DAY 3: The Audience
FACT (Foundation of Art & Creative Technology), 88 Wood Street, L1 4DQ
FACT will be ten years old next year, and for those ten years it has been a hub for Liverpool’s creatives, film-lovers, techies and artists. Housing three businesses, this building is a cinema, cafe and art gallery: the latter of which occasionally overlooked by some Scousers who are blinded by the comfortable seating and the fact you can take a beer into the cinema screens. Totally unique in its offer and approach to the arts, FACT fills a gap in the city which no other organization touches on. Offering workshops, displays and training in creative technologies and some of the most innovative and cutting-edge, technically advanced exhibitions, FACT is a building, organization and community, which the city would be a much less interesting place without. Immersion and inclusivity seem to be FACT’s main objectives in selecting the artists they choose to work with, and this is why I have labeled this entry as ‘The Audience’. From impressively long-standing community collaborations to exhibition pieces which look to engage visitors in a physical and imaginative relocation within the gallery space, FACT constantly pushes the artistic fascination in, and of, audience engagement. The pieces I am writing about here are Pipilotti Rist’s solo show in 2008, and Kurt Hentschlager’s ‘Zee’ which was part of the AND festival in 2011. Rist’s piece was nationally popular in its playful exploration of the embodiment of art and what it means to be female and a creator. ‘Zee’ captivated FACT’s visitors in a way I had never before experienced in my time as a gallery invigilator. Both pieces, although existing in different spaces in FACT’s timeline, had a profound effect on everyone who visited, and everyone who worked on them; day in, day out.
Walking from Lime Street station after a journey I never wish to relive (on an impossibly cold, overly-lit train which stopped everywhere) I decide to get a coffee so make my way to Bold Street.
Stood outside, gripping the brown cardboard cup and leaning away from the wind, I light a pocket-squashed roll-up and look around me. Suddenly, across the square, the ten-foot tall, painfully contorted face of a woman who is made-up with cosmetics apparently created by Crayola is staring at me through her one visible eye. Her surreal visage is pressed onto the outside world like a child’s face up against a window; it has been dragged along, distorted, and warped. I walk over, looking up as I finish my cigarette and extinguish it in the muddy remnants in my cup.
I wander into the foyer of FACT, trying to recall the last time I came in and find myself staring into a darkened room with projections playing on the ceiling. I step inside and notice the islands of carpet which seem to have erupted from the floor, on which several people are lying, staring straight up. They are apparently consumed and lulled by the highly vivid, saturated film of a girl and her brother languishing in nature, playing in water. The invigilator walks over to me and talks to me about this aquatic, Freudian Eden; tells me about the artist and encourages me to lie down. I waver on the edges, not wanting to intrude upon the experience of those already in position. But I vow to come back when I have the wherewithal to lie still and be absorbed into this psychedelic outpouring. She directs me to the next room, suggesting I might enjoy a very different sort of immersive experience.
I enter the next gallery space, where a group of people has converged. After some basic information and signing of forms, we are briefed by an excitable guide – maybe a bit older than me with a cheeky grin and ridiculous hair – who instructs us to breathe slowly, and to hold onto a guide rope so we don’t fall. This is not what I expected, walking into a gallery. There is a smell. Smoke? I can taste the thin mist rather than smell it, can feel it reaching down into my lungs and stinging my throat. We stand facing a white door and our guide smiles as he pulls it open, encouraging us to step into the space, into the billowing clouds of fog which begin to unfurl from the, now unguarded, portal. My hand immediately clutches the rope and I can’t help but wish I had not wandered in alone. I begin to think about the circumstances that found me by myself, wandering around the icy streets of this city. Seeing the lights of this building and the excited group in the foyer and taking a look. And suddenly I become immediately and simultaneously aware of my surroundings and overwhelmed with what is happening: I freeze.
The other 8 or so people who entered the room alongside me have completely vanished, absorbed into the acerbic fog which, in turns, embraces and suffocates me. And then my eyes… The light has shifted. Everything has turned and my retinas are subjected to continually changing, moving, kaleidoscopic lights, which continue to dance across the inside of my eyelids when I shut my eyes against the burning smoke. I am so dizzy and disorientated that I am sure I am going to have to run out, or sit down, but then begin to panic about how exactly to do that. In my confusion, I have let go of the rope and have no idea where in the room I am, or what to do. I begin to panic. What if I collapse? Fall over? Am left in here? And then, suddenly, everything falls away.
I haven’t passed out. I am still standing. But the panic, the wave of nausea has completely ceased to grip me. Everything has changed from nightmare to an incredible, ecstatic delusion. Bernini pops into my head, the Pieta, countless club nights: dancing, covered in sweat in a plume of smoke, surrounded by flashing lights. I am overwhelmed by joy and think I can feel my synapses firing, my blood flowing and my spirit soaring. And then, it stops. I make my way round the room to the door and enter into a passageway, and stand completely dazed, trying to prepare myself for the outside world. When I do eventually step out, everything is saturated, bright, and loud and I am overawed. I walk out of FACT past the mesmerized, prone forms in the foyer who are completely enraptured by Rist’s flashing face and make my way down the side of the building. I notice the fog spilling out of a vent, into the cold air, where it hangs, suspended in the chill. As I pass through it, my own breath mixes with the fabricated fog and for a second I am engulfed in a varying mist. I pause, catch my breath and smile. Moving on, pulling my scarf over my face and pushing my hands into my pockets I watch people hurry up and down Bold Street and begin to make my way home, again, up the hill. After so much time away.