Benjamin Kidd, 2015
Benjamin Kidd, 2015
Shun Ito’s “Cosmic Birds” was diplayed at Chad Varah Chapel for the Frequency Festival. Ito has been creating kinetic sculptures since 2001, using light and movement for aesthetic effects inspired by his study of dance.
Liberated arts organising
Uzma Johal, Barry Hale, and their team aim to occupy two architectures: firstly, the city itself, and what it represents; and secondly, the arts, the metaphysical/spiritual/economic architecture of artistic expression that helps and educates humanity. Though the project is exemplified by placing digital art directly on the stonework of a place renowned for its connection to liberty, they nevertheless face a difficult challenge in creating this framework for one and all.
The entire event coincided with the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. The document, created in 1215 despite King Richard’s opposition, rebuilt the structure of British politics. No longer could the Royalty dictate to their whims; now the people held the rights to their land, their beliefs, and their futures. The formation of the Magna Carta opened up new pathways for our concepts of liberty, but we are by no means in a utopia of liberty today. The spirit of King Richard still lingers. The Frequency Festival, as I said, faces a difficult challenge in supporting individualism and the economics of the artistic sphere. They recognised the constant struggle between freedom of expression and authoritarian suppression, and it was this awareness that allowed the Festival to function as well as it has.
Some systems currently in place that support the arts are fragile and underdeveloped. Powerhouses such as Saatchi & Saatchi ushered in a commercialisation of the arts, and further added to a sense of elitism. With university cutbacks and ever-fluctuating changes in funds, the arts and humanities are continuing to become fields of interest only for a specific range of individuals, which could be boiled down with those with money or those who don’t care about such things. This is something arts producers like Threshold Studios, and artists like Nick Driftwood are trying to change, or at least subvert. They do not subscribe to the idea that art is simply a status symbol for an upper echelon of the rich. They are firmly grounded in the communicative power of the arts, and thus build systems that work toward the goals of that ideology, rather than toward the goal of making a buck out of the art market.
In some ways, Hale and Driftwood’s work is comparable to the Altgames movement, a DIY approach to cultural production. Both have a connection to Punk, a musical and artistic movement of the 1970s promoting free expression, interconnectivity and a breakdown of social hierarchies . “I grew up during punk where the philosophy was go buy a guitar and start a band and there was very little separation between those on stage and those in the audience. That’s come round again”, says Driftwood, who seems to imbue his work with this sentimentality. If it has come around again, should we be concerned about the same commercialisation of punk occurring again in new media art forms? As much as Frequency Festival revels in how it supports its artists, if it continues to grow in success will it too have to cede to a bigger picture in which free expression may not be at the top of the agenda?
This gives me hope that they will continue to focus on building a framework for artists that resists the pull of commercialisation.
ROAD promotional video
Nick Driftwood is a digital artist and videographer who works with soundscape designers to experiment with a sense of place. From the official website: “ROAD is an immersive non–linear screen work for public spaces that is inspired by the relationship between freedom and technology.”
On the ROAD
It seems logical to appropriate the Punk Mentality – alongside individualism, grassroots, community funding – when trying to break down the elitism within the arts. Driftwood’s piece ROAD, a visual and musical piece, is philosophically related to the idea of the freedom of the roadtrip, the American dream, and – most importantly to me – the Beat Generation, who I’d argue were some of the freest literati of contemporary times. Whilst I observe my image of Lincoln Castle destabilising under seeper’s 3D mapped projections, I also witness the barrier between audience and the arts collapse, letting Beat-Thought, Punk-Freedom and creativity flourish. They are creating a new architecture, moving away from defined roles, and into a playful space of sharing and communication. Barry Hale explains it perfectly: “art speaks most effectively when it engages with the beliefs, the questions and the passions of everyone, away from the commercial concerns of arts investors and the machine that serves them.” Yet this machine looms over the creative and humanitarian professions.
Many of the events at the festival are entirely free. Hale explained to me how they try and create an adventurous, explorative atmosphere across the city. Like a well-designed quest system, every event is a leaping-on point for discovering the rest of the artistic exhibits on offer. I began with ROAD at Chad Varah House and then travelled to what is known as The Steep Hill towards the other sights and sounds across the city. I saw parents entertaining their children during the holiday break, overwhelmed consumers decompressing at an installation in the shopping centre, and wild businessmen stumbling across something that connected with them.
Squidsoup is an international group of artists, researchers and designers (UK/NO/NZ) working with digital and interactive media.
However, the machine that looms over artists whirrs on. How can we support a playful, interactive, multi-demographic arts & humanities, when it doesn’t make any money? The answer might be to see what happens systemically when the city is made into a playful space. 17,000 people came to view the festival. 800 visitors a day came into the Waterside Shopping Centre. At the launch party I learnt many of the hotel spots in the city were fully booked, aggravating German tourists who could not find a place to stay; each of those visitors spent money in cafes, local shops, the scene that is Lincoln that exists with or without the festival. This new, enlightened, for-the-people, by-the-prosumer approach to artistic funding and growth does benefit the community. The artists are given space and room to breathe. The physical architecture of the city drives the construction of the festival, and this drives the audience not just from artist to artist, but from site to site, driving economic activity across the city.
“You hear a lot about how tough things are for the arts at the moment and that’s true. There have been big cuts in public funding for the arts and that affects not just people creating work but also venues and festivals who present it. There is also the impact of digital distribution and it is hard for creators of anything digital to make money from their work. But there are good reasons to be optimistic. Audiences are growing hungry for new experiences and for being part of something. The tools for making and sharing work are getting better and cheaper.” – Nick Driftwood
The festival was a physical expression of a kind of Punk mentality: ‘come together and be a part of something, and maybe we can make something grow’; this only functions with belief, a belief that needs to permeate contemporary culture or the arts will suffer. If everyone can create, everyone needs space. If everything is cheap, does this devalue the finished product? If there is no budget to begin with, how does anyone create? The Frequency Festival shows, within the microcosm of Lincoln, how it could be possible for the macrocosm of the international art economy to evolve. ROAD showed how relatively accessible technology and a free spirit can create a piece inspiring that innate need for adventure. Practical and artistic needs are both supported in the festival, and by utilising the interconnectivity found in our prosumer future, the Festival exemplifies how the economy thrives naturally when people work together. Rather than trying to fund collaboration – rather than seeing it as a cash injection into the arts – we should see the arts as a functioning system that money can move easily around in.
Across the world people are creating experiences within the arts focusing on expression, community and collaboration, to combat “a hierarchy we should regularly challenge”, as Barry Hale put it: hierarchies in culture, social circles, the arts, the government; hierarchies we accept diligently which, perhaps, slow down our development. The geography and architecture of Lincoln were temporarily appropriated into a space that artists and audience could share, inspired by the ideals of Punk and collaboration — how do we make this happen on a macrocosmic level?
More information about artists featured at Frequency Festival 2015
Note: All infoboxes on artists were embedded into the article by the editor