Castles In The Sky

looks at the arts scene in festivals

Jellyfish sculptures at Glastonbury

Jellyfish sculptures at Glastonbury

As the summer approaches, hoards of music fans flock to their nearest Millets in an attempt to grab the cheapest floral tent with matching Wellington boots. Three days of debauchery and drunken dancing to a rock band with a pair of oversized sunglasses stuck to your face await the majority of festival-goers.

What many people fail to recognise, is that aside from specific ‘arts’ festivals – the recent Hay Festival, and also the LIFT festival -London International Festival of Theatre-, larger ‘cooler’ music festivals also offer up great opportunities to see stunning examples of art and theatre. Glastonbury is titled the festival of contemporary performing arts, and yet the majority of interest surrounding it, are the imminent performances of U2 and Beyonce. It is doubtful as to whether many of the 180,000 festival-goers ever venture beyond the area that holds the many music stages or the confines of their 2m by 2m tent. Performing at this year’s festival are leading circus crew No Fit State, as well as Naked Lunch, 1623 Theatre Company, and 4 Poofs and a Piano. The line up for the theatre and circus field spans the entire festival.

The Green fields are also a hive of artistic activity, artists create intricate carvings of animals using chainsaws, floral headbands are woven using silk flowers and wood, and willow sculptures spring up all around the field. Workshops run throughout the festival for many different artistic mediums. These people are at the top of their game, and yet these fields are rarely explored by many of the general public. If you look at how a festival site is constructed, heavy emphasis is placed upon the design, the importance of an aesthetically interesting and exciting stage and surrounding area is as integral to the experience of a festival as what it put on the stage. In the 90’s a giant ‘Love’ structure, spelling out the word and inspired by The Beatles was erected. The sign was painted and became a source of interactivity with art, as people added their own decorations and clambered over the giant structure. Each year thousands of huge silk, colourful flags adorn areas of the site, creating a forest of colour to sit beneath, and watch. Even the bins at Glastonbury are individually painted.

It is not just Glastonbury that can be an artistic experience, even Download festival is built upon this idea of art, and the iconic pink dog logo that is associated with the festival is seen on T-Shirts and websites everywhere. Bestival on the Isle of Wight, although marketed as a major electronic music festival, is one of the most artistic and copiously decorated sites. You merely have to glance at their website to understand that the organisers are clearly very preoccupied with how things look.

Festivals are clearly about designers and artists coming together, and it is interesting to look at how far an awareness of this design affects the experience of a festival. To marvel at a large psychedelic castle built upon a plinth 20m high, is often one of the things that make your time special. A performance from Arcade Fire or Massive Attack is made truly spectacular with careful lighting design and with artistic sensitivity, likewise performances from musicians can be so perfectly staged, and spark such intense photographic recognition, that it is like watching a theatre production evolve in front of your eyes.

When Jeremy Clarkson was quoted saying that: “My wife got dressed up like Worzel Gummidge, put some bog roll in a bag and roared off in her Aston Martin to watch a bunch of useless teenagers singing in the rain at Glastonbury. I think she may have gone mad.” We must wonder whether this opinion is shared by many, Clarkson obviously does not recognise anything outside of the music or mud as worth a mention. In fact festivals attract the best speakers, poets, painters, photographers and painters we have to offer and their artistic merit is growing – perhaps his wife heard that.