Festival-goers are increasingly expectant for an experience that as visually stimulating as it is culturally enriching, beyond the live music. We talk to Latitude Festival arts curator Tania Harrision and designer Ami Jade Cadillac, about what it takes to create a temporary wonderland in the beautiful Suffolk countryside.
Photo: Dan Medhurst. (Lead photo: Victor Frankowski)
CR: Can you tell me about how you became involved with Latitude festival?
Tania Harrison: In 2006 I felt it was time for a festival that truly represented the wealth of culture happening across the UK – the best of theatre, comedy, literary and dance alongside strong music artists. Latitude is that festival. It was a great moment for everyone, the first Latitude, because, in amongst all the mistakes, we were doing something different. Of course, Glastonbury, the mother of all great festivals, had embraced many different arts, but I think with our real focus on the production level at Latitude, and with a particular focus on creating bespoke décor and theatrical sets for each stage, we truly were bringing a new experience to the festival-goer.
The biggest challenge is working to find a new wow factor for audiences for each show. A central part of my role is working closely with companies and performers collaborating with them to create site-specific pieces and shows in a new landscape. I start with the wildest thing that I can pull out of our imaginations and go from there.
Stage lettering. Photo: Antonia Wilson
Ami Jade Cadillac: Lavish Design are involved in producing a wide mix of creative projects, including art installations, environmental dressing, specialist performance programming and art curation for select clients such as Latitude Festival, the Arctic Monkeys, T In the Park and The Electric Daisy Carnival.
We have been involved since the Latitude’s inauguration. I was contacted the year before the first event [after being recommended by Harrison] and came to view Henham Park and meet with Melvin Benn [Latitude founder and Festival Republic MD]. Melvin told me about his vision – to create a festival that offered an equal level of leading arts elements across the spectrum in balance with its music program. He was clear that he wanted me to create an iconic look for the event, working very much with the landscape, which has been a delight, as it is stunning! We also discussed the idea of creating cross-arts/performance related elements that would stand outside of the main program, with secret areas to be discovered featuring ‘happenings’, for lucky festival-goers to magically stumble upon.
Our overall [Lavish] team is over 250 across Latitude. They are a mix of very talented artists, creators, scenic design and builders, film, art and music specialists, riggers, volunteers – people from all professions that come together to work on the festival.
CR: There is a great sense of escapism at Latitude, both in the day and at night – it is a multi-sensory playground. Why would you say the visual side is so important to the festival?
TH: I like your phrase ‘multi-sensory playground’ because you’ve picked up on a key part of Latitude – that there is a sense of fun even ‘festivity’ everywhere. I think that every performer who brings a show of any kind to Latitude knows and is excited by the space they are working within – that of an all-captivating arena with an audience who are there to be fully stimulated.
A festival should become a fully realised world, one strengthened by the inherently bohemian idea that it only lasts for four days and then disappears for year. This year Sam Wyer and Laura Drake Chambers did a wonderful job in the Faraway Forest bringing the natural performance space created by the thick canopy of trees to life in a truly magical way along with the original installations by brilliant group of artists engaging with space, including David Shillinglaw, Morning, and Steve Macleod. Across the site the transformation from simple field to spellbinding festival is something Latitude’s always been very good at and has known to be important to audiences since 2006.
It’s also giving space for people to try out new things and this year creative workshops with illustrator and paper-cut artist Poppy Chancellor, filmmaker Mike Figgis and performance collective Duckie were hugely oversubscribed. We also run the Arts Council supported Arts Award in the Inbetweeners Area to encourage teenagers to make work themselves.
Golden Heads in the Faraway Forest, as part of Sam Wyer and Laura Drake Chambers installation. Wyers was the designer of recent show Alice’s Adventures Underground as featured on CR. Photos: Antonia Wilson
AJC: The visual side hugely enhances the festival-goers experience, and can be a big part of the journey of the event, and is also important for the performers and artists, enhancing the performances and the overall energy at the festival. It creates a magical context – it brings to life the environment that the festival is set in and helps the event work in balance – as opposed to working against it by simply being plonked on it with no regard for the natural setting. It gives the event soul as far as I am concerned, with its own identity and energy.
More installations in The Faraway Forest. Photos: Antonia Wilson
CR: Part of what is great about Latitude is the fact that there is so much to do and see other than just the music. How does you role fit into this and the idea of the cross-arts programme?
TH: The origin of Latitude was that we wanted to bring to life a festival that embraced and, crucially, supported the sheer variety of cultural offerings available to us in the UK and beyond. It’s become an accepted part of many festivals nowadays but in 2006 the idea of platforming poets, authors, dancers and comics alongside bands was relatively unheard of. Latitude’s tagline ‘more than just a music festival’ has always been the central ethos.
When Latitude was conceived I was truly excited by the work I was seeing in theatres both small and large, comedy clubs, dance studios and across fringe festivals internationally and by the idea of bringing that to a festival audience, which was an audience I knew from my years working with Mean Fiddler and then Festival Republic. That excitement is still with me and I couldn’t imagine not working across 18 stages each presenting a different genre, idea, group and, importantly, entertainment – part of the joy is the whole cultural adventure of trying something new.
An important part of the festival’s ethos is being relevant politically as well as culturally and making sure we are always bringing new and big ideas, concepts and beliefs to the audience. Every year I curate the festival’s arts stages within a different theme, inspired by what I see going on in the world around me. This year it was ‘For Richer For Poorer, For Better For Worse’ – asking what we really value in a fast changing world, looking at the nature and importance of marriage, social media relationships, and Scottish Independence as well as our relations with the widening global system.
The La Reve lake show, which opens the festival. Photo: Dan Medhurst/Marc Sethi/Victor Fankowski
AJC: The Lavish team and I focus on staging unique art, music and performance ‘happenings’ outside of the main arena, using the landscape itself as a stage or space. We produced the LCA (Latitude Contemporary Art) exhibition [as part of the LCA prize], with works installed in the woods, and also use the lake as a stage, producing a floating performance to celebrate the opening of the festival each year. There’s also the Lavish Lounge, an inside-out ,ground-based tree house, with trees apprearing to grow up through it, and the Big Screen, an open-air art cinema.
This year’s riverside Latitude lettering. Photo: Sam Neill
Last year’s riverside Latitude lettering. Photo: Marc Sethi
CR: There were some great additions this year. Can you tell me about the new areas or installations?
TH: One new addition, The Live Art House in the Faraway Forest, was a response to the growing scene of brilliant performance artists. You only have to go to Edinburgh Festival and visit one of the many alternative venues, and increasingly mainstream spaces, to see some tremendous work that is interpreting and reacting to our current political and global climate. The artists at the Live Art House had no shortage of original opinions, beliefs and ways of presenting them. The sort of anarchic truth they present is exactly the sort of thing I want at Latitude.
Pamper Street. Photo: Lavish/Latitude
Lavish Lounge. Photo: Lavish/Latitude
AJC: The wonderful thing about Latitude is that is slowly grows and morphs, it is not set or stagnant in any way. We created new giant 3D letters this year [in keeping with the recent rebrand by Form], mirrored to appear to almost take on the form of water, and also created some letters to go either side of the main stage. We created a whole new entrance to the event using a mix of mirror, steel and hand painted wallpaper patterned wood, mixing mediums and textures to reflect wide spectrum of the Latitude program and also of the audience that it engages.
Pamper Street was a new area as part of In The Woods this year. It is a play on all of the small and fascinating ‘pampering shops’ seen on my work travels, such as wet shave barbers in the Middle East, a colourful hair and nails shop in Mexico, massage and spiritual cleansing in the Caribbean. As well as the decorative element in the salons themselves, another thing I loved was the sharing of stories and the experience that a person has stepping in to one of these small and intimate emporiums. Pamper Street is a place of great artistry and magic, where nothing is sold [the guest is free to give a donation if they wish] and everything is given by masters simply to provide joy and for the experience.
Solas, a concept from Melvin, was another wonderful new area outside of the main arena with a series of magical happenings and multi-sensory experiences for festival-goers to engage in.
Meaning ‘light’ in Irish, Solas, the new chill out and spa area for Latitude, included various installations and light sculptures that brought the area to life at night. Activities here included massage treatments, yoga and mediation, an immersive audio-visual dome and the Solas Spa hot tubs as seen at Body&Soul festival. Photos: Antonia Wilson
CR: Can you tell me more about the famous multi-coloured sheep?
AJC: The inspiration for the sheep, and all of our ideas, comes directly from the landscape and from the festival itself - the concept of the festival is always to enhance and bring to life what is already there. So I thought, what living, breathing, natural icons do we have here, such as the Holy Cows in India – we have gorgeous sheep! The process of highlighting the sheep as ‘living, breathing art’ involves hand massaging the animal-friendly colours in the sheep’s wool, which they seem to genuinely enjoy.
Photo: Marc Sethi
CR: What is the timeframe, in terms of working towards the festival throughout the year and the build?
TH: Latitude may be a 4-day event but it takes a full year to pull those packed days together. From October to December I brainstorm with artists and theatre companies on how they can interpret the theme and then I start programming, working from a huge spreadsheet, separated into the different stages. I like to have the line-up decided by January; but that doesn’t always happen! Then I start working on the logistics and details of the festival with my team.
AJC: I work on Latitude for around 11 months of the year, not full-time of course; it builds up over the year. Operations and scenic design join in from the beginning of October and we start on the first visualisations in November/December, penciling in artists and programs. Our art department and construction team start onsite building in the workshops at the beginning of July.
Arworks being created during the festival In the Woods. Photos: Dan Medhurst/Marc Sethi
CR: What do you see in terms of the future of the festival? And what are your thoughts on the future of the scene?
TH: I think we have come along way from the traditional format of three big headliners and a hot dog stall and festivals are integrating many art forms and experiences including cuisine, swimming [this year Latitude offered swimming sessions in the natural lake] and also active experiences like the Wellcome Trust tent for discovering how our mind works, or other creative workshops. Areas are becoming more specialised and festivals are exploring niches, and working across fields, urban areas and on islands and different landscapes across the world. The imagination of what a festival can be allows anything to be possible now.
Sound and light installations in Solas. Photo: Antonia Wilson
CR: Any plans or thoughts for next year?
TH: Really I have a never-ending amount of plans and ideas whizzing around my head for Latitude 2016 as well as 2017 and 2018. I’m inspired by everything from a theatre show, to a conversation had with a comic, to a tweet, to a speech on Question Time. That’s your job really, as a booker, to work out what people are after, what direction it’s going in. And each year at Latitude everyone expects something even more impressive so there’s always an intense amount of pressure to deliver the goods. 2016 will have to be particularly brilliant as 2015 produced a lot of standout moments, as befitting our 10th Birthday as a festival. No pressure there then!
‘Holographic’ lake visuals, projected onto a 10 meter screen of water blasted up from the lake, from Fallon Film and Jotta. Photo: Carys Lavin
Latitude Festival takes place annually towards the end of July in Henham Park, Suffolk. For more info visit latitudefestival.com