FACT – the innovative and widely renowned Foundation for Art and Creative technology, based in the heart of Liverpool’s city centre – was host to the Abandon Normal Devices Festival on the first weekend of this October.
Abandon Normal Devices is a festival of “New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art”, with its boldly worded title at the very heart of it prerogative. The aim of this collaboration of cinema, installation and events is to expand upon conventional consciousness with regard to the overwhelming influx of technological advances that we have been subject to in the past decade or so.
The Festival implemented a fantastically varied range of interactive methods for audiences to engage with for the entirety of the weekend, from film screenings, to talks and debates, to very visceral exhibitions.
The opening of the Festival took place on Thursday 3 October, and invited the public to spend their evening enjoying refreshments and exploring the installations that FACT would be home to for the duration of the Festival.
Arguably at the forefront of these was the work of Mark Boulos, whose pieces will remain at the media arts centre until the end of next month. These pieces consist of a new work, a video art installation, Echo, and three documentary films, which explore a range of political issues.
Boulos’ latest piece, Echo, allows visitors to the gallery to become part of the art piece itself. The exhibition space for this work is a room lit only by the projection screen that the viewer is faced with upon arrival, and a lone spotlight directly in front of this screen. Upon standing in this spotlight, the viewer becomes aware that their own three-dimensional image has been projected on to the screen, which displays a night time image of the city of London.
There are several captivating factors at play with this work – primarily the transformative element; at once you are standing in an exhibition space in Liverpool and a deserted street of central London. The image of your own figure is not clear cut, but hazy and ghostly, which is cast in to stark contrast when other ordinary figures appear intermittently in the cityscape, to cross the road or simply pass by.
The most compelling aspect however is the use of the “contra zoom” camera effect, which creates a delay in the playback of your movements. Hence when the figure under the spotlight raises their arm, they will see this happen to their ethereal video image after a delay of several seconds. This invites a sense of disorientation; a feeling of separation from your own faculties. The viewer is thus presented with a very unconventional image of themselves; a hybrid between film and reflection, invoking an eerie detachment from how we usually identity with ourselves.
Another innovative conception of art and technology on display was The Pirate Cinema by Nicolas Maigret. This allowed the public to visually perceive online file sharing, an activity that might usually be considered an intangible, inaccessible and invisible mechanism of “cyberspace”. The installation consisted of three screens, designed to resemble a movie monitoring room, each displaying a live stream of the most prolifically downloaded files across the world. Viewers were able to glimpse a series of snapshot images of familiar scenes from the most popular music videos and television series of the moment, for instance The Big Bang Theory and Breaking Bad. The screen also displayed where this file was being sent to and from, which impressed the far-reaching quality of both the internet and popular culture. The piece’s stimulating effect hinged on the fact that it seemed to tap in to a dimension usually hidden from the public eye.
SEFT-1 is an expertly crafted road and railway vehicle that was designed by Mexican artists and brothers Iván Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, known together as Los Ferronautas. The brothers lived in this vehicle whilst exploring abandoned railways across Mexico and Ecuador, enabling them to encounter areas that had been unreachable for two decades – in this respect their journey can be characterised as a foray in to the past, a journey through time.
The vehicle was exhibited just outside the main entrance to FACT, a fantastically appropriate position for it to reside throughout the festival as it was simultaneously able to communicate its purpose for use in outdoor terrain, and to draw a great amount of intrigue from much of the general public – some of which were convinced it was a time machine! It did indeed possess an impressive futuristic aesthetic, with a jagged angular form and striking silver metallic sheen.
There seems to be an underlying statement being made here about the fast-paced nature of the modern world, and what can regrettably be left behind.
The work was truly representative of the tagline of the festival, as the artists sought to seek out the unknown; to abandon their normal devices in order to explore and discover.
This was not only an efficient and pragmatic vehicle able to span thousands of miles across the railways and roads of Mexico and Ecuador, but a visually fascinating and inspiring art piece. It came alongside poignant and beautifully shot documentary films of their early expeditions.
The AND Fair took place on Saturday the 5th of October. Conceived as a model of the World Fairs where inventors would showcase their latest scientific and technological conceptions, this was an opportunity for international award-winning artists to convene and present material that aim to address the ever-progressing modern age that we live in, and to forge together the disciplines of art and technology.
Numerous stalls were located inside and around FACT, and visitors to the centre were encouraged to talk to the artists and participate in many of the pieces, which spanned a number of issues, from that of the developments of drones, to alternative forms of internet to the science and moral questions behind the hypothetical resurrection of extinct animals.
The sheer amount of stimulating projects and fascinating ideas being showcased throughout the Festival was overwhelming; therefore I have only been able to touch upon a small portion. The purpose of this festival is to provoke new thought and cultivate curiosity, to expand the mind and imagine new possibilities. It responds to the dynamics of the cutting-edge world that we live in, exploring whether there should be limits on the technological age, and how it can become a forum for creativity and artistic endeavour.
Whether you have any interest in art or technology or not, I would urge anyone to attend this Festival in following years, simply to stimulate the mind, if not for anything else – it would be impossible to enter into this explosive environment of new thought and not meditate upon what surrounds us in this modern age!