How many festivals you’ve been to have asked you to leave your phone at home, collected you by blacked-out coach from London and taken you to 24 hours of interactive art and live music?
There’s a first time for everything, and Please Do Not Not Touch’s LOST Festival is offering you that chance. Headlined by TCTS and also featuring Dems, Krywald & Farrer and Percolate, amongst others, the LOST experience promises to be unprecedented.
Once you’ve donned the overalls you’re given upon arrival, prepare for an interactive crowd-art experience masterminded by Alice Kilkenny, Matilda Skelton Mace, Jodie Ann Powell, Tryp/Space, Scatterfield + Plygn and Lucy Mead.
LOST is the perfect complete cut away from the dull frustration of daily life for 24 hours detached from everything expect art and music. We were lucky enough to speak to one of the founders of LOST Festival, Jodie, who gave us detailed information of what the festival is all about.
Bizarre Culture: What was the inspiration behind LOST? How long did you guys take to put it all into action?
Jodie, Please Do Not Not Touch, Founder: I studied Fine Art at Edinburgh College of Art. For my degree show, I built and decorated an intimate bedroom installation for my performance. I painted the walls, the floor, all of the items inside the bedroom, and even myself, in acrylic white paint. It acted as a giant, three-dimensional ‘blank canvas’. Participants were invited into the bedroom, and were encouraged to take a shot glass filled with coloured powdered paint from a shelf with the message ‘Please do not not touch’ written on it, and decorate the space in any way they wanted. The double negative meaning in the instruction confused many participants – they often missed the second ‘not’, which I could tell troubled them, as they could clearly see from the colourful explosion in the room that others had touched!
The degree show was open for 10 days, so the transformation was incredibly vibrant! I loved the way participants were unsure about what they were ‘allowed to do’ – some people chucked the paints straight over my face with no hesitation, while others timidly popped their heads into the room, leaving the paints untouched. Some spent up to 2 hours carefully painting self-portraits, and others attempted to strike up a conversation with me, while I was covered in paint. I was performing in the piece, acting as another part of the ‘blank canvas’, so I decided not to engage with participants. This meant the participants relied purely on their own initiative to figure out what they could do. Overall, the piece brought out participants’ inner artist, which was the most exciting and interesting part.
After I graduated, I set up Please do not not touch as a Live Art Events company. The name is a play on the usual ‘Please do not touch’ signs you often find in galleries. We aim to redefine the gallery experience, making it more accessible, and more appealing, to a much wider audience. Our first big project is LOST. We take participants away to a secret woodland location for a 24-hour immersive, creative experience, where they are encouraged to respond to a selection of interactive installations in ways they’re not usually allowed to in other artistic settings – this could be touching the art, climbing on it, adapting it, or adding their own creative trace. Although the main focus is on the artwork, there are all kinds of fun additional elements, which create an engaging festival atmosphere, like live music, crafts-making, luxury camping, bars, and delicious food stalls.
LOST has been two years in the making – it’s taken a whole lot of love, passion, sleepless nights, endless research into similar concepts, and support from other artists to get to this point, and we’re so pleased with people’s reactions to the concept.
BC: It must be exciting and exhausting working on LOST. Please tell us about the highlights: the trials, tribulations and jubilations.
Jodie: As this is our first year, the excitement and passion definitely outweighs the exhaustion! Every day has its successes and challenges. We’re constantly fluctuating between dancing around the office celebrating when ticket sales come in or new acts and artists are confirmed, to doing ‘admin all-nighters’ when more complicated arrangements need sorting.
Tribulations have included working with our small, self-funded budget (which has taken a lot of discipline, determination and belief); choosing to maintain an independent, surreal feel to the festival by having no sponsorship whatsoever; keeping the location of the woods a secret; and the everyday challenge of organising a festival with just the two of us! However, all of these challenges have been choices of ours, and we genuinely believe they have shaped the festival in a positive way.
The jubilations have been countless. Selling out both of our LOST teaser events in London; taking our artists on a site visit to the woods for the first time; confirming our hugely talented headline act, TCTS; designing and creating our website; filming our mini interviews with our acts and artists; and moving into the woods to start the build work! (We’re still pinching ourselves…)
BC: What makes an ideal festival setup?
Jodie: For us, it’s a soft green field for camping, a mysterious and intriguing woodland for exploring, exciting lighting effects, interactive installations, amazing live music to dance to, a small crowd in which you’re likely to make friends, a shared experience in a unique environment, tasty food and drinks, and smiling faces all round!
BC: How do you think the environment and its anonymity play a role in this festival?
Jodie: The environment play a really significant role in creating a sense of mystery and escapism. Participants won’t know where they are, so their senses will be heightened, and just like sponges, they’ll be soaking up everything happening around them. When participants are standing in the woods, they can’t see out – they’re physically and emotionally absorbed.
BC: Phones aren’t allowed to the festival, so what is your attitude to technology in society? Do you consider it to be problematic?
Jodie: We don’t consider technology (i.e. phones, laptops, social media etc.) to be problematic as such, but it can just be very distracting. We’re totally dependent on technology to run Please do not not touch and organise LOST, but we believe it’s essential to ‘switch off’ (literally and emotionally) whenever you get a chance. We’re not against the use of phones in everyday life at all; we just strongly believe that people need a break from staring at screens. There’s no way you can be totally engaged in the exciting activity unfolding around you if you’re in the middle of sending a text. We’re asking LOST participants to give us their FULL attention for 24-hours. In return for their commitment, we promise to put on a truly immersive show that appeals to all the senses, where they can respond in ways that feel natural to them, with no distractions. In some ways it’s a trust exercise – we’re asking participants to rid themselves of any significant connections to the ‘outside world’ and come get LOST with us.
BC: Many festivals thrive off the social media attention and photo sharing during the event itself. LOST clearly won’t have this. Are you missing out, or does the festival’s uniqueness compensate, do you think?
Jodie: Our main priority is not to gain as much social media attention during the event as possible; it is to focus on the live show and the participants’ experience. We will update our social media platforms with photos throughout the 24-hours, for those who can’t make it. However, we would much prefer that our participants are focussed on painting the trees, dancing with new friends, or climbing inside dens, rather than updating their profile pictures – they’re allowed to bring their cameras to document LOST, so they can do that when they get home!
We absolutely appreciate the importance and power of social media attention, and we rely on it to find and speak to our audience during the lead up to the festival! However, when LOST is live, we want everyone there to be living in the moment. We’re a tiny festival, and we aim to stick to an intimate number of participants, as we believe LOST will thrive off this close connection.
BC: LOST is one of a kind. What do you want to achieve from a collaborative arts festival? What kind of experience do you want people to take away from it?
Jodie: We want participants to experience a genuine feeling of escapism, creative awakening, and a long lasting connection with other participants. Throughout the 24-hours, we want them to be totally engaged, amazed, challenged (creatively), and overwhelmed by all of the artwork, decoration and music we have planned.
BC: Are there any particular art installation or artist you are keen to host in future years?
Jodie: I am hugely inspired by the artists Yayoi Kusama and Alexa Meade. Collaborating with either of them would be such a dream! Both artists are incredibly innovative, and they have the ability to totally transform spaces, where they dare participants to engage and experience. I would love to create an area at LOST with them!
Our future plans include building tunnel-linked underground dens for mini exhibitions or performance pieces, and a gathering of tree houses linked by hanging walkways, with nets for people to lie in and view the activity from up above. Both of those ideas are extremely ambitious, and may never be signed off by Health and Safety officers, though!
BC: Can you tell us who you’re most excited about hosting this year?
Jodie: It’s impossible to narrow it down to one artist! Their work is so varied and interesting. I’m most excited to wander around the woods and document how participants are responding to the most participative pieces, where the artists have deliberately left certain aspects of their work unfinished, leaving room for collaboration.