These days, at a festival outside of Glastonbury’s Green Fields, you spend as much time doing mimes, stand-up comedy or a yoga workshop as you groove to a gig set. And visual artists are increasingly moving into the spotlight – once alongside the design of the poster and festival program or the implementation of small and modest exhibitions.
Nowadays every festival worth its money commissions at least one great piece of art, be it a dramatic installation, a bright and colorful mural, or a captivating sculpture made from industrial waste.
One thinks, for example, of Patrick Shearn’s ten meter tall astronaut in Coachella, who projected the faces of the festival goers onto his helmet; or the fountain in Bonnaroo, which is given a creative new coat of paint every year.
And one festival doing everything for the arts this year is Green Man 2021, an independent music and arts festival held annually in mid-August in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.
Green Man Festival © Eric Aydin-Barberini
On the cutting edge
Founded in 2003, Green Man has been a leader in festival culture throughout the century and remains one of the few UK festivals that has not been ruined by commercialization or overexposure. In short, it’s still very cool.
Since 2016, Green Man has been commissioning visual artists to create new works in unusual spaces, supported by a development-promoting artist residence during the festival. Green Man has worked with ten artists and collectives and presented two tours at the festival, including works by Nathaniel Rackowe, Antonio Roberts, Megan Broadmeadow and Carlo Bernardini.
This year, Green Man is building on this legacy and announcing four new temporary assignments from visual artists who work with moving images, video, augmented and virtual reality and projection mapping.
Art installation at Green Man, 2019
Art installation at Green Man, 2019
New art for 2021
Gweni Llwyd, Freya Dooley, Beth Kettel and Kristina Pulejkova will each exhibit new and significantly redesigned works during the four-day art and music festival, which will take place from August 19-22, 2021.
And fittingly, in a year in which the world is again concentrating on the problems of climate and sustainability, these four artists are looking deeply into nature, its systems and structures.
Each work will attempt to communicate through the festival environment and create a new fictional reality in the larger temporary city of Green Man, a place for unexpected art encounters. Read on as we look at each of these cross-border artworks in detail.
1. Silicone retina
The order of the artist Gweni Llwyd from Cardiff, Silicone Retina, hangs in the pine forests of Green Man and tips the subsoil into the treetops. The moving image work explores the porous boundary between nature and technology, especially in the landscape.
Following a narrative of mechanical vibrations, organic rhythms and biomimetic pulses, the piece functions as a portal to what is above and below the surface: from science fiction cells, worm-like network cables and bionic creatures to electrical networks and drainage labyrinths. It draws similarities between supposedly passive or everyday biological and cyborgian systems and highlights their wonderfully absurd complexity.
© Gweni Llwyd
2. The eavesdropper
Freya Dooley’s assignment The Eavesdropper appears at nightfall on the other bank of Fortune Falls Pond from Green Man. The large-format moving image work is a rhythmic visual collage that explores connections between sound figures and environmental patterns.
Based on the forms of fragmented time and space in split-screen cinema and the “infinite” imaginary terrain of myriorama cards from the 19th. The work also features a soundtrack that bleeds between the sounds of the festival that contains it.
The origins of this work by Freya, also a Cardiff artist, are loosely based on ‘Un Re en Ascolto’, a short story by Italo Calvino about a king’s obsessive attempts to maintain power by eavesdropping on invisible threats. Under restless acoustic monitoring, the architecture of its surroundings absorbs and changes – it becomes an ear, a shell, a clock – and the rhythms of regulated structures are broken over time.
Deviating from this central premise, Freya’s commission for Green Man imagines loose lips and living bodies in a fabricated landscape that is spiraling out of control.
© Freya Dooley
3. A mutual influence
A Mutual Influence commissioned by Nottingham artist Beth Kettel, a co-commission with Forma, occupies a forest clearing at Green Man, consisting of a new audio piece and an augmented reality (AR) sandbox installation.
An AR sandbox is an intuitive and interactive geographic tool that visualizes spatial patterns of environmental data in terms of topography and mapping. The work interweaves personal, psychological and philosophical reflections on a range of relationships: organism and environment, foreground and background, time and space and the end of a romantic relationship.
In search of stillness with the constant shifting of the emotional, metaphysical and physical experience of being alive, Beth continues her research on ecology, consciousness and mental health of humans, plants and animals as well as relationships between species and communication strategies.
Stigmergy is a communication method of indirect collaboration between organisms and their actions through the environment. The principle is that the traces that a single action leaves in the environment stimulate the execution of a subsequent action by the same or another agent.
Kettel explores this idea by continually reshaping the narrative and terrain, influenced by the words and actions mapped around them.
© Beth Kettel
4. Where we all meet
Macedonian artist Kristina Pulejkova, who currently lives in London, presents a piece that reconfigures and expands her existing work Where We All Meet, 2020, for the large canvases that flank Green Man’s main stage in Mountain’s Foot.
The audience can also access the digital 360 virtual reality film A Calling Deeply, 2019 via a special QR code. This two-part installation will be presented for the first time in the UK at Green Man in Wales and follows a large-scale staging of the work on Lake Ohrid, where it was filmed in North Macedonia in July 2021. The work tells the story of the mysterious life cycle and migration of the European eel, an endangered species.
All European eels are born in the same place, in the depths of the Sargasso Sea, part of the Atlantic Ocean. Carried by the Gulf Stream, they travel for almost two years to get to our rivers and lakes, where they spend most of their lives to maturity. Ready for the way back, the eels embark on a “honeymoon” in the Sargasso Sea, where they reproduce.
However, the eel population is rapidly declining due to dams, polluted waters and climate change. This is a story about two eels, Bisera and Alice, from Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia and Thames in Great Britain, respectively.
They magically manage to start a telepathic conversation in which they share their life experiences, adventures and fantasies about the return trip. Finally, the VR play introduces the eels’ act of love in the Sargasso Sea, an act so elusive that it remains a mystery to this day.
Kristina explains: “I wanted to bring this story to a wider public as it has been an obsession for me since I discovered that the eels living in Lake Ohrid have been blocking their migration path back to the sea since the 1960s due to the construction of six hydroelectric plants I hope that telling the story of the eels could stimulate conversations about the impact of humans on biodiversity due to the ever-increasing need for electricity. “
© Kristina Pulejkova
Lectures and midnight art walk
Would you like to learn more about these works of art and their creators at this year’s Green Man Festival? Visual arts producer Lexi Zelda Stevens will feature the four 2021 artists and Green Man’s growing community of artists in a series of public talks and a midnight art walk presented in partnership with Einstein’s Garden, Green Man’s scientific engagement area will.
You can find more information about the festival on the Green Man Festival website.