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Review: Follow at FACT

at FACT. Friday 11 December 2015 – Sunday 21 February 2016

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith, artinliverpool and Jon Barraclough (for FACT)

Follow explores our relationship with the internet, and as a result, our relationship with ourselves and how we present ourselves. The work that will inevitably overshadow the rest, and rightly so, is #TOUCHMYSOUL. You’ll hear about it from many sources beyond this article for all the wrong reasons, but in a sense, those wrong reasons are what makes this performance such a success; and in turn, heighten this exhibition into an action, rather than just a question.

The nature of the question – ‘What does the internet mean to me?’ – is one that could either fall on its face, or flourish as an exhibition, and it falls so very flat on its face nearly all the time, but in the recruitment for this show, FACT did something very, very clever. And this show flourishes because of it. They recruited artists who were capable of acting on their questions, not just answering them. Each and every piece, no matter how you might feel about its success, is the result of a clever process, and in the case of #TOUCHMYSOUL, is an ongoing process that uses its primary resource expertly.

Its primary resource, Shia LaBeouf, is in partnership with Luke Turner and Nastja Sade Rönkkö for this work, and the Hollywood star turned tortured artist figure has somehow turned himself into art’s own celebrity medium. It is unclear who is using who with this work. Are Turner and Rönkkö using LaBeouf as their paint, or using his celebrity to enhance their audience? Or, is LaBeouf using them to legitimise his own pursuits? Or (what actually feels more likely, even to me, who entered this exhibition as a slight sceptic) are they genuinely collaborating in a way that proves their understanding of collaborative processes?

FACT has a certain pull in this respect, commanding the interest of cinema goers, and of art goers. Something that puts them in an odd place, gaining interest on social media from all angles. It’s a bold move on their part to be hosting this performance. There’ll be very little interest in the other work, and perhaps the wrong kind of interest in #TOUCHMYSOUL. But one thing’s for sure, it’ll all be very recorded, and very public.

The exhibition is full of brilliant ideas, but ultimately, they’re not pulled off as well as this performance. It’s funny, it’s engaging, it breaks down barriers, it opens up walls (quite literally), and it asks the right questions. Shia LaBeouf just happens to be a major Hollywood celebrity. The ideas his collective have come up with are incredibly clever. That’s why this works as an art work, and its unwitting participants who probably don’t even know they’re participating, make it even more successful. It’s an interactive work that uses social media hysteria as its power source, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to slow down.

Upstairs, the interactivity continues in FACTLab’s YouTube studio, reminding us how important YouTube has become, and allowing us to involve ourselves in the exhibition even further. And given the mood the teenagers, screaming at the mere idea that Shia LaBeouf was on the other side of a wall, were in its quite likely this film studio will actually get used. It will rely on that energy being maintained throughout the show, but hopefully not completely, as it deserves to be tried and tested because it tells a story of how financially viable ‘the alternative’ can be. It’s clearly no longer just a place to vocalise independent opinions, it’s the place where those opinions become popular.

Some of the work is a simple introduction to the internet that relies on happenstance for its story, like Debora Delmar Corp’s Branded for Life, whose Double D logo somehow ended up tattooed on supermodel best friends, Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn. This work is a summary of how the internet takes away authorship, but also a question of what the artist really needs to do to claim authorship. It’s a scathing take on Delevingne and Dunn’s claim to celebrity, which could potentially backfire on Delmar for using this coincidence.

Some work tries to sum up certain elements of the internet, and some even tries to control it. Constant Dullaart’s High Retention, Slow Delivery, for one example, actively bought Twitter followers to level out the playing field between artists to take away the celebrity blockade from Twitter for artists. What it doesn’t understand from that is that 100,000 bought followers aren’t necessarily interested in the artists they’re following, unlike the legitimate 100,000 followers Jeff Koons has. It’s probably the least active work in the exhibition in terms of its impact, but it raises questions over what ‘following’ actually means to an individual.

The exhibition has some incredibly strong ideas, but as with everything on social media, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you think they’ve worked, and FACT can certainly expect some serious trolling as a result of this show, for right or for wrong (and in sympathy with that, #FollowFACT is your tool to do so).

Ultimately though, this exhibition is a success because LaBeouf, Rönkkö and Turner actually make their difficult collaboration work, and hopefully (after the initial stages of excitement about Shia LaBeouf) the tweets and phone calls will start to make a bit more sense, and elevate above “I want to #TOUCHYOURFEET”. It’s a seriously good exhibition though, utilising everything FACT has to hold social media to account.