Roskilde Festival 2019 – it’s all about solidarity! Interview with the head of arts and exhibition

When it’s up to Roskilde Festival, people and fans use to talk about the music and the bands playing. But Roskilde Festival is far  more than that –  from the very beginning it’s also well known as an art festival, and it’s always been “music AND art”. So every year you will find numerous artists taking part at RF with their creativity, their sensational projects and exhibitions and surprising inputs, which turn this festival into something very special.
So in this years edition of RF focused on the arts – thus during the festival we had the chance to talk to Signe Brink Wehl, head of the arts & exhibition programme.

(Interview by Martin Hannig, photo (c) by Signe Wehl (Roskilde Festival)) Signe, please tell us about your job here.

Signe: I am the head of arts & exhibition programme. Is it like a curator of the arts at the festival?

Signe: Yes, but we have several curators, we have volunteers, we work with a lot of institutions, we engage freelance curators … so in that sense I have the overall responsibility for the connections between them all. But in the end it’s a big cooperative project! Is this your main job, throughout the year?

Signe: It’s my main job. We do a lot of other things throughout the year. In spring we had an exhibition at the Danish Architecture Center, and there a lot of other projects. But RF is the main event. I know when a festival gets into planning the music programme, you have the stages and the slots, and then especially RF goes around Europe and watches new bands and decides who is playing. But how is the process in the art direction – getting all the artists together? How do you start the process?

Signe: We already started for next year! It take a while to plan the arts and to engage artists. And usually it’s very site specific commissions –  they are created exactly for the festival, because it is a quite particular site for art. We have over 130.000 people here and they are very curious and engaging in the projects. It takes about one and a half year of planning the programme. Mostly it’s taking up the dialogue, finding out if the artists are interested, if they could fit well into the programme profile. Some artists find the festival contact a bit intimidating, it’s a little bit rough and very interactive. So there is a lot of conceptualizing, and then a long period of production and planning. In this year’s edition you got the main issue “solidarity”. How did it came to this idea?

Signe: Solidarity is not only in the arts, it’s in every corner of the festival, like in the music programme. It’s a general theme of the festival. For the arts and activism it’s a very interesting theme, because right now in Denmark and across Europe we see a youth movement getting together. There is a momentum in time. A kind of new solidarity of 2019. It looks different then the youth revolts in the 60ies and 70ies. For us it’s very relevant to explore –  what is this kind of movement and also how can we support it? How can we give space for young voices? How can we give scale for diversity? How can we push on engagement? So it seems to be a lot about activism. Is that your idea, to push the people a bit forward?

Signe: Well, the good thing is, we see a lot in the arts as well. Artists are interested in activism. We had the danish artist Hannah Andbert here. She did a performance on the campsite. Audience could participate in a procession. They all had this beautiful yellow capes on, it was a totally silent procession, against how much we produce and consume in our society. It was aesthetic and also activism. We see a new form of solidarity in the arts as well. You also had the swiss artist Claudia Comte here!

Signe: Yes, Claudia did that major sculpture here, the 8 meter high tree trunks make up a large sculpture for sitting, for meeting new friends and for overlooking the festival. Community is a key term at Roskilde Festival, and Claudia’s sculpture called “ME WE” offers the festivalgoers the opportunity to establish just that. The large-scale sculpture that spells out the title of the work gives everyone a place to congregate, to meet and to make new friends, while creating new vistas and vantage points to experience the festival.

The sculpture is Made of 16 spruce tree trunks, and each weighing 800 kilos. The sculpture is the fourth in the series of tree trunk sentences that takes the geometry of language into consideration. By countering the familiar phrase ‘Us and Them’ which denotes a sense of division amongst groups, ME WE instead expresses a sense of community and connection. How did you come to know her?

Signe: It was a collaboration with the Copenhagen Contemporary, an art institution. They have a solo show with her now. We talked together that she could probably fit quite well into our festival concept. In that sense it’s also very interesting for us to collaborate with art institutions, so we can provide artists with longer periods and processes, where they have the opportunity to involve and engage for longer times. RF is only 4 days for Claudia – but having an exhibition for half a year gives her another platform in Denmark, which can be interesting for her artistic development. It’s a win win…

Signe: Yes, and for us it’s the chance to create sustainable, longer processes – otherwise festival production can be quick and dirty. What was your personal highlight in these days?

Signe: Oh that’s hard to choose (laughs). I really enjoyed House Of Chroma, which is a pavilion created by the Brazilian artist Eli Sudbrack. Do you already have ideas on RF 2020 – it’s the 50 years anniversary… I’m sure you have, and won’t tell us …

Signe: (laughs) We have several quite magnificent artists on our list for the festival. But also we will have projects happening  throughout the whole 50 year – so we’ll work much more than in normal years. There will be a period of engagement in spring, and than the festival of celebration and time to reflect in the autumn afterwards – we’ll build it up with preparing, combinating, engaging, and reflecting. It will be good stuff – but I can’t tell you now. (laughs).

Signe Brink Wehl at Roskilde Festival