The Arcadia experience is built on an ethos of positive change. Fusing ground-breaking spectacle, cutting-edge technology, sculpture, engineering and high octane circus. Arcadia’s shows bring people from around the globe together on a wave of celebration.
Cyrus Bozorgmehr heads up communications and narrative design at Arcadia while also consulting on a broad range of unconventional creative projects. His recent book, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was named a 2017 Book of the Year by Rolling Stone magazine.
Arcadia London is the immersive 10th anniversary festival which took place over the bank holiday weekend at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. H&C News attended the event and caught up with Arcadia’s Head of Communications, Cyrus Bozorgmehr.
Firstly, I would like to say congratulations for putting on a fantastic event at London’s Olympic Park.
Thank you so much!
The 50 tonne Arcadia Spider is one of the world’s most iconic festival stages, built from repurposed military hardware. Please tell us about the original idea behind Arcadia and when, where and how the ‘spider’ was created?
There were a few ideas in play – reshaping the linear dynamics of the traditional stage format into a 360 degree immersive world, remixing the ancient idea of a campfire circle, uniting a whole host of disciplines from engineering to circus to create a holistic experience greater than the sum of its parts, and exploring the relationship between technology and human intent by transforming repurposed military hardware into unifying environments.
We never actually set out to build a spider but when working with recycled materials, there’s a symbiotic relationship where design is led by the materials that are found and as ideas take shape – the hunt is on for the next bit of material – even if it’s not clear in advance what that piece may be.
The Spider evolved out of the original Afterburner installation – as customs and excise scanning units turned into legs, jet engines suddenly made sense as eyes and suspending the DJ booth above the dancefloor both increased the sense of immersion by allowing crowds directly underneath the structure and was the final element of sculpting a body. And once that happened, the whole structure had an anthropomorphic quality that encouraged interaction with a character rather than an inanimate installation.
The Arcadia Afterburner debuted at Glastonbury Festival in 2008. That must have been a huge achievement?
It was a heady time – a jet engine, a pile of dreams and not a lot else and with Glastonbury’s backing and support – seeing it come to life was magical.
The team have developed the world’s first recycled biofuel pyrotechnic system which showcases what can be done with the world’s waste, please can you tell us more about this?
We worked closely with the city of Bristol when it was European Green Capital, taking over the Grade 1 listed Queen Square and we built the system to launch there. Environmental consciousness can sometimes seem prescriptive – focused more on sacrifice than opportunity and we wanted to help showcase recycling in creative, positive ways. The flame system runs on recycled biofuel – basically used vegetable oil from local restaurants – and is about opening up conversations about what counts as a waste product and what is just waiting to be repurposed.
Where do you source all the recycled parts from?
Scrapyards, government disposal yards, tip offs, twists of fate!!
Please can you talk about the cutting-edge technology you use in your shows and how you combine it with the arts to create a universal experience that resonates across cultures?
I think this ties in with the idea of a remixed campfire ritual that I mentioned earlier – taking primal – elemental aspects of the human experience like gathering around fire, gathering around monumental megaliths and harnessing the primeval nature of lightning – and then reinterpreting them for the 21st century with lights, lasers, 60 foot flames, biomechanical creatures etc. I think that combination of hardwired archetype and futuristic dreamscape are what make the experience so universal
But equally – everywhere we go – we want to learn and culturally adapt. A classic example being our collaboration with the Aboriginal Whadjuk Noongar tribe where the synergies between their ancient Dreamtime spider who weaves a web of unity and the unity we seek to create in a different cultural context were so powerful that the two came together in a unified performance.
How did you create the stunning Metamorphosis Show?
Through evolving previous shows, having a clear thematic idea of transformation and working with some truly amazing outside the box thinkers
The Reactor is your brand new 360 degree intense, indoor arena that combines vivid geometric lasers and thrilling performance, purpose built for the 10th Anniversary Festival. Can you tell us more about how this was produced?
The idea was to explore the possibilities of an indoor environment – something we hadn’t ever done before, while using it as an experimental test bed for our evolving shows. Everything was inspired by and mapped to the hexagonal geometry of the tented structure, so it was a 360 degree immersive environment which while it had a totemic central spire of lasers, created a sense of sculpture and architecture in new and not always structural ways while the performances bring sensuality and the human element to the experience.
You have had some of the biggest names in music perform within the Spider – do they tend to contact you or do you approach them?
It’s a bit of both really!
Arcadia has travelled to music events all across the world (including Thailand, New Zealand, Korea, Taiwan, Australia and the United States) . How do you transport it?!
With difficulty!! It goes into five 40 foot shipping containers and our production team have done an incredible job in adapting such a gigantic beast into a tour-able entity – scaling the operation to go international has probably been the biggest logistical challenge we’ve faced.
Would you like to tell us about Arcadia Reach CIC?
Absolutely – it’s a non profit that we set up to use the skills, networks and resources Arcadia have access to in order to create positive change in areas well beyond our commercial boundaries. Projects are varied – for example we’re developing a highly efficient new technique of water well drilling in Sierra Leone, we’ve built a fire engine for a refugee camp beset by conflagrations, we hosted 200 children from local communities the day before the London show for arts and engineering workshops and we try and reach people down on their luck who’d never be able to afford a ticket and welcome them in as guests where we can.
Keep an eye out for future projects!
What can we expect to see from Arcadia in the future?
Monumental immersive worlds multiplying.