Report on the first gathering of the FAULT LINES artists, introducing each other and the Internet of Things.

From 31st January to 2nd February this year, we welcomed our eight FAULT LINES artists to Manchester, gathering them between FutureEverything HQ at Manchester Science Park and MadLab’s brand new (and rather impressive) FabLab.

This was the first time our artist cohort had ever been in the same room at once, so we were keen to get them talking before they shared a bit more about their practise. Following a quick introduction by Drew, Vim introduced an exercise that we’ve done in the team before, whereby each person writes down three questions they’d like to ask the group on individual post-its (yes, we’ll get sick of them by the end of the residential). Next, choose one person in the room and ask them one of your questions and vice versa, except when you move onto the next person, you take the question they asked you into your ‘question set’ so that you’re not constantly asking the same things. It’s funny, and a good facilitated way of breaking up awkwardness, with questions such as ‘What was the first gig you ever went to?’ to ‘Have you ever stolen anything?’ ricocheting around the room.

Next up, we heard each artist talk far more in depth about their practise, inspirations and ambitions. It’s always fascinating for us to meet our artists again in this way, separate from the often daunting interview process. Over the next few months we’ll be getting them to write more in detail over on our blog, so we’ll keep you posted.

Following lunch, we welcomed our Curator, Jose Luis de Vicente, to speak on the Artist as Researcher, which questions the role of the artist in the ecosystem of innovation, with an introduction to its long and complex history, from Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog, Bell Labs and EAT (Experiments in Art & Technology), and TRIPS Festival, to MIT Media Lab, New Inc., Eyebeam and Autodesk’s Pier 9. Jose Luis spoke on what it means to be Antidisciplinary with practitioners crossing borders of art, design, science and technology, quoting Neri Oxmen, that ‘knowledge can no longer be ascribed to, or produced within, disciplinary boundaries…one realm can incite revolution inside another’.

Next, we heard from Arthur van der Wees of Arthur’s Legal, who gave our artists an introduction to the myriad privacy and security issues concerning the development of the Internet of Things. A legal expert specialising in technology, Arthur’s talk accompanied themes that will crop up as part of our first commission with CityVerve, which a selected FAULT LINES artist will be invited to deliver.

By that point there had been a lot of listening in a dark room, so as a final activity, I ran an open discussion of various existing artworks that use or question technology, asking our artists to examine them in much further detail. With examples including Julian Oliver & Danja Vasiliev’s Transparency Grenade, Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Alien Staff and Cecile B. Evan’s Sprung a Leak, we quizzed the ethics, scale, and efficacy of the artworks in order to understand their place in our wider interrogations of technology.

The next day we spent the morning introducing our artists to Open Prototyping as a potential way to frame their work within the programme, with Founder and Creative Director Drew Hemment taking them through each stage. As part of the ongoing challenge for the arts and creative sector to demonstrate impact, FutureEverything want to be able to evidence the process that artists can have on innovation in technology sector. This was an intense session that questioned what it means to have a process, whether it can be recorded easily within a framework, and what each step meant – scope, interpret, try, make, deploy, reflect – and how the artists responded to it. We’re keen to co-design the two year FAULT LINES programme with our artists, so this was a crucial exercise in understanding what we as an organisation needed to do to make it work best for our artists.

After lunch, we dedicated our time to introducing our artists to an example of how artists might work with technology partners, a key aim of FAULT LINES. Rather than a speculative example, we had a real one in the form of CityVerve, for whom we are delivering two Public Realm commissions, with FAULT LINES artists selected for each one.

Feimatta Conteh, FutureEverything’s Programme Manager kicked things off with an introduction to CityVerve, Manchester’s demonstrator for the Internet of Things, giving our artists a short history of FutureEverything’s involvement so far. Up next, Kyle Walker, one of our brilliant Community Champions, talked us through the conversations they have been facilitating with members of the public. Finally, we heard from Nick Chrissos, Head of Technology and Innovation at Cisco, who introduced our artists to the technology and plans that CityVerve hope to achieve over the next two years.

To finish the day, we let our artists try out the process for themselves and give them a chance to collaborate, by shuffling them into groups to respond to a ‘fake brief’ involving Bognor Regis’s fictional plans to install an autonomous vehicle network in the city centre. Armed with research into the ethical, social and infrastructural complexities of self-driving cars, our artists were tasked with creating early ideas for a public artwork in response. After an hour, our artists presented a variety of ideas, from laser-cut objects that showed the importance of identity as car ownership (and all the rites of passage associated) is potentially replaced, to more conceptual interrogations. One group positioned a truck on a cliff top, a giant screen live broadcasting the horizon behind it, a reference to an infamous Tesla self-driving car crash in 2016 which killed its passenger after mistaking a white truck for the sky. Understandably exhausted, we ate dinner and then left our artists to rest ahead of our final day.

The next day, we got our artists together to check in on their thoughts and feelings so far, and with the team, mapped out the positive and negative points of their experience so far. We welcomed hearing feedback about our own design of the residential,, with artists commenting on the amount of talks we presented to them as maybe a bit too much, but that they liked having time to collaborate and work together. They also highlighted that they needed further explanation of our choice to use Open Prototyping, which gave us the opportunity to not only discuss our reasoning to the artists, but to allow us to analyse its use for ourselves.

Creating an open and transparent platform whereby artists could help input and contribute to how we might develop an evaluative framework for developing new artworks when working with technology partners, was extremely valuable. Our artists were open and honest about the process, and what they would need for this to be a successful programme, which meant reassessing what we’d already started to plan. This led to a wider discussion about our commissioning structure, and what we needed to allow for in order to let the cohort feel like a cohort, rather than a series of competing artists. With this in mind, they worked with us to draft a new commissioning structure, one that allowed for more feedback between curators, partners and the other artists. We’re trialling it for our first CityVerve commission, so we’ll let you know how we got on, and what we need to reconsider for next time.

We decided to let the artists design the rest of the day, which meant wiping the slate clean of our previous agenda. While Joeli Brearley, the previous cohort manager, and I held each artist’s one-to-one to find out what we needed to do to ensure long-term talent development over the next two years, Drew, Vimla, Daniel and Jose Luis found out more about the artists’ skills, interest and motivations in a group session.

Our next meetup is in April, in Liverpool, where we’ll be seeing FACT’s latest exhibition and keeping it all a little bit more relaxed. I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone is following a rather intense three days back in February, and see how their minds work when we place them into a new context. We’re really excited about how we can continue to pioneer new processes and develop innovative programmes of work with our artists. As the commissioning processes emerge, we’re eager to keep the process a collaborative one. We’re hoping our artists keep us in check as we move forward, and we’re looking forward to showing you what they get up to. We’ll be announcing the first two commissions as part of the scheme soon, and look out for a series of guest posts by all of our artists.