Behind The Scenes: Stage Design with Belle Hex

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Ahead of Farr Festival 2017 we caught up with London-based visual artist Belle Hex, real name Stella Wan, to discuss her creative process, approach to stage design and what you can expect this summer at the Hidden Palace.


Belle Hex is the alias of Scottish born / London-based visual artist Stella Wan. Operating out of her Hackney Wick studio, Stella works in a variety of mediums including video, photography, illustration, graphic design, installations and most importantly stage design.

For those of you that witnessed the likes of Gilles Peterson, A Love From Outer Space (Andrew Weatherall & Sean Johnston) and the extended Boy's Own family last year at Farr, the stage upon which you were dancing was the brainchild of Stella. This year we've invited Stella back to the woods to build and design the Hidden Palace stage for it's second outing and we cannot wait to see what she has in store.

Festivities at The Hidden Palace kick off on Thursday 13th July with NYC party starters Mister Saturday Night playing alongside special guest Avalon Emerson. Heist Recordings step up on Friday with Honey Dijon, Detroit Swindle, Henry Wu and Adesse Versions. Chaos In The CBD and on Saturday night Boy’s Own bring the heat to the woods with Omar-S, Mr G (live), Axel Boman, Nancy Noise and Dave Jarvis, plus a back-to-back assault from Terry Farley and Daren Nunes.

Hidden Palace

For those not in the know - please can you introduce yourself, tell us where you are from and what it is that you do?

I’m Stella (Belle Hex), a visual artist based in East London, originally from Scotland. I’m a ‘slasher’ - (an actual term coined by Alboher!) where an individual takes on multiple roles. My work incorporates video, photography, illustration, graphic design and installations.

What’s your background in the arts?

I studied graphic design at Glasgow School of Art. I’ve always been particularly fond of being involved creatively within the music industry. I would help out with artwork and gig photography for friends’ bands back in Glasgow. It allowed me to be more than just 'the fan' and to accentuate my visual response to the music. I then got fascinated by moving image so I started making videos and live visuals for them. It’s a way to enhance the emotional resonance of the music. 

What other artists, designers, illustrators do you admire?

Right now? Minka Sicklinger is sick!

What do people know you for and do you have a signature style? 

I don’t know! I guess folk know me more for illustration and animation stuff. The Hidden Palace was my first stage design! I got a bit fed up with always being behind the computer, it was becoming a bit too rigid, a bit too robotic so I decided to do something about it. I wanted to tacitly make things. So, I’ve been experimenting with wee light installations and sculptures but set building is an entirely new and extremely exciting adventure for me.

I guess I’m still refining myself. I like casting shadows with light. I like playing around with the juxtaposition of meaning, graphics and colour. I like manipulating found objects and I’m drawn to symbolism. The idea of transforming something to render a new meaning. I am a bit of a scatter brain and my thought process can be quite erratic. It’s difficult for me sometimes to articulate what’s going inside my head. It usually, more often than not,  translates into something cryptic that has no translation at all. Word vomit. That’s why expressing in visual language is so significant to me. 

Do you have a preferred medium to use? 

I’m on a journey of dabbling with various mediums. I do like the laser cutter where I can play both digitally and in a tactile way.  And I would really like to play with metal. Welding would be really cool.

Hidden Palace 2

How did you get involved with working on festival set builds?

Just by asking! If you don’t ask, you don’t get. I initially did visuals for projection mapping or exhibit my light sculptures at events or festivals. Olive Berggren  who I had worked with at Virgo festival, approached me to design The Hidden Palace. I was overwhelmed and almost didn’t go to the festival itself. If I fucked up, I’d fuck up BIG. But you have just got to be brave and do it.

How much does the location of a festival affect your designs?

I’m used to working internally, in enclosed site specific, four walled spaces or I’m designing for a screen. Taking familiarity into the unfamiliar, challenging conventional ways of live performances really excites me. It allow you to conjure so much more unrestricted possibilities, especially when you’re setting is in the woods. But even then, there were challenges in nature, the issue of branches (of trees) being in the way- we really didn’t want to disturb nature and hack of limbs of trees.

Also, without it being in a site specific space, initial design plans might not always work out. That was apparent for The Hidden Palace, we actually constructed the stage in a day and a half because of a delay with the trussing. I’m used to preparing content prior a show but with set builds, there are many factors that can change when you’re on site and it might not go as planned. You got to be on the ball, have a contingency plan. It’s always about problem solving. I like finding loop holes.

Are there any particular emotions, colour schemes or moods you have in mind during the design process?

Bipolarity. Dead and alive. Anxious!

Last year you helped build the Hidden Palace stage as well as designing the iconic eye logo. Please tell us about your creative process behind these two projects.

We were after a voodoo vibe. I’m interested in the occult, in particular the different rituals within cult religions. I find it all quite romantic in a melancholic sense. Haha. Shrines, places of worship are regarded as a holy shelter, a sanctuary of a scared entity - the music, in this case. Stages are shrines, a place for devotion and celebration of the music religion. Festivals create a communal realm for individuals to a share sense of belonging and connection.

"Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." was a phrase that went through my mind, it originated from the 90's oath to solemnly keep a promise, or a secret, hidden…The occult eye symbol is actually a tattoo on myself. The symbol is at times portrayed with a ray of light. It was a mystical moment when it illuminated in reality.

There’s a cross over relationship in my work where I utilise skills from my different specialisms, experience and senses to attain new ones. I go through a cognitive process when designing. I adapt what I already know and apply it to what I don’t, to generate new knowledge.

Eye

How does it feel to see people dancing in front of your stages and DJs performing from them?

It was wild! There’s nothing more real and stimulating to see the connection between the people and the music. It’s such a overwhelming feeling to see the social interaction, being part of and witnessing the build in a bare, desolate setting to a vibrant, true sense of musical expression. 

Stages are massively, as Joseph Beuys would say ‘social sculptures’. I love people watching - watching the people, watching the set. I completely thrive in it. It’s a reason why I enjoy live performances so much, you get to witness both the behaviour of performer and audience simultaneously… It’s like in the spiritual ritual of the Shona people, if no-one joined in with the performances at the ceremonies for the ancestors, it would be regarded as a failure. Spirit possession was judged by the intensity of reaction and participation of the audience. I would say The Hidden Palace did alright! There were so many sentimental moments. Haha

You’ll be working on set design for this years edition of Farr - Can you share a few words about that and what people can look forward to?

This year it has another (oc)cult reference. It has imagery of creatures who reside in the woods. Spirit animals. And the eye will be making another appearance. 

Are there any other festivals out there that you particularly admire for their stage design?

The stages at BoomTown are something else, completely other worldy… I wish it was a real town. Everywhere you go is immersive. It truly is an experience and I’m very happy that I get to help out with the Robotika stage again this year.

Are there any other up and coming artists that we should know about?

Living in a warehouse environment in Hackney Wick, I’m surrounded by a lot of talented individuals and collectives who are also friends and neighbours. I’ve worked with Darling and Edge who have built some amazing, immersive sets that leave you in awe. Goosebumps at the The Vaults was immense! Hmm, there’s Core Sound too who have just fabricated their first sound system to support the local underground music scene. Passing them in the courtyard building for weeks and sensing their dedication. It was their first project and it was a success. The vibrating and energetic parties possess so much community spirit. It’s beautiful!

If you had access to an unfathomable budget what would you create?

Haha, yeah... right…

Do you have any words of wisdom that you would like to share?

Yeah I do, watch this.

Discover more about Belle Hex on HERE.

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