Abandon Normal Devices (AND) has a habit of occurring in unexpected places (its 2017 edition, for example, featuring an ethereal digital installation that flooded the dramatic V-shaped valley of Winnats Pass in Derbyshire with light). But this year, the nomadic festival of digital culture, art and film is going one step further.
AND 2021 will unfold over seven weeks, on water, at docklands, and online, using the post-industrial landscapes of the Manchester Ship Canal and River Mersey to explore a wider set of local and global issues – from the flows of shipping, energy and political power structures, to the impact of industrial chemicals, minerals and microplastics on our planet and the lifeforms its supports. The first wave of brand-new commissions has just been announced. Here’s a glimpse of what to look forward to.
Playing on the concept of the traditional guided tour, artist Anita Fontaine is inviting audiences aboard the iconic Mersey Ferry for a fantasy-fiction, sci-fi voyage into the future. Experienced through custom-built viewfinders, The Blue Violet River will transform the Liverpool skyline through psychedelic audio-visual sculptures that present a (surprisingly optimistic) vision of an evolved reality, shaped in response to climate change, rising sea levels and tropical climates, inhabited by a more peaceful, enlightened human race.
Our current reality is far from symbiotic, however, and By the Sound of Things by artist and architect Katie Davies highlights one aspect of the immense damage humanity’s insatiable consumerism is causing. The immersive audio-visual experience, sited on board the Daniel Adamson (one of the last surviving Manchester Ship Canal tugs), explores the disruptive impact of noise pollution caused by the modern shipping industry on marine ecosystems, evocatively captured through a series of deep-sea hydrophone recordings. The hypnotic sound work will be accompanied by a film that speaks to the scale and absurdity of the global sea trade through a mesmerising tapestry of footage captured above the water’s surface.
Switching scale, Toxicity’s Reach focuses on the damage humans are causing on a more molecular level, through the microplastics and chemical waste with which we are contaminating oceans and waterways, and eroding environmental and public health. The online exhibition will consist of three artworks by Mary Maggic, Dr Luiza Prado de. O Martins, and Sissel Marie Tonn, and an accompanying body of research, together tracing the unexpected ways in which contaminants affect our lives and the world in which we live.
How do we begin to move away from the destructive practices of the present toward a more hopeful future? Perhaps by starting locally. WetLab – a floating laboratory that will tour the Greater Manchester and Lancashire canal network – seeks to provide a critical space for imagining more harmonious ways of living on and with water. The water-borne pavilion is a collaboration between design practices public works and Assembly, and will host a dynamic programme of experiments, workshops and cross-disciplinary discussions led by artists, architects, scientists, engineers and technologists, who will work with local communities to identify other potential uses for the region’s canals.
Returning to the digital sphere, One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface takes us on a deep (virtual) dive into the Atlantic Ocean, exploring the immense power of its unpredictable waters to reshape our lives, and the histories that this vast body of water contains. The piece will exist as an interactive audio-visual landscape and unfolding dialogue between artists Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda, informed by a diverse body of research and archival material.
With the festival’s film and music programme still to be announced, AND 2021 is already shaping up to be one of the most ambitious and urgent cultural events taking place in the region this year. What more apt a place than the waterways of the North West – which fed the Industrial Revolution and propelled humanity into a new era of environmental destruction – to begin to envisage new possible futures and ways of being?