Liverpool art review: Winter Sparks at FACT

Linda Pittwood

FACT Liverpool’s first show of 2013 gets things off to a stripped back start

“Are you going in?” asks a friendly Gallery Attendant, perched on a stool outside the gallery. I affirm that I am. “This one builds up slowly,” he says mysteriously. OK…

I walk down a corridor, with no idea what is round the corner. There is a noise like the crackle of static. At the end of the corridor I turn into a room that is so opaquely black, another person could have been in there and I wouldn’t have known. The crackle has intensified into a sensation that’s akin to standing in your garden watching other people’s fireworks over the fence when you’re too cheap to buy your own.

Winter Sparks is a stripped-down, quintessential FACT show. Immersive, sensory, playful and delivering what it claims on the tin: creative technology. But – apologies for the cheesy question – is it art? I’m always wary of pseudo-science art exhibitions, worrying that I come away learning less than I would from watching a Royal Society Christmas lecture. However, Winter Sparks doesn’t wear its scientific theory on its sleeve; it is confrontational and textured – and evokes memories and emotions in a way that only good art can.

This is a quintessential FACT show. Immersive, sensory, playful. But is it really art?

Evolving Spark Network by Edwin can der Heide is an artwork that’s not for the migraine prone. After some minutes the lights start to move in waves, accompanied by a noise like pulling a resistant plaster off skin. The lights and the sound become more frantic and urgent (“like an army of nails” is how one visitor described it). By the end I am struck by how thoughtfully it seems to have been produced, almost like an orchestral arrangement. At times it reminded me of marching drummers, other times a hailstorm, a crowd, gun-fire or applause.

I am glad I stayed until the end, and I was tempted to stay for another cycle. I wasn’t surprised to hear that some visitors stay for up to an hour but also unsurprised that Gallery Attendants wear noise-blocking head phones. Upstairs, the exhibition has further potential health and safety implications; before you enter I am warned: “Don’t touch anything, don’t trip over the plinths, don’t stand too close and,” a pause, “please turn your phone off.”

Behind the heavy black curtain Impacts, by Alexandre Burton, comprises two distinct but similar sculptures. Coils of copper suspended from the ceiling make sounds like mini lightning bolts as they emit purple veins of electricity onto panels of glass. The inflamed nerves reveal the rawness and aggression that we often forget are properties of electricity: ubiquitous and everyday but potentially lethal. One sculpture seems to be having a conversation with itself, but the other turns its angry voice directly on to the viewer.

As I descend the stairs, I get a good look at the last, and most humorous of the three exhibits, Wilberforces, by Peter Bosch & Simone Simons. Undulating above FACT’s central atrium are two microphones and what appears to be a smartphone dangling on the end of a slinky. The film that the phone is shooting (it wouldn’t be a FACT exhibition without an element of filming and live-feedback) is streamed into a small booth. With its Lynch-ian horror film production values, mysterious howling, fuzz and VHS vibe, the film may not be for everyone, but I could have sat there for hours.

The first exhibition in FACT’s 2013 programme is a good reminder of what this digital arts organisation does well. The show is takes as its theoretical starting point the inventor Nikola Tesla – the engineer who pioneered modern electrical supply systems and was known for his high-voltage electrical experiments – but it is possible to engage with the sculptures simply as good examples of minimalist art. Winter Sparks may not have the wow factor of 2011’s bar-raising ZEE, but it demonstrates that there is plenty of humour and emotion to be found in the field of creative technology.

Culture Guides

Cinema

January brings a focus on women-centric cinema, classic revivals and international hits.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh: making the Glasgow Style at Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool

Exhibitions

On the brink of the new year, here’s a couple of the major exhibitions and smaller gems we’re looking forward to in 2019.

A World Inside A Book courtesy Suzi Corker

Families

January ain’t dull. Create with light, become forensic archeologists, sculpt with mud, step inside books and find a giant piglet with a coat made from dosh.

Literature

January, February, March, April, even May… we’ve plenty for you to look forward to live literature wise as 2019 unfolds – from performance poetry and soundscapes to readings from magazines, memoirs and award-winning short stories.

Music

Ranging from electronica to indie, this month’s music guide features some of the most singular voices in contemporary music.

Theatre in Manchester and the North

Theatre

Five-star musicals, acclaimed site-specific performances and two-week-long eclectic arts festivals? There’s nothing dry about January.

Tours and Activities

Explore the other side of Manchester’s performing arts, as this month, we highlight some of the best tours of the city’s theatres, venues and concert halls.

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
Everyman Rock 'n' Roll panto The Snow Queen
Families 24 November 2018–19 January 2019, from £15.00

Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto: The Snow Queen at Liverpool Everyman

Cheese Making at Food Sorcery
Activity 19–20 January 2019, from £100

Cheese Making at Food Sorcery

Mandy Barker: Hong Kong Soup at CFCCA Manchester
Exhibitions 12 October 2018–20 January 2019, FREE

Mandy Barker: Hong Kong Soup at CFCCA

Charwei Tsai: Bulaubulau at CFCCA
Exhibitions 12 October 2018–20 January 2019, FREE

Charwei Tsai: Bulaubulau at CFCCA

ReFrame at Manchester Art Gallery
Exhibitions 20 October 2018–20 January 2019, FREE

ReFrame at Manchester Art Gallery

Cinema 7 December 2018–20 January 2019, from £5

Slapstick Film Season at HOME

HOME at Christmas
Festivals 13 December 2017–20 January 2019,

HOME at Christmas

PUSH Festival 2019 at HOME
Festivals 11–26 January 2019,

PUSH Festival 2019 at HOME

LIQUID CRYSTAL DISPLAY at Site Gallery
Exhibitions 29 September 2018–27 January 2019, FREE

LIQUID CRYSTAL DISPLAY at Site Gallery

Craft Beer Tour Around Manchester
Food and Drink 1 November 2018–1 February 2019, from £30

Craft Beer Tour Around Manchester

Exhibitions 12 January–1 February 2019, FREE

Motion Sickness at STOCK Gallery

The Producers - A Mel Brooks Musical at the Royal Exchange
Music 30 November 2018–2 February 2019, from £10.00

The Producers – A Mel Brooks Musical at the Royal Exchange