In July of 2016 I had what may be described as an out of this world experience. The story starts with simple, average expectations of a weekend away with friends working (through a company called Festaff, if you are a live music lover and of little means, I would highly recommend) at a brand new music-meets-science festival at Jordell bank, Cheshire. I had nothing to base my expectations on apart from the large commercial festivals I have attended previously, so what I was not expecting was the mind-expanding transformation that I received in those 3 days.
The first sprinkling of magic occurred when we were delegated our shifts for the weekend and were faced with a choice; a 16 hour shift in a car park from 10am till 1am, or, 3 x 5 hour shifts, one on each day, inside the ‘Luminarium’; an art installation. Tempting as it was to spend the best part of the Earth’s daily rotation standing in a field in a high-vis jacket periodically waving our arms around to direct fellow sweaty festival goers to a campsite, we chose the magic for ourselves and went with the daily shifts at the Luminarium. And how could we have been so lucky as to make such a choice without really knowing what we were choosing?
On my first expedition into ‘Katena’, the inflatable alien sculpture designed by Alan Parkinson and conceived by Architects of Air, I felt a lump in my chest that crawled up into my throat and drew tears from my eyes. I was moved, by sunlight hitting plastic. ‘A sanctuary of the senses’ with its turrets and its mutations, its brightness and its darkness, a dome of triangular stars burning just out of reach and endless variations of colours kissing your skin, the experience of a Luminarium is simply beyond words as it is so deeply rooted within raw emotion. Senses ecstatic, imaginations run wild, adults become children and children find a horizon of infinite joy and pleasure.
Possibly the most beautiful part of working at the Luminarium was being able to see a public of all ages and backgrounds react to this magnificent environment. Standing on the other side of the airlock was one of the most wonderful jobs a human could ask for, holding the door open to unleash unsuspecting visitors into a new dimension of experience, each individual becomes a blank canvas, overcome by uncensored visceral emotion and wonder their pupils dilate and their heads tilt back so they can attempt to absorb the beast of incomprehension that surrounds them. This was a place where people could be together without words, without selfies, without ego. Of course, children ran and squealed, couples Publically Displayed their Affection and some were insistent on treating the delicately hand stitched walls as a slide, but one thing was true for every single human being that entered Katena, they were experiencing sensory freedom.
Beyond the Luminarium there was still infinitely more phenomenon to be explored. The surface of the iconic Lovell telescope, a marvel of architecture, scientific purpose and human will power was used as a backdrop for a projection installation by Brian Eno. Similar to his ‘77 million paintings’ the installation consisted of ever changing textures and colours, this could be seen from any location at the festival, always looking spectacularly different. Most importantly it could be seen from the main stage, so whilst watching Karl Hyde’s energetic performance during Underworld’s set, or Jean Michel-Jarre play music by manipulating laser beams with gloved hands or even smaller bands such as Manchesters ‘Henge’ chanting about demilitarisation and the colonization of space, the Lovell telescope still stood, gloriously morphing, evolving just like our tiny little minds, unaware of the whole that we exist within on this tiny little blue dot surrounded by infinite mystery.
I have not even gone into detail about the installations that covered the arboretum that continued on well into the night, creating a surreal place for people to meet and talk into the small hours of the morning. I cannot present within the limitations of words the sense of community that was created over those few days and the people we met and the things we saw. The whole experience of this weekend left me astounded by the power of human curiosity. From the musicians to the scientists, organisers to artists, the achievement of bringing humanity together to explore the primal curiosities of the unknown was rife. The realisation for me was that this is what I want to be a part of, I no longer have the desire to contribute to galleries where art is locked up in white cells. It is places like this; with people like this where things can really take place and change can begin to form in the outside world. Take all the ‘art’ out of galleries and turn them into venues that people can use so that things can finally start happening again. I fell in love with life and experience, I felt real hope for the environment and humanity and a calmness and determination I had never faced before, and finally I was brutally awaked from this idyllic utopia as I read the discarded newspapers on my train journey home.