Review: Flipside 2017, Snape Maltings

Margaret Atwood who delivered the keynote speech at this year's Flipside festival. Photo: Liam Sharp

Margaret Atwood who delivered the keynote speech at this year's Flipside festival. Photo: Liam Sharp - Credit: Archant

FlipSide is a major literature and arts festival which links Suffolk with South America. This year the festival had Green Issues as its theme. Jackie Montague absorbed the experience.

Audiences enjoying a carnival atmosphere at Flipside. Photo: Flipside

Audiences enjoying a carnival atmosphere at Flipside. Photo: Flipside - Credit: Archant

With an opening key note speech from acclaimed writer Margaret Atwood, not to be missed Flipside at Snape Maltings brings together a weekend of the art, music, literature, culture and food of Latin America alongside UK artists and writers

Margaret Atwood, writer, poet, environmental activist and feminist enters and the excitement and respect is palpable. What comes next is 40 or so minutes of wise, very witty and insightful words that coves life and death, US politics and the hugely popular resurgence and TV adaptation of her 1985 novel a Handmaid’s Tale. She compares herself to two prophetesses from the classical world.

In 1985 when the Handmaid’s tale was first published, she says she was Cassandra who told the truth but was doomed never to be believed. In 2017, however she is now now Sevilla, who tells the truth and is believed.

Audiences enjoying a carnival atmosphere at Flipside. Photo: Flipside

Audiences enjoying a carnival atmosphere at Flipside. Photo: Flipside - Credit: Archant

The dystopian worlds Atwood creates, she sees as “ turning over the logs to see what’s underneath”. But it’s true that Handmaid’s tale has struck chord, so much so she sees it everywhere. From the Women’s marches after the election of Trump to a liquid soap and, even better a T Rex in a handmaid’s uniform at the Dragon Con!

The novel has become shorthand for so much more, and has imprinted itself on cultural consciousness, shooting up the best seller charts since Trump got elected as well as, she notes, Orwell’s 1984. As a a consultant on the hit TV show she gives advice, but only insists one motif cannot be changed: “nothing goes in that hasn’t happened”.

At a festival that has at its heart concerns for the environment, Atwood is a committed and philosophical speaker. She makes direct links between environmental issues and how women will bear the brunt of environmental changes in all senses and the inevitable wars that follow.

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Asked about Trump’s election she explains that he simply “acted as if he understood” and that the US is in a “dangerous and unprecedented “ place, and the world “needs better” as a matter of urgency.

Her talk began with the 5 most environmentally ways to dispose of the dead, or “cadaver care “ she joked. Her own preferred method being the Urban Matters project where eventually we turn into green matter compost. It ended with looking forward to 100 years from now where one of her novels is waiting to published with the Future library project in Norway in 2114 from trees that were planted in 2014. There is always hope and one of her closing comments remind us of this : “it’s been worse- be grateful”

Ian Sinclair: Walk: Early on Sunday, the last day of Flipside, Ian Sinclair awoke and took a walk in Snape. He wrote :

“6am silver moon

Golden Key

Man’s foolishness

To measure time”

To us walkers on his event, he presented the following challenge: as we walk we are to consider the exploration of the environment we are in and how it creates a singular moment. Walking in a landscape can unleash unexpected possibilities. The key is to be aware, to sense the nuances of how we build experience and, I think, be prepared for anything and anyone to shift a perspective making us sensitive to how we connect with our environment. I stop at the Henry Moore sculpture and peer through its circles, a window frame out onto the marshes feels like a postcard and I am merely a visitor.

Flipside is a festival that has environmental issues at its heart. And how we humans affect the environment and the natural world is a paradox between the personal and political. Sinclair encourages reflection on this. All around are signs, in quite aggressive language, reminding that the land is owned, and the individual has limited rights to roam. The wildness of what’s in front of you then is controlled, feels tamed, protected and in some ways out of reach. Looking up at the sky at the silver moon feels as free as you truly be.

Dreams of a New World: All land is owned by someone and there are only the powerful and disempowered in that sense. The historical legacy of human conquest and consequence is thread that is clear within the festival, creating a fascinating bridge between all the events. Dreams of A New World, a documentary by award winning Mike Dibb, whose career and exploration of Latin America has spanned over 30 years, kicked off the Latin America on Film event on Saturday. He presented a comprehensive historical understanding how conquest and colonisation of Latin America by white Europeans shaped identity and politics and how a sense of self is defined for generations by the colonisers.

White Europeans had a vision of Latin America as a place “where Utopia could be”. A twisted spiritual mission where initially Latin Americans had the “innocence of that we lost with Adam”. But that vison was, as the writer Eduardo Geleano puts it, a reflection of the “white, rich, macho and military”.

The Utopian paradise within 100 years claimed the lives of half the indigenous inhabitants, the “man eating savages” of myth; the language of the invaders symbolically completing the transfer of power.

The documentary, made in 1988, powerfully gives voice to Latin American artists and writer, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in order to reclaim this retelling of history. However, it un self consciously lacks the vital voice and contribution of women artists and writers of Latin America. This adds an interesting irony that makes the documentary ultimately turn in on itself unwittingly reflecting its own place in time.