Every now and then the entire group of seven artists and the curatorial team from FutureEverything’s FAULT LINES programme get together to discuss what we are working on, to present current projects and generally catch up. Our plan on a blustery sunny day in Liverpool was to meet, eat, and go and see the new exhibition at FACT called How Much of This is Fiction.
Meeting in one of the cavernous victorian corniced upstairs rooms of a cafe on Bold Street, there was a great moment when Naho, Dan and Peter crouched around the end of the long table. They were absorbed in clicking back and forth the small automated analogue contraption which is to become part of the Naho’s next project for FAULT LINES, every thing every time. These flip-dot displays which are built into old-school buses work with a mechanical angling of a shimmering dot matrix (old fashioned pixels). In plain terms, a slightly iridescent foil dot dangles from a mechanical array of tiny arms which either reflect the light to create a positive or make the dot disappear. OFF and ON. When they all work together you can read bus destinations, or as Naho will engineer, a poetic capture of data from the Internet Of Things on Oxford Road in Manchester. What was beautiful was the intensity of our three artists enraptured by the tiny object.
After a solid lunch and a round table discussion of projects ranging from new PhD’s, Sonar festival, Deutsche Bank DBACE shortlisting, an algorithmic take over of the Zabludowicz Collections Instagram account and more, we made our way across the street to FACT to see the show. Post-truth has taken on many guises in our fluctuating world; like the dot matrix, it shimmers in ethereal uncertainty. The exhibition’s curators exclaim the artist’s intentions in the accompanying pamphlet, to “reveal the hidden workings of power structures and the possibility of alternative futures” through the use of “hoaxes, hacks and ruses”.
Tangibly powerful was the immediate possibility, upon entering the show, to absorb yourself in a physical facsimile of Julian Assange’s office in the Ecuadorian Embassy (pictured above). This work is part of a project by !Mediangruppe Bitnik where a parcel was sent to the Wikileaks founder containing a camera that broadcasted the journey through the postal system, and streamed live over the web. The room itself is conjured up from memory (since you cannot photograph within the embassy) and smells of the musty lingering presence of a person unable to leave. Can that be possible? It immediately reminded me of the work of the Forensic Architecture team at Goldsmiths University, who collaborate with survivors of drone attacks to use digital evidence and their memories to recreate 3D digital walk-throughs of the buildings which have been hit. Shattering notions of truth and evidence, testimony and post-modernism’s nebulous sense of multi-perspective. These reconstructions subvert the aura of not-knowing into hard virtual evidence. Similarly, the mystique built up around a figure like Assange, pieced together by heresay, articles and conjecture suddenly becomes a palpable reality through his love of whisky, evidenced by the numerous bottles strewn around the room. Large feet, confirmed by his oddly oversized black cumbersome-looking boots placed just outside the door to the office and a pink incongruous Vivian Westwood bag towering above the strangely normal looking office on a bookshelf. This lavish and feminine looking bag signified (according to FACT’s curator Lesley Tasker, who gave us a tour) Assange’s love of and demand to be given a present by each and every visitor. The only obvious manifestation of his subversive career as a whistleblower, is the huge hard-drive which sits next to one of about three computers. Boring looking Dell computers. In fact, it is the very mundane look of the office which is so significant. Being able to have such influence to shift global policy and influence world events from a small nondescript room is what makes the work so potent. Built from a virtual testimony, it’s fakeness recollects Hito Steyerl’s analogy of the way the virtual world has literally slipped off the computer screen into our laps. The fascination with a now mythological figure such as Assange becomes banal and everyday.
This is in contrast to other aspects of the show which celebrate ideas of terror and revolution. Take the film shot by HeHe (Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen). As you walk into the darkened gallery space you cannot avoid being drawn by the sound of children and what seems like violent demonstrations. Hanging ominously at an angle the film teeters above our heads. Scenes of kids storming buildings and letting off smoke bombs, running wild in a school and shot with real schoolchildren in a real marginalised Parisian banlieues. The intense and familiar sound of children draws us into an anxious state because these kids are involved in a fracas; it is certainly captivating because violence is captivating. The shock value wears thin as the film is repeated; and I think that is the point. Newsreels of violence continually intrude into our daily lives in a western world which flinches and moves onto the next choice mortgage rate. A rate influenced by a completely self-referential financial market which uses algorithms to scour for juicy stories and events whether they are real or not, tweeking and generating new rates. An eternal feedback loop.
There are too many works in this important exhibition to talk about here. Save to say, the hilarity and boldness of an Arabic speaking graffiti artist collective who infiltrated the TV series set of Homeland, employed to scrawl graffiti by unsuspecting producers who had no understanding of the Islamic slogans which eventually appeared in an episode certainly had the last laugh. The Yes Men also contributed to the dark humour with a promotional video selling firearms. ‘Buy one and send one free’ (to a deserving underprivileged, gunless member of the American public). You can help someone protect themselves. For sure.
After the show we were fortunate enough to be able to attend the talk by Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke on the subversive use of 3D printing. Personally I found some of the projects in the newly produced manual based on the Anarchist Cookbook, facile and cheap. Turtles wearing strange 3D printed vests to sweep up more plastic in the ocean with more plastic, seemed frankly adding to the problem. But the pertinence of Allahyari’s resin printed relics which have been destroyed by ISIS complete with informative flash drives embedded in the transparent sculptures giving you the 3D file and other information about the work, talk of the possibility of resistance through archive and education. Most astounding though was the YouTube video of the destruction of ancient sculptures distributed by ISIS. Again we witness jaw dropping acts of violence filmically, becoming powerful polemical tools that move us. Political propaganda which ISIS has assimilated and adopted as their modus operandi to spread fear and terror is a tactic available to everyone who wants to publicise their cause. Whether or not media sensations need substantial federal reserves to make the algorithm work for you is a moot point. But fact and fiction do indeed enmesh themselves tightly together.
It was not until writing this blog that I began to think about the importance of living in the present. Our continual fascination with the predictive nature of the technological world complete with a processing power of a hundred million minds cogitating and influencing our here and now, plays havoc with the ghostly smell of Assange’s speculative, reconstructed drinks cabinet. I could even smell his body odour.