Spring ground @ Glastonbury
In the north west corner of Pilton, just up from the new area, ‘the wood’ and behind the John Peel stage, a lone, graffitied shipping container sits in the top corner of a lush green field. This is the studio space of ‘the Décor Dollz’ the team that creates the décor for Spring Ground, the disabled access campsite at Glastonbury festival. On a gentle slope, there are views of the Tor, and over the past month, the slowly developing festival site. Here, for the past decade, a recycled décor revolution has been taking place.
It originally started in 2008 as a quick 10-day job with a group of volunteers under an impromptu tarp shelter out in the field, with only a box of those festival staples, cable ties and gaffa tape. However, material limitations can lead to creative breakthroughs- a plastic bottle became a lobster and from there a sea theme developed -squid and crabs made from discarded gloves and a giant octopus from bar beer tubing.
We are part of the infrastructure crew so when a new pile of something unusual appears discarded on site, we get to know about it -from 100 wheelie bin lids to metres of blue water piping, one person’s trash is always another person’s treasure. We have carved a niche as probably the only art team to source almost all their materials on site from the waste of the festival build (which can be considerable), and with a minute budget. Plastic bags and metres of discarded tarp have become dragons and a flock of seagulls emerged from old box files and small plastic water bottles.
Growing in scope over the years has made it harder to accommodate us under tarps slung between caravans. One thing about Glastonbury is you can expect all weather conditions in one day, howling winds can suddenly gust through the valley, instantly ripping and twisting gazebos into rags and sticks, the next minute there is baking sun or incessant fly-riddled humidity.
A few years ago, they found us a shipping container but where to put it was always a problem, as space at the site is highly planned. We found ourselves that first year in the infrastructure crew fields, and involved a lot of people in our Egyptian décor theme. It’s recognisable to almost everyone and it meant that dozens of squares of stirlingboard left over from constructing sheds weren’t put in a skip but were painted up and used as décor. Every year, the infrastructure boys, on knowing that we may need cider cans or ring-pulls for one of our projects, always love helping to provide material for the cause!
This year is a Mexican festival theme, the epitome of vibrant colour and life and visually it is partly based on several churches in indigenous villages in the mountains of southern Mexico. It is hearts and birds, a homage to Keef, who should have been here this year.
It has excellent provenance- the columns are constructed from cow vitamin powder buckets dropped off by our friend at the farm. Architectural details are carved and sanded from salvaged Celotex insulation, recycled from pump room number three in Shangri-la. Another friend, litter picking at a festival last weekend, drags in a giant bag of fabric scraps in perfect Mexican colours. Inside is a necklace made of glittery chillis, illustrating that no matter what the theme, there is always something relevant amongst the stuff we find.
Everything is papered together with the paper from the practice runs of the Glastonbury Free Press. The paper is good, its fibres meld together really well, forming a strong, flexible skin which should withstand a week in the elements, and there is plenty of it available. I love paper anyway, its ease of use, it’s naturalness, with fewer harsh chemicals involved at my end compared to resins and fibreglass so often used in this industry. I admire its ubiquity and how it glosses disparate elements together.
Fundamentally, it’s about creating a festival atmosphere in the field for those who may not be able to access as much of the site as other people. There are buses around the site these days and platforms at almost every stage but the terrain can be a challenge – mud is often difficult enough for walkers, imagine a wheelchair! One year, there was a specialist marquee lined with hospital beds enclosed by oxygen tents – now that’s a hardcore festival goer! It put my friends to shame who would never come to Glastonbury due to having to live in a tent for five days and it being ‘beyond their comfort zone’.
Now we are in 2019 and it’s after a fallow year so there are always changes. It’s a very different festival from when I first started. Its more than the extra metres of concrete roads and drainage systems that have been put in place, it’s an attitude. We used to be given a crew handbook at the start of work which would proudly emphasise that ‘we are all in it together’ and it is expected that you should give lifts to people walking around site – it was three weeks walking across site on a well-used road before I was offered my first lift! Now there are cutbacks in every corner but despite the developments, it is still a fantastic place to be, both in the field and as part of the building of one of the best shows in the world. Our job is to make something colourful, cheap and resilient. As a rule we are mindful of our environment, keeping our use of new resources to a minimum as well as making sure that less plastic and other waste is being put into a skip on its way to landfill.
Currently a hard-core team of three, with added extras, between us we have an extensive variety of skills and influences with an emphasis on low -impact, sustainability and fabulousness!
more of mahni’s writing at http://www.mahnidare.com