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Secret Garden Party begins hunt for 2013 architectural visionaries

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Architects with burning ambition and a sturdy pair of wellington boots have been called on to propose installations for next year’s Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire

Priding itself on audience participation, Secret Garden Party has become renowned for its colourful, playful environment and the outlandish fancy dress costumes of its guests.

Supporting the festival’s hands-on atmosphere is an ambitious range of interactive art and architectural installations along with a raft of stylised arenas and stages.

Interventions at this year’s event, which took place last weekend, included a Rope House structure by Bartlett graduates Matthew Shaw and Rhys Jones with artist Rosie Jackson, a Great Golden Retriever by Roding Projects and a ghoulish 3D stroboscopic zoetrope by American artist Peter Hudson.

This year’s centrepiece – an enormous £20,000 floating stage by Pirate Technics – was ritualistically burnt to the ground at the climax of the festival.

Figureheads of the Ages floating stage by Pirate Technics

Figureheads of the Ages floating stage by Pirate Technics

Now in its tenth year, the Secret Garden Party has grown into a 26,000-person festival with its organisers keen to engage new audiences who might visit to experience its arts programme first and foremost.

‘People want to be wowed, the festival is all about taking people out of their ordinary lives,’ says festival art curator Tess Acheson.

Responsible for commissioning 49 installations, Acheson received more than 600 proposals for this year’s festival but is keen to hear from more creatives, particularly architects, with even more ambitious schemes for the event.

‘I’m leaning more towards architects all the time and it’s not because I’m putting [the art] into a box – it’s that I’m finding the best pieces [for the festival] are coming from architects,’ she says.

New practices wishing to use the annual event as a springboard to develop their careers are welcomed. ‘It’s an independent festival and it’s about supporting independent new talent,’ explains Acheson.

In the past year, Acheson set up Secret Arts as a subsidiary of the Secret Garden Festival and platform for its art and architectural programme. She hopes the outfit will tap into wealthy benefactors’ pockets and help create more artistic showstoppers at festivals to come.

The end goal is to make festival art ‘stand up in its own right’ she explains. ‘I’d love someone to come up with something that blows everything else out of the water.’

The idea of one artist, or architect, taking the entire site as a blank canvas and creating a comprehensive sensory experience similar to Anthony Gormley’s 2007 Blind Light installation is something Acheson would like to see realised.

As for mud – which plagued the Secret Garden Party for the first time in its history last weekend – Acheson complains it made the installations look a bit messy, but adds: ‘There’s nothing you can really do about it.’



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