Will I Believe AND Festival Review

13 Oct

 

 

Will I Believe? ART FEAST sent Roisin Hyland to

review the opening weekend of the AND Festival.

Abandon Normal Devices (AND) is an energetic regional festival of new cinema and digital culture. A unique partnership between FACT, Cornerhouse and Folly, the Festival was launched in Liverpool in 2009. This year saw the festival’s third year spread across the Northwest region.

 This year’s festival explores the theme ‘belief’. AND wants us to suspend disbelief, to believe there is an apparition of Christ in toast, that there is a millennium bug and that there is life after death. AND think the need to believe is inherent in our DNA. The question was would I believe in AND as a festival?

I have never been a fan of performance art and so I was overly aware the first piece I would be viewing was a performance by Harminder Singh Judge entitled The Modes of Al-ikseer. The piece was described as fusing contemporary pop culture, tongue in cheek humour and ancient religious imagery, observing and locating the place of mythology within a world obsessed with capitalism, celebrity and marketing gimmicks. Such a shame the piece could not do this subtly.

The production itself screamed expense with a small ocean having been constructed in the middle of the auditorium, lasers danced around the artist who was placed, on a small central island. Referencing Christ the artist was entrapped in a crown of words as he slowly rotated to a heavy melodic beat. The audience kneeling before the figure threw colour on to the water which seemed blood red almost offering a path to salvation. At points smoke came from the sky as if the artist had achieved enlightenment. Indian drummers entered the ocean and started beating along as the music change to ‘Your Own Personal Jesus’ Maybe it was just me but it all seemed rather too obvious. There was no subtlety. Yes it was a reference and pop culture is grotesquely in your face but as a piece it didn’t seem to have any questions It was a statement but that was not enough. It didn’t make me think or question belief. It made me think about how well executed it was as a production. I did enjoy the piece – but I enjoyed it much in the same way I would enjoy a Broadway show. Sadly I left not feeling enlightened but humming Depeche Mode.

In TAO a small gallery on Slater St. Primate Cinema: Apes as Family was being shown. I was particularly looking forward to this. It didn’t disappoint. Watching apes watch people dressed as apes was fascinating. Almost as fascinating was viewing the watching audience .

The artist Rachel Mayeri has imagined a primate social drama in a contemporary urban context, which was then shown to a chimpanzee audience at Edinburgh Zoo. The resulting work comprises of two screens juxtaposing the drama enacted by humans in the guise of apes, with footage of the chimpanzee’s reaction in the zoo. As the watchers of the watching it is a hugely enjoyable experience. The chimpanzees at times seem indifferent to the video but often a certain noise or action is responded to with familiarity or rage. Sharing 99 per cent of the same DNA – (The DNA that makes us want to believe perhaps?) It is interesting to see what we can learn from the chimp’s responses. Primate Cinema was a highlight for me. It was well executed and a joy to watch.  It was constantly engaging. It never stagnated. It provided a post apocalyptic landscape, questioning the future social order of the great Apes

St Peters Square hosted the world premier of The Immortal by Revital Cohen. A thought provoking piece of work that questions the definitions of life, deaf and artificiality: a series of life support machines interlinking to form what appears to be a gasping, self-sustaining organism. This is the piece, which for me, shone out. A well constructed and thought out artwork with accompanying publications by experts in the fields of biomedical science, philosophy, ethics and aesthetics.  It questioned ideas of belief, spirituality and the value we place in life. It was hard not to feel touched by it, especially when we live in a time where life and death can be controlled by the flick of a switch I did wander though when the installation ends who would be the person to kill the machine?

The Small Cinema in China Town on the opening night was a nice touch and provided a real local community environment for visiting outsiders. Restaurant owners and diners alike took seats outside on a wonderful warm evening to experience short films examining Eastern perspectives on Belief followed by the main feature ZU – Warriors. Audience members were invited to cycle for popcorn. And the Chinese supermarket provided refreshments including free fortune cookies. It was enjoyable to sit under a blanket of stars and watch a film, and there was a real sense of community. The people around the area were obviously very much behind the project having been involved in the film selection and the planning of the event.

Knowsley Safari Park continued the cinema theme providing a drive in movie experience where you could watch – what else? Planet of the Apes from the comfort of your car. A perfect environment as it immersed you into the films world, hearing the baboons chatter from their enclosure.

News from Nowhere hosted a beautiful if somewhat safe installation in its shop window entitled Butterflies by the artists Robyn Moody. In which with the aid of mechanical plinths endangered philosophical books come alive.  I loved the ideas behind this piece but really felt it needed more room to breath. Partly because rather selfishly I wanted to move around the books, feel the movement and examine the mechanics.

The other two main attractions of the festival were Kazimier’s Atalonia and FACT’s multi-sensory experience Zee. Both gaining critical acclaim and both by all accounts well worth a visit. Check out one audience member’s response in the Art Feast vox pop. Unfortunately Zee has been fully booked each time I went to visit and It was with real regret I was unable to attend Atalonia. I hope to see Zee later this week ,as from what I have heard it is a fully immersive experience. It will continue until November 28. The failure to visit these two essential elements made me feel like I had missed out on being able to experience fully the world of AND, but with so much to do see hear and experience it was hard to schedule everything in!

There were parts of the festival I didn’t feel had been developed fully to there potential such as the P2P Gift Credit Card in which P2P proposes an alternate economy, sharing wealth equally among members , and Pigs Bladder football which I failed to engage with. And although these were good ideas I felt they really needed to be taken and cultivated further

Overall the Festival was a very enjoyable and thought provoking experience. You left with a readiness to believe in something even if you weren’t quite sure what? It was a shame that there was some under developed work, which detracted from the stronger pieces. The Festival programme had a good pace, especially for those visiting from outside Liverpool. But perhaps, with all the work being quite ‘safe’, there was nothing that really crossed the boundaries and for that, I was disappointed; after all you hope in a new media festival you will experience something ‘new’. The work presented as part of AND was good but some of it lacked real ambition. The Festival felt guarded in that way – scared of negative criticism – it seemed to shy away from enough work that may leave the viewer feeling confronted. Only in its third year it still somewhat of a baby in the arts festival world and for that I can see why it would feel the need to stay away from controversy. It provided a good foundation for continuing success and a platform that can easily be built upon in future years. Viewed as a new festival it downsides can be easily disregarded In the hope that on its continuation it will break barriers.

Do I believe in AND? Yes! I just want them to push the festival a little further next time!

AND festival is a partner of All Points North, an initiative set up to profile major contemporary art spaces, events and festivals happening across the North of England this Autumn. For more in formation please visit the website

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