Interview: Donna Lynas, Wysing Arts Centre

Donna Lynas, Wysing Arts Centre

Donna Lynas has been director of Wysing Arts Centre since 2005, establishing and overseeing its forward-thinking Space-Time festival of music and art since 2010.

This year, the event has been dubbed Space-Time: The Future and will focus primarily on women in experimental and electronic music and art, or post punk bands fronted by women.

The top notch bill features Helena Hauff, Nik Colk Void, Holly Herndon (below), Karen Gwyer, Trash Kit and loads more, who will all gather at the Cambridgeshire centre for a 12-hour musical marathon on 30 August.

Space-Time slots into Wysing’s underlying aim to provide alternative environments and structures for artistic research, experimentation, discovery and production.

Other related events include Futurecamp, a series of fortnightly talks, discussions, screenings, performances and workshops that will address the way we live and create now and how this might evolve and affect the future.

We spent some time with Donna while researching our Women & Machines feature to learn more about her work at Wysing and hear about the impetus behind this year’s extraordinary Space-Time line-up…

Holly HerndonWhat is the thinking behind your annual Space-Time festival?
We’re a visual arts centre and in 2010 we realised just how many visual artists had a music side to their practice. We have a lot of studios at Wysing and if you walk around the site you can hear lots of different music coming out of everyone’s studio. Music is such an important part of creating for these visual artists, but it hasn’t really been written about or talked about as much as it should have – up until now.

A lot of visual artists started asking us if their band could play while their exhibitions were on. Then the music element grew into something much bigger and we decided to hold a music festival.

Why did you decide to focus on female electronic producers for this year’s Space-Time festival?
It’s now in its fifth year, and every year we really focus on what’s currently interesting in the visual arts at that moment. Last year in particular, it all seemed to come together for us and the festival understood what it was trying to do in crossing all these different disciplines.

We got PRS for Music Foundation funding for the New York based artist Keren Cytter to come and do a residency and work alongside Maria & the Mirrors – they created an amazing audio/visual noise piece which was very loud! It went on to be performed at the ICA.

We also worked with another visual artist last year called Cally Spooner. She put out a call for 24 women singers and we recruited people from the villages around Wysing to take part. We ended up performing that at Tate Modern earlier this year.

So I suppose, almost everything that happens at Wysing comes about from listening to what people are doing and where people are taking things. This year’s programme is a response to what it feels like people are talking about and are interested in.

I was becoming increasingly aware that there were all these women taking on these roles. Last year, when the festival coalesced, it was really visceral and noisy – and quite frightening at times! I realised that one of the most frightening performances was the one with Keren and Maria & the Mirrors. It just felt like somehow there was an opportunity to talk about music being made by women in a different way. Also, I’m very interested in the two things that tend to come out in all the festivals – that is, the electronic and post punk traditions that surface in female-led bands. It does bring those two worlds together.

Space-Time Festival, Wysing Arts Centre

Space-Time festival poster

It’s interesting that it’s a female-led programme and you’ve decided to call it Space-Time: The Future – there’s a subtext in that, don’t you think? Do you see this generation of female electronic and visual artists pushing the genres on?
I hope so. I hope the future can be more experimental. I certainly think that in the future there will be more crossing of traditional boundaries and more collaboration. Maybe women are at the vanguard of this way of working.

Obviously it’s very current – a lot of people are discussing the role of women across the arts at the moment. I was aware last year that there were a number of big electronic festivals that had very few women on the bill at all. It was quite frightening and I couldn’t really understand it. Having put our festival together, we could literally just do it with women from now on I think. There is so much material!

I did think about the ‘future’ theme a lot. Wysing is 25 this year and we wanted to show that we were embracing the future and we’ve got a whole programme of events that are looking beyond the festival at subjects like gender and feminism. It’s called Futurecamp.

http://www.wysingartscentre.org/whats_on/events/futurecamp

Do you think women bring something different to electronic music or do you think it’s ridiculous to call out and classify music in that way?
In a way, listening to most electronic music or post punk, you wouldn’t know whether it was made by men or women. But then, I do often notice a humour in female post punk and electronic music – and a modesty too.

Even putting the festival together this year has been completely different. It’s been so enjoyable. Everyone is so open and embracing. I’ve put the festival together for five years now so I know it’s quite a macho world out there. I don’t know if you can necessarily tell from listening to the music but I do think there is an underlying self awareness that doesn’t take itself too seriously in a way that a more macho way of operating does.

Have you been reading online about all the Drowned in Sound (DiS) stuff with Joanna Gruesome? It’s really vile actually. They did an interview with the band and Alanna McArdle was talking about how difficult it is and how macho the music industry is – and the comments the article received were just unbelievable. They were so patronising. I think DiS took a lot of them down. All these men just waded in. I’m quite concerned because I don’t want our festival to get dragged in to some negative gender war. I just want it to be an enjoyable, celebratory experience. But I am very conscious that it is going on though.

[Read Alanna’s Facebook response to the comments here]

Joanna Gruesome Alanna McArdle

Joanna Gruesome’s Alanna McArdle

You touched issues of inequality within music programming. Do you think there is anything we should be doing as an industry to redress the balance? Have you learned anything from the Space-Time: The Future programming this year?
A lot of time, when the music industry is presenting these very polished packages, it’s all very results driven or sales driven. Often, they don’t take huge risks, unless they are working in the underground or cult spheres. So in a way, it would be great if people just embraced risk. It’s about championing the stuff that exists on the edges – music which might not be really bombastic or polished.

Within the visual arts world, it’s often very driven by awards or commercial gallery representation. That’s not what we’re interested in at Wysing. We’re interested in people who want to try out new things and who aren’t afraid to fail sometimes in the process. It’s about pushing to move things on a bit.

Everyone wants to be successful on their own terms – it doesn’t always have to be about sales.

If audiences took just one thing away from the Space-Time festival this year, what do you hope that would be?
We do a lot of events at Wysing and there are always two things we want people to go away with. One of those is to feel like their brains have been pushed and tested a little bit, and they’ve been subjected to something they might not have expected.

We also want people to have an emotional connection, whether that’s through feelings of joy or by dancing, or whatever.

For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.wysingartscentre.org/whats_on/annual_music_festival

Read our related Women & Machines feature here