From the inception of the Gathering, the Symbiosis tribe have been guided by an insatiable drive for novelty, community, and authenticity. This is entire project has been funded by their community through sales of Experience Passes, hard work, long hours, and occasionally their own resources. They take pride in never selling alcohol and they never taking sponsorship dollars. Symbiosis Gathering is an art project with the community as a palate.
Written by Mingjie Zhai
Video editing by Mingjie Zhai
Photos by Jamie Rosenberg, Jason Abraham, and John Felix
n. interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.
n. A mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups.
Driving down the beautiful poppy fields only a few miles away from the Symbiosis Gathering in Woodward Reservoir, just 6 miles north of Oakdale, Angelie thought about the irony of definitions and situations.
She was in a symbiotic relationship with a man whom she loved, dreaming about going to Symbiosis together. On paper, they could’ve been two different species on this planet. A musician, gifted in handy-work, fixing things, with an impeccable taste for design, *Danny loved to serve. She, on the other hand, was a social entrepreneur with an impeccable taste for food, a Midas touch for breaking things, who happened to love being served. It was the odd couple, but it worked. Many late nights, they would collapse into each other’s body after a long day.
And though the day finally arrived when he was invited here to do energy work at the Oasis and she was invited here by Infamous PR to interview the founders. They would be arriving there as free agents. Just days before the festival, their personal pride got the best of both of them. They both chose their right to be right rather than to be in love, and so they parted ways. The familiarity of this singularity brought Angelie back to her one month sojourn in Peru. Once again, she had found herself alone with only her truth as companionship.
As Angelie pulls up to the entrance press pass in hand, a guy in a yellow jacket offered her a joint. If it weren’t for her fear of contracting mouth herpes from strangers, she would have taken the entire joint from him.
Splif and Run.
Resigned, she accepted the fact that she has to deal with the full impact of love withdrawals, sober.
Tingles and tiny pricks of pain swarm throughout her body—A pulsing weight that boomerangs from the pit of her stomach to the breastplate of her heart, weaving with glass threads on both ends, like a spider closing in on its prey, tightening relentlessly until the last breath dissipates into thin air.
She took a deep breath.
She wanted to gorge on salty Flaming Hot Cheetos, smoke a cancer stick, and maybe have someone kiss her until her lips bled. She wanted hot sex. Indiscriminate. In this desert.
This pain—it is a monogamous pain–the bond that once held her had the kind of weight that was elastic—the separation was sticky and slow like chewing gummi bears.
“Hi Beautiful,” a voice broke Angelie’s train of thought. The man was wearing a cowboy hat and a scarf that wrapped around his sun-baked skin. He was sitting in a circle with his tribe next to their RV when she initially parked the car to grab her press pass at a dugout next to the Oasis. The sun was glaring at 105 degrees, the dirt winds kicking up. He waved her over. While she pretended not to see him, he walked towards her with a deliberateness that she could’ve avoided.
“What brings you to Symbiosis?” he said.
“I’m here to interview the founders about the love story behind Symbiosis,” she replied.
He sounded intrigued. Most people are when they hear what she’s up to, but every time she replies, it feels like she’s lying. Could it be the annoyance of repeating it all the time? Could it be the anxiety of its financial future? Could it be the doubts of her qualification to make her company successful? Perhaps it’s the weight of the big possibility that stands before her to grow in this media organization.
Whatever the case, when this option leaves people intrigued, Angelie was obliged to feign excitement, or, at the least, to elaborate. She told him that this project’s mission is to inspire people who have loved and lost to keep creating, despite the suffering.
“Love loss eh? I’m a writer, you know. I’ve traveled all over the world and I have several books you can find online if you Google my name,” he said.
“Wow,” she feigned interest. Something dark and painful is surfacing.
I have $100 in cash on me, and I don’t know how I’m paying rent next month let alone pay you any attention.
“That’s great. Do you have a business card?” she asked.
“Just write down my name. I’m pretty easy to find, and it has all my credentials listed,” he answered.
She burned her hands in the hot dashboard. The sun is baking hot at 105 degrees. While fumbling for her business card in the car, he puts his hand on her arm, looked square in her eyes and said to her, “I’ll be at The Hub in the evening time wearing my cowboy hat. Hopefully, I’ll see you there.”
He wants me.
She smelled his pheromones. Her intuition about men never fails her. She can energetically feel the lust of men.
The flattery dissipated as fast as the winds that carried the dust that now smothered her car. And like the dust, the particles of her pain were made to cling. Scion’s words show up to comfort her: “You just let the pain in and observe it for what it is.”
Kevin and Bosque
The press was brief. After Kevin KoChen, the producer of Symbiosis, described his day to day operations, such as producing all the copy on the website and emails, getting in the office, pushing buttons on the computer, he was able to get outside during this festival and talk to people. It started off a bit dry, but Angelie started asking the heavier questions.
“What was the inspiration behind Symbiosis?” she asked.
Aside from the video she produced, she also learned from Kevin that the festival is different each year–so different. They often come across significant challenges such as coordinating with the local sheriff on how to navigate the art boats through the fluid Peninsula border. However, art ships like Artemide featured initially by the Creator’s Project, and the producers of Ephemeral, an art boat festival that happens in the Sacramento Delta, still made this year’s gathering a creative force to be reckoned with. The Drift Sculpture, over at the Grotto stage, looked like a Bernstein Bear’s tree house, with a DJ spinning at the top and a group of 40-50 people dancing on the platform, floating across the lake.
Angelie observed in admiration. Two seemingly laid back people started a movement that has grown to a size of three thousand plus.
Bosque HrBeck, the founder of Symbiosis, shared his story growing up in the festival scene, and then finally, after traveling all over the world, decided to start one so that his friends, “who have completely different styles and completely different tastes,” could all come together and have fun. “It’s Get[ting] those friends in one place and see how those cultures and those counter cultures work together symbiotically and that’s where the name came from,” Bosque said to Angelie.
Angelie was tired. She’s pining to see *Danny. She knows she’ll run into him eventually. She’s calling to him. As she wandered through the desert oasis, she came upon Scion from far away having a casual conversation.
She doesn’t want to talk to him. She knows they had just interviewed him a month ago, but they still haven’t produced his story. Everything is in lag. Angelie started getting frustrated with herself and wanted to collapse on the carpet where tired travelers sought refuge.
“Wow. This is amazing. Who did all this?” she overheard one girl tell her friend.
“It’s a man named Scion. I think that’s him,” the friend pointed at a man with a white wife-beater talking to two people nodded their heads in deep conversation.
By the time Angelie had finished filming B-roll of his temples, he was over by his van having a talk with another person. She couldn’t wait any longer. She felt compelled to move on but she would feel like a flake for avoiding him, even though she probably knew he would not have even noticed.
She stepped into her fears and interrupted their dialogue. They hugged.
“Wow, Scion, so I finally get to see your work at a festival,” she said.
That’s not true. He had them up at Lightning in a Bottle.
Angelie was nervous.
“How are things going for you?” Scion asked her.
“They are alright,” her voice in high pitch. She was covering up, and he knew it. And she knew he knew that she knew it.
The dance we do.
“Did you get all the footages you needed?” he asked.
“Uh-huh,” she said.
Angelie probably did needed more footages of Scion for this documentary interview, but she just didn’t want to come off incompetent so she said, “Uh-huh.”
“Come by sometime and let’s have tea at my house,” he said. Angelie felt a warmth in her heart that traveled south. She noticed his friend just standing there waiting for them to finish, so she cut the conversation short.
“So I just wanted to say how amazing this all is. We’re still in post-production for your story,” she said. “I don’t want to keep you for long. I’ll leave you two back to where you had left off.”
“I’ll be back,” she lied. And as she’s making careless promises to him, Angelie observed herself judging herself. Anxiety starts to creep up, and she noticed that too.
They shook hands, and as their hands were pulling apart, their fingers interlocked and lingered for a split second. She felt his energy.
She wanted him.
Her heart raced, and she had to shut out the inappropriate images of all the possibilities that could happen at his wonderland home.
By the time she had walked off this spell, she was on her way to the camps three miles down. Alas, the sun had set, and the array of art lights created an ambiance that glowed throughout the desert oasis.
She ignored the voice telling her how lonely and sad she is right now.
I have to push through.
She thought about Q Brickwell and his non-profit, Harmonium, and wondered if he’s around. They are a sobriety meeting that set up at music festivals like these. He gave her his NA chip of 4 years.
The chip, along with Dream Rockwell’s signature to Angelie, “You are the Light, xoxo Dream,” both disappeared two weeks after Angelie had started drinking again.
The Universe delivers what I put out.
She wanted to crawl in a hole, so she started heading back towards the tent.
She look at the landscape illuminated by the reds, greens, blues of the glow art installations.
The Gypsy Dance
As she was while walking back toward her tent, a melancholy electro-acoustic sound penetrates amid the tepid desert air, beckoning her back towards the stage. She come across The Spring stage:
As she approached the stage, she saw two beautiful women, one singing the Middle East folktales of old and new, and the other belly dancing, golden snake wrappings around her arms, clad in fine glass beads that glistened with the swarming stage lights. The brass menazeri vibrates to the undulations of her limber body, calling forth the images of the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black Seas. Prince Caspian. Sinbad. Snakes. Intrigue. Darkness.
The calling penetrates her, breaking her emotions open. The darkness beckons.
Tears start falling and she begins crying. Shaking. She lets go of the control.
Tonight, both their hearts are breaking.
*Names are changed in asterisks
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