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Review: Future Aleppo, FACT Liverpool

Review: Future Aleppo
, until 18th February 2018

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

Future Aleppo at FACT is the most incredible use of Virtual Reality I’ve experienced. I’m in a strange position where it comes to Virtual Reality as I have to wear particularly large glasses, so can never focus my view within the headset. So for me, the experience of the medium is limited mostly to depth.

Future Aleppo doesn’t focus on perfection, or visual clarity though, so what you get, regardless of your prescription is a touching immersion into the memories and imaginations of a child who has seen his home decimated.

Alex Pearson and Marshmallow Laser Feast, the artists who have put this film together have worked tirelessly, trying to replicate the workings of Mohammed Kteish‘s mind, as he recounts some of his favourite buildings and open spaces from a city he should still be growing up in. It’s his voice, his constructions, his memories that make this film work, because it is not a space created for the sake of virtual reality, it is a virtual reality created for the sake of the space.

The space, a cardboard city constructed by fifteen year old Mohammed Kteish, as he tries to keep the love of his home fresh in his mind, is a recollection of Aleppo, not a model, or a map, but a piecing together of the most important parts; a future utopia build from the ashes of the city. Mohammed builds a version of Aleppo that he wants to go back to, forgetting the parts that don’t mean anything.

There’s a moment in the film focussed on the citadel, where public space becomes a poignant shared experience. It did exactly what virtual reality should do; I felt connected to the subject, like I was looking down on Aleppo, not just visually, but with empathy.

The cardboard model on display alongside the film is one of a series of model cities which tried to create an ideal version of a city. But it was Alex Pearson and Marshmallow Laser Feast, whose understanding and dedication to the project, the story, and Mohammed, makes this the most welcoming piece of Virtual Reality you could experience.

I hope the installation has the opportunity to tour and reach as many people as possible beyond its time at FACT, but the support it has received so far should be enough to secure that. Everyone viewing and creating films in this medium should understand just how important empathy is to reality. Perhaps it was the severity of the subject, or the honesty of its producers, but this didn’t feel like a polished film, it felt like a story I will cherish; like a piece of reality I guess.

Future Aleppo at FACT, Photographer credit: Gary Coughlan