Tuesday, February 17, 2009
...in the mud
Thank you all for the posts and comments on this blog so far. I hope more of the participants will join in soon and help make this a lively and interesting blog.
We've had various examples of sites of memory in Denmark presented, and I thought that I would bring attention to another special place that evokes many different kinds of memories. I'm thinking about the music and arts festival 'Roskilde Festival' held each year in Denmark.
Some of you probably know the festival, either through the media or by participating yourselves. I myself have enjoyed the festival eight years in a row (2000-2007) as a very 'authentic' and muddy participant.
What interests me about the festival in relation to collective/cultural memory is the unique festival experience that gradually has evovled since the first festival was introduced in 1971. Lene presented the Viking week at Moesgaard as a special case of authentic 'living' history. I agree with her that the whole spectacle surrounding the Viking week aims at a remarkably more authentic experience of past times than in Den Gamle By, simply because of the unavoidable physical stimuli, such as taste and smell. But I still doubt that either smell or taste can evoke a past that goes beyond personal experience, as the argument for the Viking week goes, and for this reason I started thinking about my own experiences at Roskilde Festival.
One of the main issues when comparing the Viking week with the Roskilde Festival is the problem of continuity. It is obvious that the Viking week isn't a continuation of traditions performed in the age of Vikings. It is rather a re-invention of a way of life, based on various historical facts or assumptions. Roskilde Festival on the other hand represents an unbroken chain of events. The Festival held each year is a continuation of the tradition of festivals started in 1971, but that doesn't mean that the festival doesn't evovle - in fact the festival held nowadays hardly resembles the original festival. But is the festival then even a site of memory at all? Yes, but in a different sense than with the Viking week.
Firstly there are already various traditions being re-enacted each year at the festival. Many traditions concern the actual progression of the festival and rely heavily on intense planning from the festivals management - this includes the schedule for the concerts, the look of the camping area and other logistical issues. This has to do with the framing of the festival and surely affects the experience of going to the same festival each year. But this isn't all. More or less meaningful traditions are created spontaniously each year because of the participants. One of the funnier traditions is the naked-run which has been a big attraction since the first run in 1998. Another, more serious, section of the festival refers to the terrible accident in 2000. This has led to the construction of a memorial grove next to the orange stage thereby suggesting that the festival comprise both life and death.
In general the festival presents itself as a parallel community and it would be hopeless to count up all the instances were certain events refer to past incidents in the history of the festival. I think as a whole the festival is a strange complex of memorial constructs that somehow seem to be actively sustained by both the participant(s) and the management.
In returning to the discussion on authenticity I think that Roskilde Festival also challenges Svend Eriks point about 'tourists not being able to stand the smell of old times.' How does that argument work when tested on the case of Roskilde? Most people who go to Roskilde think that the smell is part of the authenticity of the event and in this case the durational matter is not a problem, since the festival always lasts a week. Here we must encounter the problem of continuity once again. Maybe the festival suggests an authentic experience, but is the historical span of the festival large enough to serve as a site of memory? As a collective memory ('Communicative' in Assmanns terms) yes, but as cultural memory, probably not. But what do you think? Let me hear your opinions on this.