To kick-start Greenbelt’s 2022, our Creative Director Paul Northup muses on the theme for this summer’s festival – Wake Up.
Artwork by ratiotype
Here at Greenbelt, it’s almost as if we’ve been in hibernation state. Some sort of suspended animation between the festival as we knew it (mourning for it not being possible for two long years) on the one hand and a creative yearning to get back to gathering on the other.
We produced Wild at Home, our first all-digital summer and festival in 2020. And we even managed to get back to the fields for our Prospect Farm pop-up camping gatherings in 2021. But what we longed for – and still long for – most is the festival itself. The thing we’ve made together since 1974.
So, after all the uncertainty and anxiety of the last two years (which we know is far from over), we wanted a theme for 2022 that was simple, direct and full of energy and hope. Something that would well and truly shake us from our slumber.
Understandably, we’ve been consumed by the COVID narrative. From lockdowns to social distancing, and from PCR tests to spike proteins, we’ve learned a whole new pandemic vocabulary to frame our human experience, our life together.
But, as the Omicron wave still sweeps through, it’s nevertheless time to open our eyes, our hearts and our minds to the wider world – beyond, below, above and below. To widen our horizons. To look to the out peripheries and the margins, as well as deep inside, and into the future again.
For Greenbelt 2022 – it’s time to Wake Up.
Artists, Activists, Believers… at their best, they all point us towards what we otherwise just don’t see. They open our eyes and wake us up.
Artists give another possible world a visible form. Activists alert us to imagine and feel the world from someone else’s perspective. And, at their best, our faith leaders point us towards better ways of loving, giving us a vision of an alternative way of living together, being in communion, free from the tyranny of pragmatic, populist politics and the relentless news-media cycle.
But we know we won’t just be able to flick a switch and put the lights straight back on. It will take us all a while to surface. Like when you’ve enjoyed the deepest of sleeps and the call of the day first beckons. It can take time to climb up into consciousness from a deep and dreamlike state.
The pandemic has taken a toll on us all. If it has been dreamlike, then that dream has often felt more like an extended nightmare. Some of us have lost loved ones. Some of us are living with the long-lasting effects of the virus. Some of us are that much more anxious than we were before. Some of us are downright scared. Waking up together will take time.
We want to create as safe a space as we can for all of us; one in which we can gather together again this summer, perhaps still bleary-eyed. Some of us will be feeling shell-shocked. Some of us will be wanting to get stuck straight back into where we left off. Others will be wanting a more gradual change of state. But what better a communal space in which to do this collective job of waking one another up than at Greenbelt?
And, let’s face it, for those of us who’ve been missing out on parties and just simply having fun for these last two years – there will be plenty of that, of course! And what a joy that will be! Perhaps the greatest gift of being awake again and back at Greenbelt this summer, in fact.
The world is more divided and polarised now even than when the pandemic began. So, we want to make a space where we can look each other in the eye and have those difficult conversations with respect and love, listening to one another’s perspectives. We’re not simply just compliant or conspiracist, left- or right-wing, libertarian or communitarian, Christian or non-Christian. We are more nuanced, wonderfully-made and diverse than that. We are human.
In the three series of our ‘Somewhere to Believe In‘ podcast , recorded across 2020 and 2021 we spoke to artists, activists and believers about what the pandemic was teaching and showing them. From geographer Danny Dorling at the very outset, to Natalia Kaliada of Belarus Free Theatre part-way through, we recognised time and again, that the systems and structures that have supported us for so long are in a precarious state. The pandemic has shone a light on this. When the Nobel prize is being awarded to journalists for the first time since 1935, the threats to our democracies, freedoms and equalities are more real than ever.
Now, when I was a young, wide-eyed Christian, we often used to sing the Larry Norman song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” in our church youth group. I still love the sound of that song: so simple, yet so haunting. But, as for its message: that the reason to wake up and stay awake is so that we’re ready for ‘the rapture’ – for Christ to come again and take us away from all this to the happy-ever-after? That’s just not something I buy into any more.
Instead, my prayer is that God might help us wake up to the present, to the here-and-now, to the needs and beauty of our world and its people. That’s what’s urgent. Something we need to wake up to every day.
The ‘No Normal’ short film project we commissioned last year (with the support of Amal and the curatorial eye of Asad Ali Jafri) used the idea of ‘apocalypse’ as its framing notion. Not in the sense of some great, single, once-and-for-all ending of everything, but in the sense of it unveiling things.
I’m grateful to Catholic writer and cultural critic Alexi Sargeant for helping me rediscover this sense of the revelatory value of everyday apocalypses. You can read his wonderful piece about what the pandemic revealed to him here. It’s time to wake up so that we can see things in a new light.
Lineup announcements will come as we head towards our end-of-March Tier One ticket deadline. But ahead of that, we can say that we’ve commissioned Barney White and Jackson Barnard (formerly of the wonderful physical theatre company Acrojou – who have performed at Greenbelt before) to develop a bespoke piece of work called ‘The Future We Choose’ for us. It will comprise a series of short films we’ll release during the spring for you to respond to, and then an onsite piece that will bring together your responses and play them back to us as a community.
What will be the future we choose together, as we wake up together again? Because it’s time to get back to the fields. There’s so much to unpack (in every sense of the word). Wide awake and wide-eyed with expectation, we want to gather again. Looking out for one another’s needs. Holding one another and looking one another in the eye. We can’t wait to be there with you all again. We’ve been asleep too long.
It’s time to wake up to our lives, to our world, to the work there is for us to do, to the party waiting for us.