The Moon that fell to Earth

It must be May. Festival Fever has seized Brighton yet again. From the Fringe to the Artists Open Houses, to the straight up Festival, the city is abuzz with creativity.

It's an opportunity to feast on favourite art forms. Or take a risk on something brand new—an unfamiliar artistic dish with novel ingredients.

So here we go! Catalogues bookmarked, lists compiled, tickets bought, and group chats launched. It’s going to be a busy month.

There’s something for everyone from Rokia Traoré singing Malian stories at the Dome, to Lolo Brow threading a condom through her nose at the Spiegeltent. No need to account for your taste.

And of course, along with the heralded highlights, festival goers will inevitably encounter the disappointing, the weird, and the just plain naff. But somehow those wonky bits make the gems shine brighter.

This year’s gem fell from the sky. The listing was specific: “a model of the moon, seven metres in diameter, with detailed NASA imagery of the lunar surface, each centimetre of the internally-lit sphere representing 5km of the moon’s surface”.

Clearly the silver sphere—Museum of the Moon—suspended over a lake was a triumph of technology. But would it be art? On a still, mild evening, people flocked to Queens Park to find out.

At dusk, the cables that tethered the moon to lakeside trees were clearly visible, threatening to rob the scene of its mystery. But for those who arrived early, the exposure seemed only to create a deeper sense of intimacy.

Loose clusters of people gathered around the lake’s edge to stare at the moon. Some spread jackets to sit with their feet dangling over the water. There was no jostling—the moon was big enough for everyone to see.

When will it start? A boy swinging a water bottle asked his mum. Soon she said, perhaps not realising it already had. And as time went on, everyone’s need for action softened into quiet observation.

While the crowd settled in, magical strains of Debussy’s Clare de Lune drifted across the lake. Followed by a medley of moon-related music punctuated with scratchy recordings of astronauts, and a few howls from distant wolves.

The moon stoked curiosity and conversation: “Do you think the craters are moulded or painted on?” "Are the ripples on the water from the music?” “It’s got to be like a thick balloon, right?”

People also commented on the swan, gliding on the near-black water, a perfect foil for the ghost moon. And as the sky drifted slowly through soft pinks, golds, and a dozen blues the moon glowed ever brighter.

Everyone stared at the gentle moon. No piece of festival art had surely enjoyed so much contemplation. Even the ever present phones gave way to the senses, disappearing into pockets after capturing Instagram gold.

The mood stayed buoyant when dusk finally slipped into inky darkness and the moon glowed its brightest. Then from the far bank a spontaneous wolf-like howl rose skyward. A joyous howl from the opposite bank responded. And within moments the park was echoing with throaty yelps backed by gales of laughter.

It was a fitting finale to a communal experience. Together they had witnessed something that invited them to wonder, to reflect, and be moved. This surely is the gift of art. The festival had made good on its promise, and the crowd that moved off into the dark left a little changed by the encounter.

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