Colouring Wall by Betty Woodhouse, Hands for feet, Andrew Hulme and Mr Doodle. Photo by Hollie Fernando

Arts at Brainchild: An Interview with Lily Bonesso

Brainchild, set up by a group of friends in 2012, is a festival popping with creative attractions. Held in July at the brilliantly eccentric Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum, whose beautiful steam train puffs and toots on a railway track which circles outside the festival space, Brainchild really is one of a kind. Unlike at many large-scale commercialised festivals, its organisers devote careful attention to the visual arts on display.  Brainchild’s DIY approach forms part of the attraction – everyone seems to get involved and enjoy themselves. Performances by up-and-coming musicians, poets, actors, film-makers and artists are complimented by weird and wonderful artistic displays. Large installations whose shapes and forms jut out across the main field cast bizarre shadows as the sun sets. This year, festival goers sat on the art, touched it, climbed into it, watched it and made it.

After spending a beautiful weekend at Brainchild this year, I spoke to artistic director Lily Bonesso(,  who worked with fellow UCL students Marina Blake and Bridget Minamore ( from the start, to create what she calls “a celebration of ideas, of creative community and of doing it yourself; for love, not money!”

I loved the intimacy of such a small festival and the way that the artistic features of the event, such as the huge colouring wall by Betty Woodhouse, Andrew Hulme, Mr Doodle and ‘handsforfeet’, served to get everyone involved, interacting and collaborating together. What do you think makes Brainchild unique?

I think on the whole we’re pretty good at avoiding bullshit; the stuff we show is just really really genuine, and that attracts genuine people which in turn makes for a special festival experience. From the perspective of the art I also think collaboration is totally key. I hardly ever invite artists to bring ready-made works to the festival, instead my team has a lot of input into the development of designs to make them really work in this context. We usually start conversations with “What will happen if someone is smoking/dancing/chilling on the work?” I think people really pick up on this when they’re in the space; they can tell that each piece was made with real love and is there to be part of their experience, not just to be passively observed.

How did you decide on which artists you wanted to be involved in creating the festival?

We start off every year with an open call which is announced on our Facebook (, Twitter( and Instagram(;  this gets shared around until I get a nice fat inbox-full of proposals. The first thing I’m looking for is work which suits the Brainchild aesthetic. On a basic level, our aesthetic is full of colour and very playful, but beyond this it just feels right or it doesn’t.

Once I have my shortlist I take it to my core team; Matt Coreless, Josh Murr, Loulou Janes, Marina and Ella Fallows. Together we assess what will work on a practical level and how ideas could be adapted to work better. If they love it too then I’ll accept the proposal with our feedback. This part is probably the most exciting point in the process because this is where designs for installations transform into stages or climbing frames or interactive pieces.

The Untriumphant Arch by Ivo Tedbury, Richard Boyd and Oscar Walheim. Photo by Jordan Matyka

Ivo Tedbury, Richard Boyd and Oscar Walheim‘s ‘Untriumphal Arch’ installation around the DJ stage looked like a skeletal ancient monument, ‘to symbolise power and pomp,’ as the Brainchild website outlines. It was perfect in those surroundings, allowing the DJs to remain visible while enclosed within such a delicate structure – the arch looked so beautiful casting shadows as the sun was going down! What was your favourite installation piece from this year’s festival and why?

That piece honestly blew my mind. I think they even surprised themselves with how stunning it looked! It’s hard to choose favourites because the standard of all the artists is so incredibly high, but I especially love the work of those that have been working with us for a few years as I’ve been able to see it develop.

Kristi Minchin ( is one of those. She approached me three years ago because, as an illustrator, she wanted to get more experience working in 3D. The first thing she built for us was the beautiful archway we have each year in front of the forum. The next year she teamed up with Matt Sharpe ( and Philip Bailey to build the Playhouse, a Polly Pocket/Miami inspired seating area. This year she designed and built the cladding for the main stage with Josie Tucker ( and also brought a giant interactive installation she has been touring with. It was pretty epic to see all this insanely ambitious work in our field and know that Brainchild had been able to provide her with the literal and metaphorical space to do it.

“I’d say Brainchild is a celebration of ideas, of creative community and of doing it yourself; for love, not money!” 

Plastic Playground by Ducktape Collective. Photo by Lukas Bazle.

The sustainable approach of the festival was notable, from the talks by the PPL-PWR collective on innovative solutions to climate change to the reusable cup system, recycling and food surplus donations. How did sustainability play a part in the decisions you made in organising and choosing the art at Brainchild?

One of the first things we did, as soon as we had the money, was buy a shipping container. We throw away as little as humanly possible and store works and materials for years before getting rid of anything. It’s nice because these become relics of past years and give the field a sense of familiarity, like it’s been waiting for you to come back. Other than this, most artists keep the works and take them home after the festival and we try and avoid taking on any pieces that are intended for the bin. Really, I think that would also undermine the quality of the work as what is the incentive to make something well if it doesn’t have a future?

What does the future hold for art at Brainchild? Do you have any plans for new projects and approaches to next year’s festival?

We recently won some funding from Arts Council so I’m currently curating an exhibition for Art Licks Weekend ( Ed Haslam (, Emily Motto ( and Flow Conceptions (Jack Dale and Henry Howe) ( are building an interactive installation which will be on show at Platform Southwark September 28 – October 7 ( The piece is called ‘Nexus Space’ and features tactile glowing orbs with sensors that trigger sound and light animations. We have some amazing workshops by the artists and performances by Feeling Blue collective (, digital artist Benni Lava and poetry collective Little Grape Jelly lined up for the weekend too, so it will feel like a (very mini) festival in itself!

Next year I want to find ways to bring water into the space at the festival. This is hugely problematic as getting lots of running water in a field is a lot more complicated then I first thought, but I definitely want to look into ways people can get a bit wet and silly! Other than that, we want to keep exploring ways of integrating art with the festival infrastructure so that it becomes more and more intertwined with other areas of the programme.

2017’s Brainchild was held on 7th-9th July at Bentley Wildfowl & Motor Museum, East Sussex (