An hour and a half outside of London and 20 minutes from Cambridge, lies the rural site of Wysing Arts Centre. Over the past few decades, the former farmland has transformed into an incubator for artistic experimentation and collaboration. By focusing on process and production instead of outcomes or presentations, Wysing—a registered charity—provides a "safe space" that jettisons the conscious limitations that plague other institutions such as galleries, museums and even academia. And on Saturday, 30 August 2014, Wysing will host Space-Time, the single-day annual music festival now in its fifth year.
Experimental live music, art, films and more will take place across indoor stages and an unusual amphitheater (made from recycled, discarded and found materials) designed by artists Folke Kobberling and Martin Kaltwasser. This year the festival has excitingly decided to primarily showcase female musicians and visual artists, including Hamburg-based dark techno DJ Helena Hauff, cellist Lucy Railton, voice-manipulating sound artist Holly Herndon and the "jazzy, post-pop-punk, hip-funk outfit" Ravioli Me Away. The diverse line-up—with no special emphasis on "top" acts—not only guarantees to includes your favored genre but is a hotspot for discovering music that you've likely never heard of, and warming up to other genres.
Donna Lynas, Director of Wysing Arts Centre and the festival curator, has been at Wysing for nine years. As an artist who had her own studio for five years before working at Modern Art Oxford and South London Gallery (where she introduced the performance program), Lynas has invariably gravitated towards exploring the relationship between art and music. "I’ve always been very conscious that artists working in studios use music as a way to focus on making, and how many of them are also really great musicians," she says.
Her first-ever boss was Chrissie Iles (now Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art), and it was those years working for Iles as she curated shows and events with artists such as Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono and Gustav Metzger that developed Lynas' interest in live acts and performances. Ever since landing at Wysing, Lynas has made sure that music plays a very important role in the program, such as having Andy Holden (an artist who works in various mediums, including the band The Grubby Mitts) curate—and build stages—their first festival in 2010. We spoke with Lynas about the festival.
What is the process like for determining each year's festival theme, and how did you land on the focus of female artists?
The themes come out of the wider program; we thematize across the whole year as a way to bring people together under a conceptual starting point. It’s important to include the festival in the theme; to keep bring the festival back to the visual arts as an anchor. We started naming the festival "Space-Time" in 2011 and then adding sub-headings that related to each year’s theme. Space-Time is Einstein’s theory of the fourth dimension and what I have wanted to do with the festival is create a space where there is genuine art and music crossover; both visual artists working in music and musicians crossing into sound or more abstract ways of working, or collaborating or working visually in interesting ways.
I really want this year’s festival to be... about what’s happening at the edges: when life, work, performer, audience, genres and gender all become more blurred.
I was thinking about the theme of The Future, which we are exploring across 2014 as a way to mark Wysing’s 25th birthday, and how that might be realized in the festival. I started thinking about the new ways that people were collaborating and how some people, like Holly Herndon, really are pushing at some interesting edges. Not just the point where art and music cross over but in the whole creation of the music, both its source and how it relates to the audience. I really want this year’s festival to be a celebration of the potential of the future, to be about what’s happening at the edges: when life, work, performer, audience, genres and gender all become more blurred.
Does this year's theme resonate with you on a personal level?
I'm not an artist myself anymore, but yes, as a woman working in the arts I really wanted to do this. I have to say that working with the structures of the music industry is very different than working with the gallery system. I have really had to learn how to negotiate that over the past five years. I could give you examples of some very bad behavior I've experienced from men whilst working on the festivals, but then I could also give you examples where men have given me the greatest encouragement. When I thought about a fifth festival at Wysing, I asked myself "What would really make me want to do it again?" This was my answer.
I think the festival is capturing a moment—the interesting things that are happening outside the mainstream in art and music right now
Aside from gender, what was your criteria for selecting the artists for the diverse lineup?
Everyone invited to take part in this year’s festival is very much crossing the territories I've mentioned. I think the festival is capturing a moment—the interesting things that are happening outside the mainstream in art and music right now. Everyone taking part does of course have a lineage, whether that be riot grrrl, queer politics, feminism, or the influence of electronic pioneers like Laurie Spiegel or Delia Derbyshire. I think for most of the people involved in our festival, the lineage hasn’t come out of pop music which is really a male-dominated history (though there is an occasional nod to 1980s techno and electro). This makes it all sound very heavy when in fact it will also be a lot of fun. There'll be a lot of dancing!
Are any visual or sound works being specifically commissioned for the festival this year?
We haven't commissioned anything specifically this year—last year we commissioned a new piece by New York-based artist Keren Cytter who collaborated with the London-based bands Maria & the Mirrors and Vindicatrix. This year, people have told me that they are making something new, in particular Nik Colk Void of Factory Floor and the artist Hannah Sawtell who is currently exhibiting at the New Museum in New York. I'm intrigued to see what they will do. Nik is really looking at new ways to use the electric guitar, again to move it outside a male music history narrative. To set it free.
How would you say Space-Time Festival distinguishes itself from the endless number of other music festivals out there?
We don’t have a hierarchy in terms of names or billing; everyone is coming to take part because they are interested and have something to contribute
Our festival is totally not for profit. We fundraise to be able to put it on and so aren’t driven by needing to sell a high volume of tickets. We don’t have a hierarchy in terms of names or billing; everyone is coming to take part because they are interested and have something to contribute. Audiences know that if they come to Wysing they are likely to see something that they will never have experienced before and that is what’s special about the festival. It really is a safe space in which artists can experiment and try things out and the audience is always amazing: respectful, focused, and quiet! They are there because they want to see this work and they are with the people performing all the way.
Early Bird passes (£23) for Space-Time: The Future are available until 1 July 2014 from Eventbrite; day Passes will be £28.
Portrait of WE courtesy of WE, images of previous festivals courtesy of Wysing Arts Centre