Can it really be ten years since FACT opened? Browsing some of the images in Sedimentary Timeline, a kind of physical chronography of the multimedia gallery, reveals some old favourites and a frightening reminder of the swift passage of time.
FACT is indeed ten and marking the occasion is Turning FACT Inside Out – an exhibition that pushes the physical and conceptual boundaries of the building, not to mention modern technology. The idea seems apt; where video art, for want of a better term, was the modern medium in 2003, the internet and AR are now pre-eminent. But the most striking elements here challenge the concrete and glass, expanding outwards from the Ropewalks, into the sky and a weird plane of existence that is both real yet intangible.
A fracking drill burrows into the building’s foundations, augmented reality takes artworks outside and onto Liverpool’s streets, virtual bike rides allow us to teleport from Liverpool to Rotterdam and Madrid via pedals and a bench. Gallery 2 throbs with the heartbeat of the building – the daily hubbub of the behind-the-scenes spaces – and opens up the windows to Wood Street for the first time. Blinking and staring, viewers resemble Jim Carrey discovering the world beyond his previous perceptual boundaries in The Truman Show: seeing this forever dark and slightly claustrophobic space opened up to the cobbles and cars is oddly discombobulating. Considering this amounts to opening a window it’s both genius and blindingly obvious.
The decision to open up some previously fenced-off spaces has paid dividends. FACT now seems more open, more inclusive, a more fun space full of games and unusual experiences – a living, breathing building – and exhibitions that challenge visitors to respond and participate are more satisfying that the mute passivity of watching a 60-minute video on a small screen from an unforgiving wooden bench.
If FACT has had a problem over the last ten years, it’s been bound up in this awkward medium of video installation and the difficulty of attracting the casual audience to frequently high-concept artworks. The gallery has upped its game in recent years with an effort to engage audiences and feature more playful, accessible installations and the galleries seem much busier as a result.
Dumbed down? Arguably, but we’re all for it – recent exhibitions such as Zee and The Art of Pop (a great use of the form) and Winter Sparks have seen the gallery hit a rich vein of form. Anyone who suffered the deathly pomposity of Critic’s Choice or the misfiring pot-pourri of Nothing Special back in 2005 and 2003 respectively would surely agree that FACT has discovered its place within the city and arts scene. Little has been lost in this gentle transition over the years while much has been gained – it’s not uncommon to see children in FACT, pensioners baffling at a rumbling installation or Ropewalks waifs and strays exploring the building in benign bemusement.
None of which is to say that a gallery like FACT should not take risks – “a safe place for risky conversations” is an exciting remit after all. There have been glorious failures and glorious successes – Isaac Julien’s Baltimore still makes our hairs stand on end – and if any gallery has a licence to make mistakes it’s surely FACT. It’s oddly fitting, then, that Turning FACT Inside Out has greatness and mediocrity alike. Our own interactions with the virtual and digital are at the heart of many exhibits, to varying degrees of satisfaction and success.
Manifest.AR’s augmented landscapes – designed to be viewed via a smartphone or tablet – are a nice idea but, after ten minutes of fruitless fiddling with temporary tattoos and QR codes, we gave up. Nina Edge’s tent housing a voice-recognition unit that will translate the soliloquies of visitors is a fascinating concept, but the erection of an awning and arrangement of logs from a recently felled tree seem vague and rather trite. The gym-workout-via-video of TransEurope Slow: Route 1 is pleasant enough and poses some interesting questions about where this mash-up of technology and physicality might go, while Me_Me Collective’s Sedimentary Timeline seems somewhat bolted-on, though very welcome.
Capitalism – good or bad? If you’re inclined to respond in the binary feel free to go and press a button connected to Steve Lambert’s Capitalism Works For Me!, one of the most eye-catching, if utterly redundant, pieces ever seen in the gallery. It feels like an empty social media campaign that speaks of ‘starting a conversation’. Whatever, we liked the typefaces.
Katarzyna Krakowiak’s reverberating Chute in Gallery 2 and HeHe’s Fracking Futures in Gallery 1 provide the most enjoyable elements that stimulate the senses, if little else. The latter’s oil derrick burrows into the ground, grumbling, smoking and occasionally puffing the odd fireball into the air – it offers no comment but, without one, it essentially amounts to an amusement park experience; your children will love it and you probably will too. Both works are reminiscent of something that might be seen in a science museum but they don’t seem out of place in this exhibition that isn’t strictly within FACT, but is FACT.
Finally, FACT is experimenting with a new signage system. While not obviously particularly interesting, the way that the new Tilo system has been designed is actually a great representation of what FACT is, where it’s going and what this exhibition is telling us. It was raining outside while we were there – Tilo conveyed this with a famed precipitation-themed quote from a popular film. And offered a QR code by which we could play gaming classic Pong. We tried and, again, failed.
But it was a nice idea.
Turning FACT Inside Out
Until 15 September