Panama 2020 – Last Show On Earth Ep 1


The frantic last 48 hrs trying to condense your life to a presentable facade should anyone want to stay in your place, trying to figure out what’s essential to go in the cases, (the coffee pot! Oh the coffee pot!… if only!!!) to remember what you lacked last time, when you spent 55 days and nights on this distant shore. With its raging seas and roaring winds, all tropical beauty afar, but gritty grimy sand, palm oil, sea salt and jungle dust exfoliant up close and personal. Dropped at the station for the midnight bus out of Bristol Jan 29, a huge crew of the cities finest musicians are present bidding farewell to a fellow legend somehow unfortunately bound to leave back to Brazil, I am warmed by the love and a few familiar faces. 

Sleep is elusive, by the time I actually go to check in I am mildly delirious and sweating, my bags are sooooo overweight, both of them! Have to try to repack in the check-in desk zone; women’s clothes, golden vagina casts and serene faces explode from my cases, with tools and materials, hacksaw blades and LED lights, florists wire and dental instruments. Just an average holiday, right? 

3 attempts and 80 quid later the baggage check lady lets me through, with a slightly withering yet friendly smile. Help me! I am Amsterdamned! It’s a blur! Fluffy and Baz are on the same flight out of the ‘Dam, we drift a while before colluding in some snoochy coffee bar next to the soft play room! What have we become? I am delirious! Stumbling towards the gate, Baz insists we follow him, check this out! We detour into some classy perfume parlour, get well dehydrated flying innit, need to moisturise! We squeeze past the well-heeled chosen ones and Baz whips a sample off the shelf, 600 quid a bottle! He grins in disbelief, squirting a mound of it on to each of our hands. 

“Can I help you?” the flustered attendant politely asks. 

“No no, we’re sound cheers,” 

“You know that’s hormonal cream?” she inquires, Baz smiles wickedly while slapping on another layer

“600 quid??? I would hope so!” 

Panama City is a blur, landing at the lab to a joyful reunion with my partner in crime Maitane Berrozpe, sticky city heat, sketchy margaritas, apartments that boom like bass bibs with the Latin rave bars opposite. Watching the various bazura bin-sifters drop and sort bags of city sputum on the waste ground next door, and eating the best Panamanian street food in the ironically named Coca Cola cafe! 1 dollar golden heart mirrors from the Chinese shop, a guitar from a supermarket handed over by terrified shop assistant, I asked to try it but he just went and boxed it up, eyes wide in disbelief like he was delongava six string to the devil himself! A few hot nights, beautiful dinner with organizers and we launch off out of the mega city! Winding black tarmac snaking us away from Babylon, Rich at the wheel with dnb soundtrack cranking, here we go!

We stumble out of the dnb wagon as the dust settles and dimly lit faces aglow shine out from the warm welcome gloaming of Mehens bar, all roadside charm and gravel comfort. Old friends and soon to be new rear up in hearty embrace and long time no seeings, back at the local in this far flung home. We chortle and chinwag into the wee hours before heading to the finca, jungle base camp, Pirate HQ! We are in bunk house 4, with the butterfly on the door, transformation station. We sit outside smoking and sweating, star gazing, Mai and I. 

It comes slow and low, searing a scar of burning light across the vast relentless blackness of the heavens, the biggest shooting star either of us have ever seen! It seems to last forever, tumbling in descent like some vengeful goddess earth bound with her furies in some blazing celestial chariot, drawn by a legion of fire horses, nostrils flaring smoke, eyes wide a glow, hooves a thunder! It descended to burn out in slow motion, car crash style directly between the hills that flank this sacred cove, tumbling, flailing and exploding over Playa Chiquita, Panama. 

Next morning we roll down the hill on the jungle track, never imagining it will be 85 days before we roll back up! We pitched camp in the forest and checked out the mega beach hut studio. Talk about dream workspaces! A traditional palm roofed timber structure, rain-proof shade cover with a warm Caribbean breeze. We scavenged around for old set and cast off bits, knocking up work benches to sort the tat and create pieces. The beach is surprisingly clear of plastic, alas not due to a global shift in attitudes and behaviors. But some big storms that came through stripping the beach of sand, exposing rocks and reefs, creating a totally different landscape to last time. 

Without the long sandbanks nothing’s staying on shore, so we had to travel a lot further to find materials. Luckily much of what I tried to ship last year remained on site, so we already had good treasures in stock to work with. 

So it began, creative heaven, revisiting old styles and discovering new ones. It was great having someone else with a strong style and aesthetic to work with, a different approach to my own but a similar vision, making the creative bounce between us fast and effective. The work started flying out. We revisited some of the forms developed last time and also both found new angles, often inspired by the objects themselves. 

Mai had pioneered lighting the sculptures for our Glastonbury piece, and with some help and advice from our light wizard pal Jack Wimperis, this took on a new realm with underwater worlds emerging. One night I randomly made a puppet-like figure, then another, and another until we created a fable-like family of these strange other worldly bazura babies. 

One evening after finding an armless toy baby in the flotsam Mai had the idea to revisit the house idea we did for Glastonbury, but in a miniature sea plastic apocalyptic way. This was just before the whole coronavirus properly kicked off, it would become a poignant and ironic testament to these times! Lá casa de apocalipsis! House of the apocalypse.

Returning to Tribal Gathering at the end of Jan this year we couldn’t anticipate what was about to happen in the world. Collaborating with Artist and maker Maitane Berrozpe from the Basque Country we began collecting the sea plastic up and down the coast, setting up our workshop and evolving ideas from last year, as well as developing new works. 

It was amazing for me to have another artist to work alongside and bounce ideas with, we had worked together on several projects for UK festivals including the House of Extinction installation for Greenpeace Glastonbury 2019, an idea we would revisit here for the House of Apocalypse. The work flowed, and when the festival opened we had an exhibition of new pieces ready, and the Plastik Paradiso installation kiosk set up alongside the (not so) grand hotel circus stage. 

The resource of sea plastic was alas no less bountiful than previous years, though some big storms had moved the sands around só the festival area itself had much less plastic on it, we didn’t have to walk far to find things were as depressingly the same on the more remote coastal paths. 

The new work is amazing and we managed to deconstruct the pieces for transport back with us in suitcases, the only people smuggling rubbish into Europe! Little did we know that our return plan would be scuppered so dramatically by the global corona pandemic, and we would find ourselves under military quarantine here on the beach, which has now been our home for some 85 days! 

Another 6 weeks of lockdown and restricted movements has just been announced, so we are soon to relocate to isolation in the nearby town of Portobello. We have packed the existing artworks off to Panama City, and loaded a few boxes with materials to create more work while we wait for flights home. With limited opportunities for public shows and exhibitions, we will start to host the new work online and be releasing material over the coming weeks. Signing off for now from the last festival in the world!