing with him.

Q: Where will you do most of the work?

A: I’ll pre-fabricate most of it in Wyoming and ship it to the site for installation. The process of putting it up and taking it down has to be incredibly efficient, because the selection panel mentioned that this will happen during hurricane season. So it needs to come apart quickly just in case it has to be put away in a hurry. “Hey,” I said, “I was expecting it to be windy, but not that windy.”

Q: What will happen to it afterward?

A: Deering brought up the possibility of using the work at an instrument museum in Phoenix, which is doing an exhibit on banjos next year. That’s one option. I’ve also thought about making it something that PineCone (Piedmont Council of Traditional Music) could continue using there (in North Carolina), maybe have the final design more pinecone-shaped. Thinking about life cycle, end-user or next few steps, that informs what shape it will take. But I guarantee it will not end up in a landfill. It will be an object of value that will be up-cycled.

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On The Beat

David Menconi
News & Observer music critic David Menconi's random (and we do mean random) musings about all things related to music and culture of the popular variety.

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