Review: Ob_ject and Ob_serve at A Small View

Ob_ject and Ob_serve at A Small View. Photo by Edgar Zanella
Ob_ject and Ob_serve at A Small View. Photo by Edgar Zanella

Ob_ject and Ob_serve: Group Show by Radamés Ajna, Edgar Zanella, Thiago Hersan, Alex Pearl and Sam Skinner
at A Small View. Saturday 13 February – Saturday 5 March 2016

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Edgar Zanella

A Small View is currently the final destination for the artists who brought us FACTLab through 2015. The show, titled Ob_ject and Ob_serve, is a change from normality in Liverpool, and challenges a lot of what has been happening recently in terms of digital arts. There have been a lot of shows with the potential to do something interesting which have failed on all fronts, but this small understated exhibition in the relatively anonymous A Small View is a massive success, because it takes the machine, and it reports it.

It slightly tweaks the state of what a machine is in places, and forces definitions in others, but the tie that makes this a success is that it isn’t making a statement that doesn’t need to be made, it just takes objects and observes them. Simple. Effective.

Perhaps what you first need to understand is what FACTLab is/was, and what it has become. The group, as I understand it, was made of two parts, the strictly FACTLab part, and the PhD part. The PhD part (two parts really: Sam Skinner and Alex Pearl) was focussed, and concise, and has been led beautifully astray by the others. The others seem to have developed focus through the arts research element and freed up a huge amount of ideas through space, public interaction and accountability. And then whatever happened happened. And now we have The Object Liberation Front, which is the slightly less accountable, and much more flexible, conglomerate of Radamés Ajna, Thiago Hersan, Alex Pearl, Sam Skinner and Edgar Zanella

Talking to Thiago Hersan about his collaborative work, it was clear that he is simply somebody who enjoys tech, in all shapes and all sizes, and the offering in the gallery conveys that. It’s an opportunity to enjoy tech, and try to find a new understanding of it. Not a statement about a robot uprising, or the terrifying power of the internet. This celebrates the possibilities of machines, based on what they are; an exercise in letting go of an idea.

The physical manifestation of all this is excellently thought through, from a poster created in line with their collective vision (laser cut due to convenience and relevance, rather than printed in a way that would contribute nothing) to a changeable, temporal pin board which tells a history of a process of research. The artists really do seem to be striving for transparency here, whether it’s demonstrated through their language or their finished work, which seems to be continuing a conversation – through noise, through offers, through the implied curiosity of a humanless phone.

Ob_ject and Ob_serve introduces us to a very particular perspective on what a non-anthropocentric world would be able to engage with, which is an incredibly approachable question, generously shared. This is an outgoing exhibition by five artists who have come together to offer up something hugely unselfish that gets us to reframe out own views of our own objects.