Summit, since its inception, has brought together leaders in the creative fields. More recently, they’ve put a greater emphasis on contemporary art, bringing in new Art Director Alex Zhang, who has been behind collaborations with artists like Jenny Holzer, Hank Willis Thomas, and Hassan Hajjaj.
Whitewall spoke with Zhang about Summit’s growing engagement with artists.
WHITEWALL: Why did Summit want to increase its arts initiatives?
ALEX ZHANG: The arts have always been ingrained in the DNA of Summit led by past curators like Nadia Nascimento from ARTNOIR and Marshall Birnbaum who launched the Artist in Residency Program. We’ve always had an emphasis on immersive event production and facilitating multi-disciplinary interaction where artists play a critical role by challenging our community, sparking conversation, and making people think.
More recently, we’ve seen success in a more interdisciplinary event production department that encompasses art, music, environmental design, and production. That’s allowed for a more fluid interaction between these creative worlds, resulting in more effective and memorable experiences.
We realize the quickest and most effective way for an individual to drop in is through immersive experiences, in which art plays a critical role in that equation.
WW: How would you describe your role as the Art Director of Summit?
AZ: I’ve always viewed my role as an Art Director as more of an assistant to the artist, helping support and develop their artistic concepts when I can, and presenting context as it relates to audience, resources, and environment.
From tasks as trivial as fetching cigarettes for Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj during our pop-up photoshoot exhibition in a Downtown L.A. alleyway to raise money for Skid Row to connecting Jenny Holzer with the March For Our Lives team to collaborate on a takeover of all the theater marquee signs on Broadway to spur voter turnout days before the 2018 midterm elections, my role as the Art Director is part curatorial and part support system in helping produce art projects that open up a discourse and create conversations.
WW: What kinds of immersive experiences do you want to create?
AZ: We aim to create surreal experiences that challenge your assumptions — either through personal reflection or group conversation.
I’ve come to learn that the context of an experience is almost as important as the experience itself.
At Summit LA18, Faith XVLII, Lyall Sprong, and I had been in conversation for months about the installation location for “ASTRONOMIA NOVA,” a holographic installation of the moon created from projecting a video onto a suspended, 12-foot in diameter, circular silk screen.
We had originally planned for an alleyway behind the historic L.A. Theater, but three days before the event, we ran into some major permit and cost issues, forcing us to reconceive the environment of the installation. This lead us to relocating it to the upstairs abandoned attic of the theater where they stored all their unused theater chairs. And it was only accessible via hand crank elevator.
The final result couldn’t have been better. And it became one of most memorable moments of the event, holding space for contemplation reflection and presence.
Chapter 1 — Noteworthy
Summit has always brought together leaders in the creative fields, but recently, they’ve put a greater emphasis on contemporary art.
New Art Director Alex Zhang has been behind collaborations with artists like Jenny Holzer and Hank Willis Thomas.
Summit aims to create surreal experiences that challenge your assumptions — either through personal reflection or group conversation.
In Los Angeles, right before the midterm elections late last year, Summit and March for our Lives partnered with artist Jenny Holzer on an LED-lined bus with messages like “Vote for Your Life,” and “Practice Nonviolence.” And during Summit LA18, attendees participated in a photo booth by artist Hassan Hajjaj, dressing in custom-made clothes and Moroccan accessories.
Summit Art Director Alex Zhang shared with us the power of immersive art.
WHITEWALL: Recent collaborators include Jenny Holzer, Hassan Hajjaj, Hank Willis Thomas, and Faith XVLII. What makes an artist a good fit for Summit?
ALEX ZHANG: A desire and interest to challenge their work and operate outside of the normal confines of their practice or environment. We aren’t an art fair or biennale, a music festival or conference so the standard associated rules don’t apply.
We seek a willingness to engage with different disciplines and audiences, and a belief in the value of intersectionality and cross pollination. The artists I enjoy working with the most play in different mediums and are not quite genre-definable.
WW: Thus far, what artistic projects and installations have been particularly engaging?
AZ: At Summit LA18, Moroccan artist and photographer Hassan Hajjaj transformed an alleyway in our Summit Downtown campus into a pop up photo booth experience, inspired by his home riad studio in Marrakech.
After styling and photographing over 80 guests and transforming those photo into bespoke art pieces, Hassan Hajjaj and Summit launched Heroes And Sheroes, a postcard campaign that featured portraits taken by Hassan Hajjaj at Summit LA to raise money for L.A.’s Skid Row.
WW: On Powder Mountain, are there plans for permanent installations or arts programming?
AZ: Over the years, we’ve featured arts programming, an incredible Artist in Residency program, and have hosted few installations on the mountain from artists Griffin Loop, Shantell Martin, and Simon Beck.
At the core of this project is intentional community design through architecture, art, and programming.
Powder Mountain is already being recognized as an architectural destination as we finished our first development of custom homes from renowned architectural groups like Marmol Radziner, Olson Kundig, and MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects.
We will continue to bring incredible artists to Powder Mountain in hopes of building an unprecedented open-air museum in the mountains.
Chapter 2 — Noteworthy
Art Director Alex Zhang seeks out artists that share a belief in the value of intersectionality and cross pollination.
Summit and March for our Lives partnered with artist Jenny Holzer on an LED-lined bus with messages like “Vote for Your Life,” and “Practice Nonviolence.”
At Summit LA18, Moroccan artist and photographer Hassan Hajjaj transformed an alleyway in our Summit Downtown campus into a pop up photo booth experience.