Follow is the title of the latest exhibition showing at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), moving in and around themes such as identity and authenticity, primarily through the lens of the internet and social media. Fittingly, my own social networks were set ablaze with the news that a certain Hollywood film star (ok, it was Shia LaBeouf) was participating in a work over the opening weekend. Various images of the star scorched my Facebook page, effortlessly drawing the social media buzz. By all accounts, the galleries had never seen such a frenzied turnout.
The exhibition is an assemblage of works in various media, usually with a screen-based element, with further works also available online, via FACT and other independent sites. On entering the public space, we are confronted by Ant Hamlyn’s The Boost Project, a giant inflatable orb hanging from the ceiling. Every time the orb gets a ‘like’ or is followed, it inflates a little, hinting at cycles of approval and endorsement in the digital realm. The bold identity for the show, adorning the windows and walls, also catches the eye. I later learned that this was developed by Simon Whybray, to further explore the themes of branding and advertising which are prevalent in the exhibition; the personal identity of the model is blurred with the brand for Follow.
The first port of call in gallery one is the call centre set-up of LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner’s #TOUCHMYSOUL. For the first few days of the exhibition, the three worked in the gallery space taking calls from the general public. These conversations are now documented, as on-screen, colour-coded transcriptions of the dialogue. Fragments include, ‘I’ve tried calling thousands of times’ and ‘nooo it’s not you, can I talk to Shia’. The expanded text makes for a humorous read. The celebrity strand is continued with Debora Delmar Corp’s Branded for Life, showing luminaries such as Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn getting tattooed/branded with a DD logo. In the same room, Cecile B. Evans’ Commercials (It’s Not Possible, it’s Real) subverts the words and forms of advertising in a way that is at once funny and disturbing. On one screen, jars of mayonnaise fly over mountainous backdrops. On another, just a hyperlink from the reality-checks of Surrealism, computer generated ice-cream dollops montage with the text, ‘IT’S NOT POSSIBLE. IT’S NOW.’
Upstairs, gallery two has been transformed into the equivalent of a YouTube creator space, a resource set up by the company to help their premium vloggers get tutored in video production. In a move that puts the YouTube users to shame, FACT offers this resource to gallery visitors, with a green-screen and editing suite set-up in the space. If you don’t fancy a quick digital makeover yourself, you can watch videos created by other, more willing, participants. My own personal favourite was a woman rocking-the-night-away with an inflatable Union Jack guitar, whilst humming the power chords to some forgotten metal classic. It was a close run thing, vying with Harry Potter wannabes, Tai Chi experts and other, more ghostly, goings-on. They all look like they were having a great time.
Walking down Bold Street, checking my phone for the umpteenth time that day, it all got me thinking about my own experiences in the ever shifting sands of online life: being tagged in photos looking worse for wear; staying in touch with people from past lives; stumbling on embarrassing videos of my nephew; getting drawn into old scenes; watching a disastrous public break-up by an acquaintance; multiple breakfast photos; thousands of cats; and the variously forced, unfunny and sometimes amusing. Social life played out through wires and screens; was it all just phoney-baloney?
Anthony Ellis is a writer based in Manchester.
Follow, FACT, Liverpool.
11 December – 21 February 2016.
Image by Jon Barraclough.