Photography: Ed Waring (Aurora)

Aurora

FACT and Invisible Flock @ Toxteth Reservoir

Stepping into the cavernous vaults of Toxteth Reservoir, a grid of blue and green lasers provides the only light source, bouncing off the wet expanse of floor. We wade through inches of black water, the depth indistinguishable at first until we find ourselves walking upon the water’s surface. Rings of cyan ripple out with each step. More than a century and a half earlier, in 1845, the first of eight million litres of water flowed through and filled this vast fortress of brick and steel. A feat of Victorian engineering, Toxteth Reservoir was one of the first of its kind in the world to preserve and supply fresh water to the rapidly expanding population of Liverpool.

Illuminating, revelatory, spellbinding and monumentally engaging: art and technology organisation FACT and interactive art collective Invisible Flock make a formidable collaboration, celebrating the 10 years since Liverpool held the title of European Capital of Culture with evocative and unprecedented installation AURORA. The decommissioned grade II listed reservoir has been taken over and redefined by the two organisations to host an elemental installation of ice, water and rain, aiming to transform and address humanity’s current lax perspective on our most precious and abundant resource.

Standing in the darkness of the reservoir, soft plinks of rain build gradually, overlaid by a light-hearted timbre of percussion. A pendant of carved ice hanging down from the ceiling lights up momentarily, then another, gradually increasing in energy and number like crystalline insects thawing the grip of winter. Rich bells and the splintering of melting ice reverberate through the space, adding to the binaural soundscape. The cave slowly melts around its audience, a live (cold and wet) parable of global climate change – with added resonance now following the hottest summer on record for years.

Aurora Image 2

A warm, Close Encounters-like glow emits from behind us like a strengthened sun defining the iron arches before a heavy mist fills the room and water pours through the vaults of the reservoir. The deliberately cacophonous waterscape goes beyond vision and sound: dominating blows to the chest from intense, quadraphonic bass juxtaposed with the atmospheric choral and string alignments are enough to send you floating around the astral plane.

In the latter half of the show, 42 pieces of ice move up and down in a choreographed dance, reflecting a spectrum of purples, greens and blues in a display reminiscent of the show’s title. School children from four local primaries visited the reservoir and created recordings both using and inspired by water. The sophomoric voices now perpetuating through this historic space are both melancholy and euphoric, and really pack in an emotional punch.

This immersive piece stands out for me in this year’s cultural highlights. For a city perched on the edge of a vast water resource, our relationship and understanding of this vital element as anything beyond a utility is seriously stunted. Having experienced an ice cave, rainforest and monsoon in a short period of time, the metaphor here is clear and supremely moving. This show reinstates our spiritual connection with water: reflective, rapturous and poignant.

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