Glastonbury: A Living Installation

June 30, 2015

The last five days at Worthy Farm in Somerset were a midsummer night’s dream.

© Helen Gush

With Friday’s empty slot on the Pyramid Stage remaining a mystery, the festival site was alive with rumour and expectation. Secret gigs and underground clubs were on everyone’s lips and despite the unsettling character of the festival’s micro-climate (blazing sunshine one moment and pouring rain the next!) the mood was sky high.

What sets the energising atmosphere at Glastonbury apart from that of other festivals is the hopeful sense of the individual and collective potential for change. I spent the whole time in anticipation of the next transformative moment, wondering whether it would happen during a particularly electrifying set, a conversation in the Left Field or a random encounter whilst sheltering from the rain under a paper-mâché lion. The revolutionary power of creativity is tangible in every corner of the site. Politics is a pervasive part of the Glastonbury experience. You could seek it out directly through the fantastic programme of events in the Left Field, or the Green politics of the Green and Healing Fields, but signs of political engagement are everywhere. The ‘Peace Time’ wings that crowned the Pyramid Stage announced a commitment to pacifism, which was given particular emotive resonance when the Dalai Lama joined Patti Smith on stage during her set. Patti hit a rousing high when she held up her guitar, declaring ‘this is the weapon of my generation’ and fusing music and politics in one fell swoop. The satirical immersive environment of the spectacular Shangri-La, with this year’s Shang Re-Election theme, is a powerful indictment of the state of British politics and festival-goers actively contribute to this engagement with their self-fashioned flags which fly high above the crowd during every set.

The Pyramid Stage 2015
The Pyramid Stage 2015

The experience of walking around the festival site is like nothing I’ve ever done before. It feels like a living art installation. Such care has gone into making the site a wonderful place to spend 5 consecutive days. Each area has a strong, distinct aesthetic and the site is carefully curated to ensure that 24 hour exposure to the elements is made as pleasant as possible. Beautifully designed spots provide shelter from sun and rain, as well as a place to rest those weary bones and have a conversation or a snooze. Wateraid points provide a steady-flow of free drinking water and signs across the site remind us of the importance of staying hydrated and wearing sun cream.

Festival-goers sheltering from the rain on Friday
Festival-goers sheltering from the rain on Friday

My overwhelming impression of the festival is that, at its very heart, it is about connecting people. Through music, conversation, ideas and spaces. The shared space of the festival is curated in a way that facilitates encounters and encourages free and creative expression of ideas.

The V&A’s sound and video installation Glastonbury: Land and Legend, now closing at the Jaroslav Fragner Gallery in Prague at the end of another successful Prague Quadrennial (PQ2015), reflects the museum’s encounter with Glastonbury and its exploration of the SharedSpace themes: Music, Weather, Politics, in the context of the UK’s leading festival of performing arts. In Prague, Glastonbury formed part of another powerful set of encounters, building a shared space which transcended time and space, connecting Glastonbury to London to Prague and beyond.

Thank you, Glastonbury, and thank you PQ!

Next steps…

Since acquiring the Glastonbury archive in 2014 the V&A has been in the process of working with the individual stages to collect and archive the festival’s past and present. During the festival, Kate Bailey, Curator of Scenography, and Ramona Riedzewski, Archivist and Conservation Manager in the Theatre and Performance Department at the V&A, visited the tribe leaders for Shangri-La, Block 9, Circus and Theatre, Silver Hayes, Avalon and many more and will continue to be in touch post-festival to gather production information. Watch this space!

1 comment so far, view or add yours


My interest in Glastonbury is mainly with the Town itself rather than the event (although I have been going for nearly 30 years and have worked at the event in numerous capacities). I found this article really heartening, IMO you’ve summed up the importance of the event in this sentence “What sets the energising atmosphere at Glastonbury apart from that of other festivals is the hopeful sense of the individual and collective potential for change”. So good to see that recognized. You may be interested in my blog about the Town of Glastonbury, I’ve written a couple of pieces on the event too. Thanks, Vicki

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