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Blog - Trish Wheatley

Is the grass greener for disabled visual artists showing work at festivals instead of galleries?


Back in September I visited artist Aidan Moesby, who was showing his latest work ‘Between Stillness and Storm’ at Head for the Hills Festival in Ramsbottom, Lancs. Aidan and I have a shared interest in the weather and this forms the basis, the main data input and the conceptual underpinning for the work. Between Stillness and Storm aims to introduce viewers to the connections Aidan is drawing together between the weather, climate change and mental health.

Aidan Moesby Between Stillness and Storm

Aidan Moesby Between Stillness and Storm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Walking into the unusual festival site, a traditional English cricket pitch that sits adjacent to a working steam railway, I was confronted by an intriguing, at points piercing gaggle of sound. The steady flow of festival-goers were also baffled, trying to work out what this was about. Strange little scientific instruments adorned a grassy knoll and chirped away at different frequencies. Stay to listen long enough and the sounds would change as a cloud covered over the sun and then the intensity would build as the sun came out again. The synthetic, rudimentary electronic timbre was at times harsh, it wasn’t beautiful, I decided I didn’t like it. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s the conversations it started.

In talking to Aidan for my Q&A with him for a-n I discovered that he’s got this kind of infectious curiosity for observing how people react to the Solar Sonics without being given context. I began to rather enjoy it myself, being in the know, listening to the ideas people invented to create reason out of this mysterious auditory and visual conundrum. Being confused, though, isn’t really the point of the work. Conversation is a major part of Aidan’s practice so he tries to engage with as many people as he can so that they can discover more about these intriguing objects, their maker and his intentions.

Aidan Moesby Between Stillness and Storm

Aidan Moesby Between Stillness and Storm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Within the festival site itself was another part of the installation, which was created in collaboration with sound artist, Tim Shaw and produced with Kerry Harker. I found that I was not alone in really responding to the ‘core architecture’ of the large weather balloons, which swayed and bobbed in the breeze, people standing mesmerised by the motion.

It was a real privilege to then be able to have an extended dialogue with Aidan over the course of the weekend, talking about the work, its potential and the festival as a setting for engaging with visual arts.

Green field festivals are an interesting proposition for the visual artist. In one way, it’s a major opportunity to have one’s work seen by thousands of people from all sorts of backgrounds. In another way, visual arts, as Aidan says, is at the bottom of the festival hierarchy, so compromise is currently top of the list for the requirements of a festival visual artist.

It became clear to me that this was something Aidan had battled with over his tour of the Northern Festivals Network, who co-commissioned the work with Unlimited. This was a first experimental foray into work of this nature, with some things going right, and some things that could’ve been done differently. It was evident from our conversations that Aidan is very keen to apply the learning from this experience to his future work. We talked about the need for a curatorial process that looks at the programming across the festival offer as a whole. This creates huge potential for giving the audience a holistic experience that enables them to engage with the work in a more impactful way.

I came away thinking that green field festivals are, if access is in place, a great opportunity for disabled visual artists to gain exposure for their work. Where the doors to gallery spaces might still remain closed, the gates to the fields appear to be open, and Aidan for one is walking straight through and relishing this new challenge.

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