Caroline Bowditch is dressed as Snigel the snail with a colourful iridescent shell. There are children looking at her and following her as she moves
'Adventures of Snigel' by Caroline Bowditch at Just So Festival, photo; Jo Verrent

Just right at Just So

Jo Verrent headed to the Just So Festival this summer to see two works Unlimited had co-commissioned with Northern Festival Network. How did they fare deep in the heart of Cheshire?

Frogs, Stags, Foxes, Bees – arrive at Just So Festival and you could be forgiven for thinking it was a safari park.  Attendees are invited to pick a tribe and costume- leading to the delightful spectacle of seeing grown men dressed as Owls, and stumbling repeatedly on froggeries of Frog-children (it’s a real word, I looked it up). We’d not dressed up – and not even brought any children – but no one seemed to mind.

Last year Unlimited joined forces with Northern Festivals Network to commission some pieces, in a unique process, which enabled shortlisted artists to attend festivals and events to see the spaces and places we wanted them to create work for. We did this because both outdoor work, and work for children and families, are ‘gaps’ for Unlimited. Although we receive a high number of applications, they often don’t include work for these audiences or spaces. We expected to commission a single piece, but ended up funding two as the standard was so high! The two pieces couldn’t have been more different and Just So was my chance to catch both in one festival setting, and see how they stacked up against the other work programmed.

Caroline Bowditch’s Adventures of Snigel was a total delight – for me and anyone under 6. It’s a moving piece – literally. We follow Snigel (Swedish for snail) as they go along their daily journey and their obsession with bubbles. By making the piece promenade (indoors or out), Caroline can enable children to get up close and personal – as they help clean the shell, dance with them and burst their bubbles. This was brilliant for Just So as all the other pieces I saw had a more formal relationship with audiences that very young children often fail to understand. The snail-team, all in overalls and antenna, helped ensure safety and surrounded the piece with snigel-music which perfectly matching the interactions. I chatted to families after a couple of performances – “exquisite”, ”beautiful” and ”enchanting” were some of the comments. Just So have an area for the very young – called “Peekaboo” – where the work slotted in perfectly.

Caroline Bowditch is dressed as Snigel the snail with a colourful iridescent shell. There are children looking at her they are also dressed up in colourful outfits

‘Adventures of Snigel’ by Caroline Bowditch at Just So Festival, photo; Jo Verrent.

Aidan Moesby’s Between Stillness and Storm is a visual and sound installation aimed at all audiences, provoking discussion and debate from all those who travelled to ”The High Seas”, a beautiful secluded area where the work was sited. By day, the solar synths chirped away, the bell tree rang in time with the wind, the weather balloons bobbed, and text was screened with a whole range of weather-based facts, quotes and phobias. At night the work transformed, with daylight measurements compressed and played back within the balloons. The piece provided a stunning treat for those who tracked it down – by day or night. Again, I spoke to those appreciating the work – ”clever”, ”thought provoking”, ”meditative” and ”a real chance to actually see and appreciate the weather” were mentioned.

Aidan Moesby's piece 'between stillness and storm' is displayed at Just So Festival. Two large white balloons are floating in the air in front of lots of trees

‘Between Stillness and Storm’ by Aidan Moesby at Just So Festival, photo; Jo Verrent.

I felt both works were absolutely suited to Just So, one of the key events in the Northern Festival Network’s programme. I felt they really stood out as high quality pieces – but of course, I would think that. Luckily one of our external assessors caught them here and another will catch them at Head for the Hills, in Ramsbottom from 15-17 September. Go and catch them there!

What’s next? At Unlimited, we’ll help the artists form contacts in the outdoor networks so they can take the pieces forward across different spaces and places next summer and fingers crossed – perhaps we’ll get to co-commission with Just So again!