Shangri-La designed to show that “human power is possible”

Using VR technology and found materials, Shangri-La hopes this year to emphasize the power of community, explains creative director Kaye Dunnings.

This weekend, over 200,000 people finally returned to Worthy Farm to see Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish and Kendrick Lamar perform at Glastonbury. It also marked the return of the immersive space Shangri-La after two years. Kaye Dunnings, the area’s creative director, says this year’s edition is a love letter to the community-led and queer spaces that have been particularly hard hit lately. “We’re taking up space for people who don’t really have much community around them,” she says.

Shangri-La is just one of more than 30 areas at Glastonbury, including the main stage stages (such as the Pyramid Stage and the Other Stage) and immersive spaces such as Unfairground. It is typically a mix of workshops, interactive exhibits and musical performances. This year the focus was on human connection, Dunnings explains, with VR technology and activism-inspired installations.

Thanks to Jody Hartley

The past few years have been a “wild time” for people in the event industry, Dunnings says, pointing to the closure of spaces for minorities. People have also missed typical festival experiences. Shangri-La’s intent was to fuel these moments — “the characters you meet along the way that are so memorable, the moments you have at festivals,” Dunnings says.

Normally the planning starts in September, but this year the go-ahead didn’t come until the end of January. This meant that it took less than half the usual time to assemble the installations, explains Dunnings. Since then, the creative team has been collecting materials such as scrap and wood to build the stages. Not only does this process fit into Shangri-La’s ongoing focus on sustainability, it shows people what is possible with the objects around them. “Instead of building a set and having it like a movie set, they’re real objects,” Dunnings says. “And I think that makes it more tangible for people.”

It’s also helpful for the area’s tight production budgets, Dunnings points out. “We realized we had enough stuff and we didn’t need to buy anything,” she says. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create something for one weekend – everything is reused.” That includes the banners adorning the area, which Dunnings says will be used for protests.

A reminder that “human power is possible”

Thanks to Jody Hartley

While the theme of re-use supports the area’s set design, the discussion of the climate “had to fade into the background a little while everyone is dealing with the mass trauma [of the last few years]Dunnings says. “We found that nothing is really going to change unless people come together.” With that focus on collective minds, Dunnings put together areas for “a lot of people who should really know each other”.

At Swapermarket – billed as the area’s “premiere cashless pawn shop” – festival-goers could trade their belongings for an eclectic array of gadgets and gizmos. Designers contributed prints to Shangrilart, a container studio where people could pick up new print releases from designers like Anthony Burrill and Victoria Topping (and have them sign while the artists dropped by).

All Along The Watchtower installation. Thanks to Jody Hartley

Another focus for Dunnings was the creation of a ‘welfare area’ designed to provide a break from the celebration of the wider festival. Conceived by longtime Shangri-La contributors, the area offers a space “among the madness for socializing”. It is shaped like a “bending machine” – hazel sticks and a tarp – which can provide shelter at night. The organizers provided tea and conversation for weary festival-goers, while newspaper clippings provided historical context around themes such as the Free Party movement. “We wanted to get the elderly in our community to just be there and talk about their experiences,” Dunnings added.

One of the most notable installations this year was Project Bunny Rabbit’s All Along The Watchtower. The tensegrity-based structure is named after Bob Dylan’s song warning about the world to come. It has been used as part of protests before and has been seized by police twice, according to Dunnings. Thanks to its activist roots, the structure is a fitting addition to Shangri-La as a statement of “who we are and what we stand for,” Dunnings says. “The centerpiece in the middle reminds us all that human power is possible,” she adds. Inclusiveness has also been a focus in areas such as Nomad, where London Trans Pride led discussions and workshops.

“Technology should be used to bring people together”

Thanks to Jody Hartley

In the spring of 2020, when the government announced the lockdown restrictions, Shangri-La’s creative team began work on Lost Horizon, billed as the world’s largest music and arts festival in VR. Held over a weekend in July, the festival saw international DJs and underground acts attend a two-day virtual festival. Designers including Paula Scher and Morag Myerscough also contributed work to the event. This year, the VR world came alive at Worthy Farm.

Holo-booth invited revelers to dance and perform as their hologram was displayed on a large screen above the exhibit. Artist-robot Ai-Da painted Glastonbury artists and visitors. SR Immersive created an installation called 1012101, where people could solve the mystery of two time travelers sharing a message from the future. While incorporating VR into a live festival has had its challenges, such as the cost of the technology, Dunnings explains that it has created a more exciting space because there are fewer physical constraints.

Thanks to Jody Hartley

The rise of VR has also helped Shangri-La become a more accessible experience, she believes. It is especially useful for anyone who has specific entry requirements or, for example, lives with a disability. “Technology should be used to bring people together,” she says. “They should be able to come to a rave and dance — so we’re really trying to push real culture into the virtual space.”

When Glastonbury is done and the fields are empty, what matters most to Dunnings is what comes next. What does she hope people from Shangri-La take with them this year? “It’s about a collective energy, giving people ideas and information to do something different.” That can be anything from immersing yourself in new technical experiences to creating art with other people. “What’s happening here is so amazing,” Dunnings says. “But it’s really about what happens next — that’s the whole point of what this is about for me.”

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