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Review: How much of this is Fiction?

How much of this is Fiction?
2nd March – 21st May 2017

Words, Leyla Gurr

Torture Classics…

When I was a teenager, I had a best friend around whose house you could get away with just about anything in. Absent parents and the presence of the only Sky TV box for 20 miles meant that I ingested more than half of my most formative pieces of media at her house. From adult-rated music videos on MTV to my first viewing of a horror movie (Poltergeist, if you were curious) at the tender age of 13, nothing seemed to be off limits in this haven for misbehaving youths. And so it was that late one night, long after my friend had passed out over overdosing on candy and popcorn, that I came upon the movie Starship Troopers. Playing on some backwater channel in the high hundreds on the remote.

That memory, a flash flood of grotesque images and twisted advertising, came flooding back to me as I walked into FACT to view the ‘how much of this is fiction?’ exhibition, currently running until late May 2017. The show celebrates the politically minded artist, and in a world of fake news and soundbite media, asks exactly what it says with its title. What can I believe? How much of this is fiction?

Although the show is free, a small charge of £1 is asked for the accompanying booklet which I would whole heartedly recommend purchasing. The set up and atmosphere of the rooms makes this exhibition an all-encompassing experience, and it was much easier to read about what I had seen after I had a chance to distance myself a little.

The first section on display is in the main foyer of FACT. Comprising of an exact replica of the room in which Julian Assange is currently staying at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and a few commentary pieces about him. Easy enough access for most people and a fairly gentle entry considering the rest of the material on display.

Gallery 1 on the first floor, is an all-out assault on the senses in comparison. A sparsely lit, blacked out room with possibly one too many video exhibits playing for easy viewing. The Room is boldly painted with the title ‘Guantanamo Bay museum of Art and History’ and follows a subversion of the media theme. There’s little sense to the order in which you are meant to view each piece of work but this only serves to add to the general feeling of unease as you walk around.

One particularly subtle piece by Ian Alan Paul mixes imagery of refugees fleeing tragedy with wording from the fictional “EU bird migration authority” to great effect, causing you to stop and do a double take as you process the comparison.

Up to the second room, up the stairs; a smaller, even louder room. You are greeted by a strangely eclectic mixtape featuring everything from AC/DC to Britney Spears. This is the dominant piece in this space, ‘Torture classics’ by artistic duo UBERMORGEN. A repeating ‘Timelife’ style advert for a collection of classic torture hits.

What made the experience of watching this piece particularly interesting was the two other visitors to the show, dancing along to the music as the voice over described their use during torture sessions in Afghanistan. Almost as if they’d been employed by FACT to heighten the uncomfortable pairing of torture and the Barney the Dinosaur theme tune. A few interactive, news based displays are dotted around for you to play with, and there are a few video pieces to watch.

You can see that FACT have pulled out the stops to create an incredibly engaging and thought provoking space for their main spring exhibition.

In the age of twitter-presidents and clickbait news, it’s good to see a collection of work that addresses social problems in such an on the nose way. We can be very sensitive when it comes to how we get our news, tending towards living in our own right or left-wing bubbles without taking stock of the opinions of the people around us.

Although a little overwhelming and in places slightly obvious, spaces that confront these sensitivities are very much needed in the current climate. To avoid the dystopian future of brainwashing and bug-stomping that gave me so many nightmares as a child we need to start asking ourselves, how much of what we read and see is fiction, and what will we ultimately do about it?