I’d intended my next post to be something vaguely weighty and deeply sensible about the Olympics, balanced media reporting and the Lottery – and I will write it before too long. But that urge to intellectualise has been overtaken by a rare urge to gush about a brilliant art experience I had on Saturday.
I went to the WTF art festival, a one day event held in Falmer, a hamlet on the outskirts of Brighton. First off, it was perfect. I don’t often say that. And if I stop to think I’ll find all the ways it wasn’t perfect. But psychologically and emotionally, it really was perfect. Perfect weather, perfectly realised aesthetic, perfect organisation and perfect location. It reinvented the original concept of the 60s hippie art festival for the 21st century. It had the same aesthetic as the Happenings of the 60s and 70s but with computers, used in clever ways by clever people. It had experimental music and performances, installations, live-art, live collage and sculptural objects carefully placed. It was non-commercialised, non-funded, barely marketed, free, joyfully generous, colleagual.
In short, there was not a whiff of sanctified arts management about it. Kooky, occassionally weird, sincere, I let it seep into my soul and refresh my jaded spirit. It did what art is meant to do: distract utterly from the mundane, burrowing underneath the bulshit, the systems, the radars and the money to find existence in a gloriously liminal space. It made art happen in an authentic, brilliantly ad-hoc, utterly joyful and non-intellectual way.
The location was the grounds of the gorgeously dilapidated Falmer Court. The Court is surrounded by the sweetest collection of outbuildings, annexes and hidden gardens, with not a manicured lawn in sight. All the various spaces were used as the perfect backdrop to odd performances and sculptural finds. The house is colonised and shared by 15 people in a kind of modern commune. The first time I came to the WTF in 2008 I wanted to be 20 years younger so that I could join them. I had the same feelings of admiration, envy and age on Saturday. I think, I really hope, that this kind of stuff goes on all over the place. But oh how brilliant to find it on the doorstep.
This was the kind of aesthetic that brought me into art aged 16 or so, although the sterile environs of Watford where I grew up didn’t offer much scope. I used to joke – in despair – that I was the only hippie in a 20 mile radius (although once I met the singer Hazel O’Connor and moved into her converted garage as a strange kind of housekeeper things began to look up).
I reconnected emotionally with the experience of art on Saturday, which made me realise how rare that emotional connection has become, despite the enormous number of Openings and exhibitions I go to. The visual arts has become dominated by intellectual concerns and discourse in the last 15 years – at least in the big gallery shows – and I think our experience is the poorer for it.
I was inspired to scribble down most of this post while shut into a dark damp annexe for the performance of Laboratoro, which according to the programme, “deals with the big bang of the soul and the emotions of outer space”. Nuff said.
Thank you WTF 2012.