Artica is an outdoor event that is far-out by just about any standards, with no confines other than the limits of your imagination, so it is better suited to survive in COVID-19 time than just about any festival one could think of.
Artica returns – under the triumphant title of “Artica 2020: Eternal Return” – from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, October 10 and 11. The location is on the grounds of the old Cotton Belt Building at the corner of Lewis and Dickson streets on the North Riverfront north of Laclede’s Landing. But there are no actual barriers: Artica disappears off into the city, into the night, into the unknown.
“This is a free open-air event for all ages featuring two days of music, sculpture, interactive art installations, roaming performers and the Burn,” organizers promise. “The Burn” is a public burning of Our Lady of Artica, a wooden effigy, that closes the festival on Sunday night. If that sounds too far out, then just wander off when the burning is about to begin.
“Each year, Artica establishes an ‘art city’ uninhibited by commerce,” organizers promise, and that checks out – Artica is the unbranded anti-festival, an “annual celebration of creativity, innovation, and exploration,” organizers rightly claim.
It is not, however, underground or outlaw. The festival has been approved by the city Health Department. Masks and social distancing will be required while on the festival grounds. Guests are encouraged to wash their hands often at the provided handwashing stations and to use hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol in between hand washings.
“If you are not feeling well,” organizers request, “please stay at home,” which is never a bad idea anyway.
Of this year’s theme in particular, organizers say: “Artica 2020: Eternal Return is a creative celebration and exploration of the apparent paradox of existence, that every step forward, somehow takes us closer to what we imagined we'd left behind.”
The title is borrowed from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), a thinker suitably edgy and unsettling for the disrupted here and now. Nietzsche returned to the idea of the Eternal Return (appropriately enough) several times throughout his work; one classic statement of it comes in a demonic thought experiment.
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’” Nietzsche wrote.
In the nightmarish year of 2020, it’s daring indeed to conjure the notion of the Eternal Return. Who now wants to contemplate the possibility that “this life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more”?
Actually, embrace Artica (at a social distance) and you just might find yourself enlivened by “every joy and every thought,” and maybe you will want them to return after the Lady burns and you’ve wandered off into the long, dark night of 2020.