Rounding up our European partners in the name of culture is a curious pursuit. For all the good intentions – neighbourly togetherness, hands across the, ahem, English channel – more often than not, the celebrations seem destined to accentuate more continental drift than entente cordiale. But, let’s fact it, isn’t that half the fun?
Take that old war horse, the Eurovision Song Contest. Its German winner was a million seller from Paris to the Parthenon, but how many of us could hum even the opening bars? And how many of us have made a pilgrimage to any of the European Capitals of culture this year? (or, for that matter, how many of us can name them?*)
So let’s hope Media Facades, a new Europe wide festival connecting seven European cities: Berlin, Brussels, Helsinki, Budapest, Linz, Madrid and Liverpool – has nailed it. With its exploration of creative and cultural communication through urban screens, walls and buildings, the idea is for us to connect, share and explore without having that awful business of actually having to, you know, leave the country. Far more civilised.
Broadcast jointly across the host cities, the interactive screening events employ all manner of curious technological props – including an intriguing SMS catapult, allowing us to slingshot text messages onto buildings in the Ropewalks, creating a multi-coloured collage of splattered stories.
Meanwhile, Giant – a team of Finnish artists – has been creating visual characters that represent Scouse dancers, and will be projecting these onto our city walls for a European dance off. It’s like Jeux Sans Frontiers, but without Stuart Hall getting all hysterical in a sheepskin…
On 3 September, at the rear of FACT (9pm) a computer programmer will be writing text-based code that’ll be turned into music, live, followed by a live radio stream from Austria’s Ars Electronica, the world’s biggest new media festival, accompanied by the work of two local video jockeys. Surely that’s got to be better than Satellite (you know, that German Eurovision song you just can’t get out of your head. No?)
It’s all kicking off, then. So SevenStreets caught up with FACT’s Patrick Fox. He’s the man charged with community engagement.
European bonding? What’s the big idea?
It’s much more about engagement at a local level. FACT’s approach to the festival is quite unique amongst the partner cities, as most of our projects have also been co-created by Liverpool residents. We’ve had residents from Anfield travel to Finland to make films, young people taking over public spaces, and local communties creating 40ft animated characters, so our approach really has been to engage our community in every aspect of this festival, as producers as well as audience members.
This is a core element of FACT. Supporting ideas like citizen journalism and digital storytelling. Our aim with any project we undertake is to help create a voice, and for our part of the festival we wanted that to be a strong Liverpool one.
Why media screens and walls?
The idea that media has infiltrated every aspect of our lives is an intriguing one, and festivals like these really question the impact of these infiltrations – and especially urban screens and media walls. FACT is a firm believer in empowering individuals and communities through new technology and we’re eager to explore how media facades can be explored as a means to create public value as opposed to advertising commercial products – so we’re hoping to inspire and transform people’s traditional notions of what can be achieved through spaces like these.
You shouldn’t worry too much, Patrick, we really can’t remember the last time those Trinity Mirror cylinders tried to sell us anything along Church Street. Still, FACT is taking more and more advantage of their ‘outside’ spaces.
Is this a deliberate attempt to reach out to those who’ve yet to take a peek inside?
Absolutely. What a lot of people don’t realise about FACT is that prior to the building opening FACT worked as an agency across Merseyside across multiple venues and deep within communities for 20 years – this is still the heart of the organisation. This work continues today with programmes like freehand and (community TV channel) tenantspin, and we’re keen for people to realise that FACT has something for everyone, and using the skin of our building and surrounding areas creates opportunities for people to happen upon us.
But getting a team of Finnish animators to create dancing characters ‘inspired by the people of Liverpool’? Is that wise? They gave us Bombfunk MCs after all…
Giants in the Hood are a Finnish artist collective, and their project was about making a playful platform for comments about identity. They worked with a community group to create characters representing their locality, then on the night of the live event, community members and the general public will be able to animate these characters using full body interaction, meaning the characters will mimic your moves. Its playful, engaging and a really interesting way of representing local identity.
Media Facades Europe Festival
FACT, Wood Street
27 August – 03 October
Sites include the FACT building, RopeWalks Square, BBC Big Screen
(*The Ruhr Region of Germany, Pecs in Hungary and Istanbul – top marks if you got ’em all)