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Festival Review: Aeon 2010

Devon's beautiful festival, Aeon, enjoyed its fifth year over the Bank Holiday weekend…

Written by Faye West

Man on Fire courtesy of Tim Shaw.

To be honest I had not heard of the Threadneedle Prize before nor was I rushing to attend the preview party on Wednesday the 1st of September. The Mall galleries have managed over the years to develop a reputation as the purveyor of stuffy exhibitions.

Phenomena (1) courtesy of Jarik Jongman

But no! No this new cool kid on the block of a prize with its decisively rock n roll intention of freeing figurative art from the shackles of conceptual taste. Move over Turner Prize. It was a nice surprise to get acquainted with this young show at a time when similarly funded prizes are running scarce and the government siphons money erstwhile dedicated to the Arts to programs deemed more “in the public’s interest”.

Oil Baron courtesy of Martin Roberts.

Detail of Moon Loght courtesy of Mark Entwisle

Let’s huff a long sigh of relief! At last art on display that does not pretend to be what it’s not… Yep, more about this dedicated art lover has been more than once unimpressed by the shovelful of bad abstract material pushed down her throat! But let’s not be mistaken by what kind of art Threadneedle is offering us either; theirs is a bold break from the past with a new kind of figurative art that does not pretend to ignore the Tate came that way and altered the artistic landscape.

Displace courtesy of Louise Folliott.

This second will last forever courtesy of Fiona Finnegan

This year the public is encouraged to choose the Visitor’s Choice award’s £10,0000 winning entry. Let me tell you what I was definitely not going to vote for! Some things seemed rather gimmicky to me such as the upside down portrait of Georgina by Oliver Jones. It’s upside down so it is clever so it’s in?

It’s a Bloomin’ Marble! courtesy of Garry Martin

Plexus courtesy of Valerie Jolly and Toilet Pipes courtesy of Thomas Doran

The exhibition’s booklet read, “our selectors have chosen a smaller but more coherent exhibition than previous years” with 2,170 submissions to arrive to a final 46. So why in the world choose such dreary artefacts that seemed to me to make more of a statement than to offer any redeeming value to the overall group! I was mightily unimpressed by Simon Carter’s Gulls on a Breakwater – it’s representational but hey look, doesn’t it seem abstract? Or Enzo Marra’s John Singer Sargent- it’s got thick paint and tonal Sargent palette. Is that all? Toilet pipes seemed to be all the rage this year…

But to be fair the overall level of work on display was very high. I fell in love with the sculptures and installations. Man on Fire by Tim Shaw (see above) got me all worked up and Stuart McCaffer (see below) got the crowd queuing to enjoy its view! Built like a shed, it reminded me of a watchtower somewhere in the Scottish Highlandds. The dichotomy between the sense of isolation and of space and freedom was interesting.

Den courtesy of Stuart McCaffer.

The prize spoke to me most when it was attempting to be political, daring, intriguing or just plain funny. Special mention to Wendy Elia’s Elsewhere, Jarik Jongman’s piece or the Anna Adamkiewicz cabinet.

Cabinet courtesy of Anna Adamkiwicz

Elsewhere courtesy of Wendy Elia

Frame, Figure, Frame, Figure courtesy of Caroline Walker

But my personal favourite was Caroline Walker’s surreal narrative. I am still haunted by the evocative psychological space this painting put me in. Very troubling.

Clee Hill courtesy of Boyd and Evans

The Threadneedle Prize for painting and sculpture runs until the 18th of September 2010 at the Mall Galleries, the Mall, London SW1.

Sports Day, site illustrated by Faye West

After a hurried fish ‘n’ chip supper by the Quay near where I work on Friday evening, I enjoyed my hours’ journey to Shobrook Park, in mid Devon, with the promising late afternoon glow of a sunny Bank Holiday weekend.

Arriving through the old stone gates and through an avenue of trees, I saw the orange flags of Aeon, luscious greenery and silver lakes. Bit like Camelot.

On greeting my already established friends, I was shown their fruits of labour: wooden spoons which they carved from small logs in the Campcraft workshop. After thee hours of chipping away under the trees they had rather crude Goldilocks spoons, decorated in little smatters of their own blood and proudly sporting large blisters on their thumbs. The main subject then turned on to our beloved Lost Horizon tent, and where was it? My friends had looked out for it all day but sadly it wasn’t to make an appearance. This was a brilliant cushion scattered tent-come lounge area, chai teas, blessed rose custard and madder-red onion bhajis, the sweetest you’ll ever find. It also held open-mic sessions and boasted a very DIY spa in the outside tepee area, with a paddling pool plunge bath, Native American style sauna, and shanty showers with lots of naked hippies with free tours offered. Hopefully Lost Horizon will return next year.

But on to what was there to entertain between the bands. There was a Recycle Centre chap with a stall called Release Your Inner Vandal. You could smash up some old 80s crockery with 3 balls for a £1. We rescued a charming yellow fish dish who escaped his mosaic project destiny because you could purchase the bric-a-brac for pennies. Book Cycle was also crammed full of treasures again this year. A volunteer-led charity where you can pay whatever you wish, the money goes towards tree-planting across the UK and to schools in countries such as Ghana.
Tents for psychic readings, mental health, massage, cupcakes, morning Tai Chi and a bit of second hand clothes/fancy dress (which unfortunately wasn’t as bountiful as the year before; we had hoped to pick up some animal-type garb for this year’s World Safari theme.)

Aeon Festival t-shirt, illustrated by me!

We sought out the No Guts No Glory stall which sold this years Aeon Fest tees, which yours truly illustrated and enjoyed some little tea cups of complimentary champers.  Workshops for the children included clay creations, face paints, hair decorations, circus skills and Punch and Judy.  We started off feeding on yummy falafel and feeling quite virtuous, and there were certainly loads of tasty, healthy, nourishing food for the veggies, even a Make Your Own Veggie Burger stall which my friend tried in the early morning. Unfortunately she didn’t quite like her mushed-up mushroom burger and basically described it as actual poo – oh dear.  All this healthy food soon sent us on a meat hunt, and then we found the pies, lots of lovely pies for only £1.75 from the fantastic Butchers stall which sold local produce and other Devonshire goodness. Breakfasting on bacon and egg butties and marmite on toast to a bit of gentle Dub in the mornings at a graffiti decorated open air cafe is bliss.

The biggest attraction at Aeon for me and my friends is the beautiful settings, the affordability and the cleanliness. Each camp had a mound built up to accommodate bonfires and logs for everyone to gather round, to discover strangers’ life stories in one conversation and warm up the cockles before heading back to our tents. Aeon has been voted as one of the Top Ten festivals with clean loos by the UK Festival Awards. As their budget-fantastic £1.50 program states, ‘If you spot a poo loo please report it to a steward who can get a message to one of us to clean it up.’ And so they did – the portaloos were positively peachy.

The Vintage Movie Bus

We observed the Sports Day races on Saturday afternoon, this was a humorous event to behold including lots of tumbled bodies and broken organic eggs. Prizes were fabulous medals of animals sprayed gold on ribbons.  After a local Dunstable Farm chocolate ice cream, we visited the recently restored, one-of-a-kind Vintage Movie Bus which had been salvaged, cleaned up and put back into service, and now works with local projects and museums as a real cinema and to bring old documentaries to the public in it’s unusual setting. We were treated to the local archive film Hippies and Hooligans. For Devon this meant cute little children scamming a few extra pennies for Guy Fawkes day, and a few youths sat on curbs or hanging around public lavatories. It mainly documented the ‘youths’ at their deportment lessons, and young lads acting out restaurant etiquette. Not exactly This is England, but very amusing and queer.

World music being played in Cabaret Voltaire ended up being the highlights for us this weekend, in particular RSVP Bhangra hailing from Bristol got everyone learning energetic moves such as ‘Windscreen Washers’, ‘Screwing in Light Bulbs’ and ‘Picking Up a Tenner and Still Looking Cool.’ Everywhere you looked the crowd was full of bumpkins in sync. K’Chevere, an afro-Cuban salsa group that sounded like Holly Golightly’s party mix tape, also got our feet moving nineteen to the dozen.

Doll and The Kicks

We all marvelled at Philip Henry and his tremendous talents on the steel guitar and harmonica, a mix of American and Indian sounds with a bit of harmonica beat boxing thrown in. He was also joined by a lady fiddle player who really was quite beautiful to watch. I imagined some kind of romantic drama between them. They are also part of the band Roots Union who played later in the evening, unfortunately I find the singer sounds too much like James Blunt to enjoy their lovely music, it was all about the harmonica for me. Inflatable Buddha and their comedic singer entertained with fun gypsy music. On the Prophecy stage we took in a bit of polished rock and roll from Karen O-esque Doll and The Kicks. I missed some of the headlining acts such as The Boxettes and Acoustic Ladyland but some of the best moments for me and my friends at Aeon are the ska and gypsy bands, such as Backbeat Soundsystem and Melosa suiting everyone’s drunken enthusiasm to dance with great energy and celebration at the foot of the stage.

Sunday’s grey sky and showers came along. We lounged in anoraks on the grassy ampi-theatre next to a man with a giant Lego head and a man with a potato/sausage/apple/fried egg and fork piece of millinery and watched Glorious Chorus fill the stage in red evening finery, as they began to sing ‘Oh Happy Day’ the sun burst through and everyone cheered, and I got teary eyed, as usual during happy moments such as these when feeling tired and generally chuffed with everything. Another Aeon, another perfectly agro-free weekend, not just a music festival, but a spot in the country which is a community event, where feathered children run free with dogs, families dance, teenagers dress up like hippies, rock stars and ravers, and where the rest of us can get involved, get a bit older and party gracefully. Happy fifth birthday Aeon, see you next year!


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2 Responses to “Festival Review: Aeon 2010”

  1. Niki Aeon says:

    Thank you Faye for our wonderful review and preview as well as our super fab Tees! So glad you had a lovely time. Niki x x

  2. SuBuddha says:

    Hi Faye! Thanks for our lovely little mention :) glad you enjoyed our show. If you loved Aeon (we might be playing again this year), I can thoroughly recommend our slightly smaller local equivalent here in Oxfordshire:, from 2-4 Sep 2011. You must come check it out – it’s gorgeous! :)

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