The New Observatory at FACTPolly Checkland Harding
FACT’s latest exhibition stretches the definition of ‘observatory’; defined as ‘a room or building housing an astronomical telescope or other scientific equipment for the study of natural phenomena’, the word conjures images of white, dome-roofed structures under a wide expanse of sky. In The New Observatory, however, the phenomena being observed isn’t entirely natural – and the closest thing to an architectural observatory is a 40-ft, four-storey watchtower inside FACT’s main atrium.
The idea behind the exhibition is to transform FACT itself into an observatory for the 21st century, featuring work by international artists that explores modern developments including embedded technologies, satellite surveillance and scientific projections. Using alternative modes of measuring the world through data, imagination and other methods, The New Observatory reflects on a reality in which the minutiae of our everyday lives is watched and tracked – most obviously through James Coupe’s A Machine for Living.
This aforementioned 40-ft watchtower incorporates spaces for living, sleeping and working across different levels, including a kitchen and garden, within all of which cameras and monitors will record, archive and broadcast the interior via online platforms. Burak Arikan’s MYPOCKET, meanwhile, begs the question of what is done with the kind of information A Machine for Living will generate; the artist created custom software to predict his spending patterns over a two-year period, with striking accuracy. Ultimately, the observatory at FACT’s shift in focus from natural to digitised systems highlights the need for better scrutiny of this change in our everyday interactions with the world.