BlueDot Festival – A Reflection

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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?13654322_10210008134260242_8527097354821993962_n

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.26292745523_4fe52aa647_b1

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.

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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.

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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.

140 per minute; Rave Culture and Art in 1990’s Poland – at Open’r music festival, Gdynia, Poland.

Referring to the beats in classic techno dance music belonging to 90’s cyber culture, this exhibition explores the relationship between politics, technology and art at the end of the 20th century. In his book ‘After the Future’ (2011) Italian theorist Franco Beradi (Bifo) refers to the 1900’s as ‘the century that trusted in the future’, but notes the negative shift in this belief starting in the final decades of the 20th century, ending with cyber culture in the 1990’s. Bifo describes cyber culture as a new type of utopia, one that differs from the utopia of progression and expansion imagined by the rest of the century;

“The Net is the utopia of an infinite, virtual space where countless trajectories of billions of intelligent agents meet and create their economic, cultural, and psychic reality.”

This too, reflects rave culture also taking place in 1990’s Poland where electronic music parties;

“began to appear in Poland together with the political system change in the early 90s, often voicing the naive, but nonetheless authentic optimism of opening up to the world, its civilizational and technological advancement.”

Bifo believes that the previously imagined utopia’s, so focused on economic and special growth, have caused the inevitability of environmental catastrophe, and pre empting it; our modern obsession with dystopia. This is embodied in the work of Janek Simon, whose work ‘Robot VJ mixing channels 1 and 2’ was included in the ‘140 beats per minute exhibition’. Simon’s practice strives for autonomy from our commodity dependant civilisation with works such as ‘Home made digital watch’ (2005), as well as works which physically predict the apocalypse such as ‘Slight Earth quake’ (2004) (a shaking glass of water) reflecting the importance of our own preparation for the end of the future.

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View of the “140 beats per minute” exhibition, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski   

Perhaps most efficient at transforming the viewer into the visual dimension of the 1990’s were the spatial installations by Andrzej Miastkowski; ‘That which appears everyday and makes itself’ (1997) and Piotr Wryzykowski; ‘Global Social Organism’ (1996). The first of which consisted of a black-lit room with walls decorated with small fragments of neon yellow, surrounding an intricately adorned shrine in the centre of the room. The added element of sound, a soothingly hypnotic pulse, (which was unfortunately rather drowned out by the wailings of Bastille taking place on the main stage at the time of my exhibition exploration) created a juxtaposition between the senses, a tension that mimics that of the 90’s rave culture; both stimulating and soothing, a comfort and a threat.

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Andrzej Miastkowski, Wspólnota Leeeżeć, “To, co widnieje każdego dnia i czyni się samo”, 1997, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

Wryzykowski’s installation consisted of a spinning disco ball in the centre of a black room, the lights of which reached into every corner of the installation. Considering the admirable number of Wryzykowski’s artistic and politically active successes, I feel as though this was a rather bland representation of a truly inspiring artist.

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Piotr Wyrzykowski “Globalny Społeczny Organizm”, 1996, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

Fortunately Wryzykowski’s greater achievements were showcased in ‘Test na Cyborga’ (Cyborg Test) (1996) by C.U.K.T, the Polish art collective he co-founded in 1995. This piece was the personal highlight of the exhibition for me, a documentation of a happening performed by both the collective and the general public. C.U.K.T set up raves open to everyone willing to exchange information about their weight and size of their body, they then had a number relating to this information branded onto their left hand with permanent marker, and had this hand photocopied. A selection of these photocopies were shown alongside the contract filled out by the rave goer and three screens documenting this process. For me, this trade between experience and personal information predicts and reflects the workings of modern social media, and poses the question; why do we perceive things as ‘free’ only if we are not exchanging money for it. With further research into this collective and their activism, (in particular their creation of Wictoria Cukt, a virtual presidential candidate for the 2001 Polish election that had the potential to electrically embody all of the views of all of the people using the infinite space of the internet), I realised that this collective’s core beliefs are in fact very close to my own. Their anti-institutional attitude puts life at the forefront of activity, not art, something I believe is sorely missing from the practices that surround me in 2016 Britain.

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C.U.K.T, “Test na cyborga” (fragment), Warsaw, Zielona Góra, Düsseldorf, 1995, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

In all, this exhibition remained faithful to the works on display, being confined to their specific timescale was vital for the audience to understand the anthropological significance of the works, which I sometimes feel can be lost with decade specific exhibitions. The midst of Poland’s biggest music festival was the perfect setting for this educational exhibition, although afterwards I would have been quite partial to a bit of hard core techno music, of which was lacking at the festival as Bastille was STILL playing, so in a way this exhibition commented on it’s location itself – the commercialized world of music. Ultimately the selection of works on show walked me through the setting of 90’s culture that I had read about in ‘After the Future’, visually demonstrating those feelings of scepticism and celebration prior to Y2K.