The more playful aspects of the work on show at FACT for The Unexpected Guest should completely disarm even the sternest and most serious of critics. That’s not to say the work in general isn’t serious but the more successful works on show have a gleam of charm around them which takes to task some of the more stuffy aspects of art and, more importantly, it’s lack of hands on approach to the general public.
With the theme of The Unexpected Guest, Fact appears to be the guiding light in interactive art work. Two of the artists on show present work that is either dependant on the viewer’s physical interaction with it or work that displays a communal aspect in similar vein to the 2UP 2DOWN project in Anfield. Pedro Reyes’ Melodrama And Other Games (2012) is the epitome of interactive artwork and confronts the viewer as soon as they step into the building.
A whole space has been dedicated to the various mechanisms of the piece, which starts to take the form of game show. In it is housed tables with especially designed board games including Minefield and Feather Fun and prizes of posters can be won. These poster designs cover the walls and their individual themes are also explored through physical objects and sculpture around the space. Though there is of course a fun aspect to the work, the themes addressed are not necessarily as light-hearted. The work looks at both the positive and negative aspects of relationships though its tie in to the overall Biennial theme seems more due to its accessible physicality than its thematic content.
The previously discussed communal aspect of the work on show is solely down to the presence of Jemima Wyman’s Collective Coverings, Communal Skin (2012). A new, textured layer has been added to the walls of Fact using hoops covered in newly woven designs using camouflage fabric. Mendala mats are also created which seems a natural juxtaposition to the camouflage fabric’s original use. Changing the role of the fabric and using it specifically for its material qualities says a lot about hospitality. A hospitable environment can change objects with even the most violent of political allegories into something beautiful, communal and perhaps even spiritual. The work is visually stunning and seeks to change the form of the building from an industrial space to a more hospitable and inviting place where even violence is morphed into communal craft.
Anja Kirschner and David Panos’ Ultimate Substance (2012) is housed in an interesting space. The film itself is projected onto a screen housed in a complex spider web of beams which seem ill-served by the lack of light. The stronger moments in the film come from addressing the idea that this design comes from and the animated sections are its highlights despite them being accompanied by a grating drone on the soundtrack. The ritual aspects of the film are where it falls down and the clash with the more mathematical visuals make it an interesting but flawed video work.
Akram Zaatari’s highlights are oddly in its aural landscape than the visual elements. Dance To The End Of Youth (2011) has a brilliant premise but its execution somewhat weakens its overall effect. Musical highlights from Arab musicians on YouTube are played on four separate screens which the viewer must consistently turn around to the view. The footage is of course grainy and has that typical low quality YouTube texture. A good way to experience the piece is to ignore the visual elements, stand in the middle of the space and just listen. The musicians on show are all extremely talented and some of the sounds they create (often singing with the use of eastern micro-tone trills) are staggeringly beautiful. For a visual artist though, creating a piece that is best enjoyed with the viewers’ eyes closed isn’t perhaps a great achievement but the quality of his photography housed in the previous space more than makes up for this unlucky set up which is still highly enjoyable.
FACT houses some of the most colourful and fun pieces in this year’s Biennial. It seems fully prepared for the swathes of unexpected guests that will no doubt walk through its doors in the coming weeks whether they’re there to witness visual art, to satisfy their inner child with a quick board game or, rather handily, to do both.
All photos by Adam Scovell.