For the month of August, the Neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House has been transformed into a whimsical wonderland thanks to fashion power couple Gareth Pugh and Carson McColl. A stark contrast to the provocative, macabre-tinged sculptural designs that have defined Pugh’s career, This Bright Land is a joyful and vivacious spectacle celebrating the spirit and strength of community. Set to be London’s cultural hotspot for the last leg of summer, the festival features live music, workshops and more as the duo champions grassroots advocacy groups and creative communities.
Keeping the entire family entertained with day and night activities, the Somerset House Studios residents have partnered up with brands like Jo Malone and MAC Cosmetics on pop-ups dedicated to wellness and self-care. A line-up of weekday and weekend takeovers also includes performances from collectives like dead-pan dance crew Figs in Wigs, and Drag Syndrome, a troupe of drag kings and queens with Down’s Syndrome. For Pugh and McColl, the festivities are about more than being entertained, but about bridging groups and starting meaningful discussions.
‘We want to create conversations between different communities who all face the same systems of oppression, in order to create a sense of allyship and inter-community cooperation,' explains McColl on what inspired This Bright Land. Their carefully selected partnerships include working with Black Eats LDN, a collection that champions black-owned businesses across London.
Though the technicolour wonderland provides marginalised communities with a platform to share stories in an entertaining and playful way, it, more importantly, offers an engaging space for mainstream audiences to learn. For Pugh, making the event fun and accessible was a priority. ‘People hate to feel like they’re being preached to. With this we get to kill them with kindness', he explains.
A highlight in the lineup is the Friday night parties held by collectives like Daytimes, Nine Nights and ESEA Sisters, as well as Saturday night open-air Vogue Balls in collaboration with Vogue Rites. On 27 August, Somerset House’s historic courtyard will host the Finale Ball that's set to be the largest open-air Vogue Ball in UK history. An apt finale to the summer’s festivities if you ask us.
At the centre of it all (literally) is a 35m observation wheel offering views of London’s skyline. While you admire 360-degree views of the city a soundscape installation tells stories from Londoners of all walks of life. 'We want to bring, to a mainstream audience, stories you might not hear elsewhere', explains McColl.