Artist takeover turns FACT Liverpool inside out

Mike Pinnington

FACT’s latest exhibition lets artists loose on the arts venue – we find out why, and what we might expect to see.

Turning FACT Inside Out is the forthcoming exhibition at Liverpool’s Foundation for Art and Creative Technology. It’s a snappy title, but what does it mean, exactly? More importantly, what should we expect? We’re told that “a selection of provocative international artists tackle some of the most pressing, controversial and literally ground-breaking political issues of today.” Note the “literally ground-breaking” part. Curiouser and curiouser, you might think, but following this particular rabbit hole does in fact offer a clue as to what we’ll encounter next time we step into one of the UK’s leading media arts centres.

Set to engulf the entire building, the exhibition gives FACT over to a number of artists whose work explores ideas around environment, architecture and augmented reality. Many of the pieces on display also raise questions over the role galleries should occupy in our post-digital age, holding up a mirror to FACT itself as a cultural institution. Director Mike Stubbs is keen for the gallery’s physical space to be re-imagined in this way. “Turning FACT Inside Out positions FACT as a medium, understanding the centre as a physical and social space that explores the confrontation between people, art and technology,” he says. “FACT connects and responds to the changing social, political and economic conditions of Liverpool and beyond. Many of the artists subvert and dissolve the walls of the arts centre and the institutional frameworks which these contain, thus turning FACT inside out.”

Nothing short of an artists’ takeover, the exhibition positions FACT as an artists’ playground, and will feature new (or never before seen in the UK) works from emerging and established artists, including HeHe, Nina Edge, Katarzyna Krakowiak, Steve Lambert, Manifest.AR, and Uncoded Collective. Artistic partnership HeHe (pronounced “hay hay”) is the team behind that “literally ground-breaking” teaser we mentioned earlier. Stubbs explains that their work will form “an installation and series of interventions [transforming] one of FACT’s gallery spaces into an industrial landscape that becomes an experimental drilling site for hydraulic fracking.” How this is to be facilitated, only time will tell, but it’s an incredibly relevant topic in global political debate. “This playful yet critical gesture points to the importance of cultural venues as potential alternative public arenas for discussion about current socio-political issues, while hinting, with a healthy dose of irony, at alternative funding streams for public institutions in times of austerity,” says Stubbs.

Nothing short of an artists’ takeover, the exhibition transforms FACT into an artists’ playground

The future of the gallery space and how it should function is high on the exhibition’s agenda, and gives rise to a number of questions around this debate. Lots of questions, in fact. “Do audiences trust our sense of purpose as a cultural and social agency and how do we collaborate going forwards?” asks Stubbs, who then stresses the importance of FACT’s ability to adapt to meet “not only a shifting creative economy but the changing expectations of existing and potential audiences and producers.” But for Stubbs, the gallery’s most pressing question is how to remain “relevant and evocative within a set of cultural economic conditions that have become increasingly distributed and virtual.” In this case, questions are easier to come by than their more slippery relatives, the answers. What conclusions will we draw from this artist-led, institution-approved, gallery-grab? Stubbs suggests the show will assert FACT as an “arena in which such debates can occur”, a place where people can discuss the sorts of difficult topics – sex, death, fracking – that are normally off limits.

Stubbs’ fellow curator, Aneta Krzemien Barkley, explains that the exhibition is the result of an invitation to “play with and respond to FACT”. By featuring pieces that range from sound sculpture, immersive and interactive installations, augmented reality games, public debates and a series of participatory events, Krzemien Barkley hopes that the exhibition will offer “different experiences and propose various ways of engaging with the work.” Whilst Stubbs and Krzemien Barkley are forthcoming with their analyses of the exhibition’s aims, both stop short of spilling the beans entirely. Perhaps the point is that none of the above questions are easy to answer and nor should they be. What Turning FACT Inside Out will provide is the place where such lines of inquiry can be wrestled with and maybe even made sense of.

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