Photography: Gareth Jones

The New Observatory


FACT’s latest offering, THE NEW OBSERVATORY, promises to “reimagine how we measure, sense and predict the world today.” The multimedia exhibition showcases the work of internationally acclaimed artists through concentrating on the creation of a meta observatory for the 21st Century, suggesting that we have become observatories of ourselves.

FACT’s thematic displays interrogating technology and its impact on everyday living through the use of contemporary art have been particularly impactful of late. The New Observatory further explores the lines of enquiry set up in FACT’s highly successful ‘How much of this is fiction?’ exhibition, but in a less overt manner. While the previous exhibition was undeniably political in nature, this offering is more subtly so; the visitor is left with questions rather than answers, with the exhibition presented as a series of investigations rather than as a blueprint for a certain mode of thought.

The exhibition utilises the trope of a science museum while simultaneously subverting it: many of the works portray the paraphernalia readily associated with the world of science, but these instruments are used in an anomalous manner. The scope of the exhibition is far greater than the exploration of cold measurement and observation – this is merely a tool used to highlight an array of issues around privacy and technological advances.

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The New Observatory is particularly pertinent as it comes at a time of heated debate surrounding proposed changes to Net Neutrality (a day of action was held on 12th July), as well as the increasing concern around issues of the privacy of personal data; the participating artists powerfully encapsulate this. For instance, in James Coupe’s A Machine For Living, a watchtower is looming over the central hallway, which may seem like an obvious motif to choose when raising questions over observation and surveillance. However, Coupe embeds screens in the structure, which show images of the living rooms, bedrooms and workplaces of hundreds of people who are crowd-workers, from an online marketplace that employs workers to complete tasks that cannot be undertaken with computers. This highlights what becomes a central tenet of the exhibition, that of surveillance and the role that technology has taken in everyday life, how pervasive it has become. With this piece the artist disrupts the usual narrative, that of our reliance on technology; the workers must be sourced through the use of technology, while still being required due to a lack in technology.

The most clearly politicised work comes from Thomson and Craighead’s Recruitment Gone Wrong, featuring a re-enactment of a covertly recorded exchange between a group of student activists and the NSA, confronting them over the Edward Snowden allegations. The conversation is recreated through the use of grotesque masks – the wearer becoming an anonymous tool in the transmission of information. The piece again raises questions over issues of privacy: to whom does information belong? And to what extent are governmental overreaching, commercial interference and loss of control of one’s personal privacy being accepted as a necessary sacrifice in exchange for easily disseminated information and a more connected world?

The exhibition is certainly thought-provoking and further cements FACT as a force to be reckoned with in the Liverpool art scene, exploring contemporary art with a unique angle to create fascinating exhibitions.

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