Between Stillness and Storm at Bluedot Festival

Picture of a white balloon glowing at dusk. Selection of plants in the frame.
Between Stillness and Storm at Bluedot Festival. Photo by Aidan Moesby

Unlimited Trainee James Zatka–Haas attended Bluedot Festival over the weekend to, among other things, assist Unlimited Impact artist Aidan Moesby with his Northern Festivals Network Commission ‘Between Stillness and Storm.’ Here he reflects on his experiences at Bluedot.

Bluedot is a festival with the galaxy at its core. Part music weekender, part science fair, Bluedot positions itself as an intergalactic festival with truly universal implications, boasting a stellar programme of music, science, arts, technology culture, food and film all happening beneath Jodrell Bank’s iconic Lovell telescope, which is now 60 years old. The festival covers everything from Jedi training to climate change, from raving to poetry recitals – all in the hope of awakening its visitors to the multitude of questions facing earth and beyond.

I arrived on an overcast Friday evening, weather suitable for any mid-summer English Festival. With the generous help of Unlimited team member Fiona Slater, I assembled my ridiculously complicated tent, packed a bag with supplies and ventured inside. After a considerable time faffing about with a map and trying to orientate myself, I thought it best to start with some music. I began watching pioneering electronic duo Leftfield run through their seminal 95’ release Leftism to a crowd of ecstatic old school clubbers and intrigued younger people – it set the scene perfectly.

Aside from living out my dream to see Pixies play live, my main reason for attending the festival, and subsequently the point of this blog, was to assist artist Aidan Moesby (with collaborator Tim Shaw and producer Kerry Harker) with their Unlimited/ Northern Festival Network Commission ‘Between Stillness and Storm.’ Made of bells, balloons, anemometers and solar panels, ‘Between Stillness and Storm’ is an installation which looks at how the weather affects our mood. Situated away from the hustle and bustle of the music stages – in the zen-like ‘Galaxy Garden’ of the park’s Arboretum, the work creates beautiful kinetic sounds and lights that, like our moods, change with the weather. Reacting to the ever changing weather conditions during the day, the interlinking pieces shift and develop with the changes in wind speed and daylight, in one case, cycling through a musical motif linking an anemometer to analogue bells; in another, randomly selecting quotes and words that link your emotional state to the weather, admittedly a very British pastime.

From the calm inducing effects of the day, the piece blossoms at night where, combined with the flickering flames of Bluedot’s Pyrotechnic installation ‘Walk The Plank’ and Alison Ballard and Mike Blow’s ‘Sonic Spheres’ next door, the several balloons of the work light up and, over the course of 8 hours, play back the changes in light conditions that their senses picked up throughout the day. It’s a real visual spectacle, creating an atmosphere that, whilst still finding the link between the weather and wellbeing, takes the work to a higher level.

But how did the audience react? Speaking to visitors who interacted with the installation, the majority felt calm and reflective, complimenting the unobtrusive musicality of the work. Despite a ‘hands off’ rule, children were curious to explore how the piece fitted together, peering into the motors and solar panels, eager to interact with the balloons. Many felt it fitted well with the scientific theme of the festival – utilising technology and art to shed light on issues of mental health and climate change.

Many visitors were eager to find out about Unlimited and our work with disabled artists, seeing work like this as a general step in the right direction. Though many admitted that they rarely see work by disabled artists, everyone complimented the quality of this piece, one even mentioning it as a highlight of the festival.

Making festivals, particularly camping festivals accessible is never easy. All the stages, bars and facilities can get tricky. However Bluedot did a pretty good job – providing 2 for1 tickets for personal assistants, viewing platforms on the stages and accessible camping facilities. Although there was no BSL support this year, the organisers are trying to implement it for next.

Other festival highlights include a fascinating but terrifying lecture given by Sarah Bridle, Professor of Astrophysics at Manchester University on the relationship between population increase, food production, consumerism and climate change; a demonstration of how we can build a model universe; headliners Orbital performing a rendition of the Doctor Who Theme with the Radiophonic Workshop; and a debate chaired by Observer journalist Carol Cadwalladr onData Mining, Data Collection and what we can do to fight back’ involving Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science & Innovation Chi Onwurah MP, Hannes Grassegger, economist, journalist and co-author of the infamous and widely shared report on Cambridge Analytica The Data That Turned the World Upside Down and Public and International Law Solicitor Ravi Naik

Overall Bluedot was a wonderful experience – a family friendly festival that offers something for every age, interest and ability. Other summer camping festivals may limit themselves to music and the odd performer, but Bluedot goes beyond the call in delivering a weekend that is as informative as it is exciting. Definitely go in 2018.

Twitter Handles

Aidan Moesby – @TextArtist

Tim Shaw – @Tim4Shaw

Kerry Harker – @KerryHarker

Bluedot Festival – @bluedotfestival

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