Virtual Factory, online, 1 July–31 October 2020, free entry - Visit now
Your Progress Will Be Saved is the first commission in a new series titled Virtual Factory from Manchester International Festival. Over the coming months, artists will “respond to, reconfigure and play” with the different elements of The Factory, MIF’s new home which is designed by celebrated Dutch architectural firm, OMA and is under construction on the old Granada Studios site at St. John’s.
MIF should be praised for their efforts over the past few weeks, skillfully raiding their archives to keep us entertained during the lockdown as well as offering support, advice and a platform to freelance artists. Though the crisis is far from over, and the damage to culture and the night-time economy still not fully realised, it’s exciting – and somewhat comforting – to be presented with a pre-coronavirus digital commission. Particularly from MIF, because, hey, who doesn’t have an opinion on a new piece of work from MIF?
It comes as no great surprise that The Factory would be embracing digital with its trailblazer events, after all, Manchester International Festival is known for its ambitious projects with the likes of Olafur Eliasson, Ed Atkins, Björk, and, most recently, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Atmospheric Memory which was one of their most grandiose commissions to date. What might come as a surprise is that Your Progress Will Be Saved has been created in the video game Fortnite. Yes, Fortnite, the third-person battle royale shooter which is probably the reason you know how to ‘floss’ – or at least understand the theory behind ‘flossing’. If you’re still lost, ask a teenager.
Your Progress Will Be Saved takes place in a reimagining of The Factory created in Fortnite Creative (an offshoot application of the main game). It seems remarkably fitting, given current events, that audiences will explore Manchester’s latest cultural icon in a virtual space before it opens in the physical world.
This is the work of influential avatar artist and curator LaTurbo Avedon. Their output can be described as research into dimensions, deconstructions, and the explosion of forms, exploring topics of virtual authorship and the physicality of the Internet.
That sounds a bit more MIF, right?
LaTurbo’s work has appeared at the Barbican Centre and spaces across the world including The Whitney Museum in New York, Transmediale in Berlin and Basel’s Haus der elektronischen Künste to namedrop but a few.
For those unfamiliar, Fortnite Creative is similar to the level building tools which became popular for modifying 3D games in the wake of id Software’s landmark 1993 game, Doom. In 1996, a modification tool known as Team Fortress was released for id’s follow-up game, Quake, and since then, level building has been a massive part of the gaming community. What started off as gamers creating new spaces for online multiplayer fun, has turned into something entirely more ambitious with landmarks, cities and even worlds recreated digitally in games like Minecraft.
This isn’t the first time Fortnite has been used as a trailblazer. Only last year, Disney decided to use a “Fortnite event” to fill some of the gaping plotholes in J.J. Abrams’ dismal finale to the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Likewise, we have seen similar events used to promote Marvel Studios films as well as virtual concerts from musicians pushing their latest release. While the opening of The Factory may not have quite the same mass pop culture appeal of The Avengers, it does speak to MIF’s efforts to engage younger audiences in both attendance and the creation of new work.
LaTurbo is known for playing with ideas around identity, authorship and the conventions of artistic practice. Much of Your Progress Will Be Saved deals with mirrors, taking visitors on a constantly evolving journey through shifting spaces, across illuminated dance floors and into private booths, experimenting with and blurring the distinctions between what we call the real and the virtual worlds.
Gamers and non-gamers will be able to experience Your Progress Will Be Saved, which is free to try by playing the full game in Fortnite Creative, choosing their own adventure in an adapted journey on the Virtual Factory website and taking tours of LaTurbo’s intervention on the gaming live stream platform, Twitch.
This is the first event in the Virtual Factory series. Subsequent commissions will be released over the next year, including a new project by Jenn Nkiru, known for her work on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Apeshit video; Turner Prize-winner Tai Shani; and Robert Yang, a game developer and professor of video games whose work often focuses on gay men, intimacy and queer spaces.
We look forward to finding out more and seeing how each artist responds to The Factory, a place we can’t wait to explore – both virtually and in real life.
Your Progress Will Be Saved opens on Wednesday 1 July and runs until the autumn.
Virtual Factory, online