Cardboard is among the most ubiquitous and unloved of manufactured materials, mostly known for filling our recycling bins and providing cozy hiding spaces for kids and cats. But stop before you break down that box: An artist could turn it into a work of art! That was demonstrated with last year’s inaugural Daily City Cardboard Art Festival at Say It Loud’s Orange Studio on Mills Avenue. The fest returns for its second outing this weekend, showcasing cardboard-based creations from 15 local artists. This week I spoke with three of the event’s key participants to get the lowdown on this lo-fi Orlando art exclusive.
The Cardboard Art Festival began in 2013 as one of many event ideas generated by Daily City founder Mark Baratelli, who brought in artists Brendan O’Connor (now Orlando Weekly’s calendar editor) and Doug Rhodehamel to co-direct the project. Rhodehamel, best known as inventor of the paper-bag mushrooms that have spread around the world through his SPORE Project, returns as an artist this year with a collection of three dozen cardboard robots inspired by his DOUGBOTS show at Stardust last year. O’Connor is again a co-director for this year’s event, along with co-directors Denna Beena (Pink Hair Productions) and Christie Miga, an event sponsor from last year who also returns as an artist with husband Evan and their popular Dog Powered Robot.
Together, the trio is coordinating a roster of 15 artists, including Jaime “Kittens of Industry” Torraco; Wayne Fowks of Grace + Murk, who is providing a “Lady Gaga crazy architectural design” on stilts; Patrick O’Connor, who builds cardboard replicas of famous fantasy weapons like Link’s Triforce shield from Legend of Zelda and Ash’s chainsaw and boomstick from Evil Dead; dinosaur-mask maker Banjo Bob; Nathan Selikoff, who built an interactive wall display of cardboard tubes; and City Commissioner Patty “Bad Kitty” Sheehan (who actually has an art degree).
Between the pricey pop-up dinner, multiple parties and band performances, patrons of the first Cardboard Art Festival may have been uncertain whether it was an art show or simply a weekend-long celebration of creativity. According to Christie Miga, art will definitely be the primary focus this time: “We definitely see the art as king; we wouldn’t have the fest without art and artists. It’s an art show [where we have] added a few select people to create a party atmosphere.” To that end, there will be formal gallery hours (10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, $5) devoted to simply observing the art, all of which is for sale this year.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the art comes at the expense of the fun festival side. The opening night event (7-11 p.m. Friday, $10) features a dance party with art-scene favorite DJ Nigel. For the little art aficionados, the Orlando Fringe Festival sponsors a morning of Kids’ Fringe “Cardboard Camp” activities (10 a.m. to noon Sunday, $1). The Super Joy Riders end their monthly “Do Gooder” bike ride around downtown at the fest with an hourlong gallery tour (noon to 1 p.m. Sunday, free). And the Cardboard Art Festival’s musical highlight is a concert featuring Random Encounter and the last-ever performance by Andy Matchett & the Minks (7 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, $10). The Minks will play their Apple Tree Circle album in its entirety as part of their final farewell. If you’ve never seen AMTM’s blowout stage show – which includes parachutes, robots and confetti – this is your last opportunity.
But in the end, it all comes back to the art, and one question: Why cardboard? I posed that question to each artist, and despite the diversity of their works, their answers were strikingly similar. Cardboard’s advantages are that “it’s free; it’s something that’s relatable to everybody,” Rhodehamel says. “They can imagine themselves making something out of it, and appreciate how much work goes into it. Also, you can be very precise with it or very organic. It’s very adaptable. … It takes on a life of its own; the cardboard will tell you what it’s going to do.”
Miga, who scouts “special spots with choice cardboard” to go dumpster-diving for materials, praises it as “so ordinary, yet so diverse as a medium. You can paint it, sculpt it, rip it up … it is so versatile. People think it’s interesting when something so boring becomes extraordinary art.”
“For some reason, cardboard is hot right now,” O’Connor says. “If you’re on Pinterest there are a million ‘cardboard’ folders. … It’s sexy, it’s overlooked, it’s kind of street but if you do it right it can be really chic.” And ultimately, the medium has one great advantage:
“If it’s not [good], it’s just fucking cardboard, who cares? You can recycle it!”