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Temporary cities and the wisdom of the festival curator

Roskilde Festival is one of the largest music and arts festivals in Northern Europe. Every year since 1971, just one year after the birth of Glastonbury, the festival takes over a site called the Animal Showgrounds: a temporary city with the capacity to host 130,000 guests, artists, volunteers and collaborators. When Roskilde is up and running it becomes the fourth largest city in Denmark.   

In recent years, the artwork and architecture enjoyed at festivals and other temporary  places has come to be seen as the perfect testbed for experimental interactive urban development. The quality of such works, designed specifically to “intervene” or “pop up”, is of particular interest to planners looking to find ways to make their cities more vibrant and playful. At Roskilde we are increasingly contacted not just about the latest music acts, but by professional planning partners who want to explore the use of temporary architecture, design and art installations as catalysts for urban development.   

But is it possible to transfer methodology from the temporary festival city to the “real” urban context? And what role can an institution like Roskilde Festival play in urban regeneration? 

The Velvet State, and other experiences

Several of our projects have evoked the interest of urban planners. In 2013, The Velvet State by Denmark’s SHJWORKS, used a combination of architecture, performance, and interactive dialogue with the audience, to explore the idea of a “sensuous society”. With the help of immersive performance groups such as Fiction Pimps (DK) and Collective Unconsciousness (UK), the architect Simon Hjermind Jensen created a large-scale interactive “performance-universe”.  

Or consider another project. Museo Aerosolar was initiated by Argentian artist Tomas Saraceno, and commissioned in 2011 for both Roskilde and other cities around the world.  It was a large inflatable participatory structure made out of reused plastic bags.  

The question of legacy

It’s a new phenomenon that the qualities of the temporary seem to be interest to urban planners.  In their research on the 2011 Roskilde Festival, Marling and Kiib describe the qualities of the hybrid city life, and compare the festival city with the utopian visions such as the Instant City (1969) designed by Archigram. The experimental urban visions of the 1950s and 1960s have similarities with the temporary encounters on Roskilde Festival; but in the urban context this critical approach since seems to have vanished, to be replaced by more detailed branding oriented strategies promoting the city.   

Temporary art has instead come from performative movements such as the Situationists, a movement which staged urban interventions combining politics and art to disrupt the on-going spectacle of society. Disruption and intervention in real time were used as mouthpieces, to juxtapose reality with an alternative: a critique of the existing society, conducted through experimentation and playfulness.

A particular place for engaging the arts

These and other projects commissioned by Roskilde Festival share certain features. They are all are ephemeral, spatial, performative, participatory and engaging. These are the qualities which challenge and attract people to our temporary festival city – and which today’s urban planners are looking to replicate.   

But curating in the context of a festival requires a very different approach to doing so for the public space  or the white cube. At Roskilde, we are blessed with an open-minded and curious audience, who have decided to dedicate a week in the middle of their summer to the festival. They have both the time and the collective spirit to engage in these project – conditions which are not given readily to daily life in the city.   

Signe Brink Pedersen is curator of Denmark’s Roskilde Festival. She will be speaking on this subject at Watershed’s Making the City Playable Conference taking place in Bristol this week.

 
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