The New Observatory transforms FACT into an observatory for the 21st century

FACT Liverpool The New Observatory exhibition. Opening night images. Images by Gareth Jones

The New Observatory transforms FACT into an observatory for the 21st century, bringing together an international group of artists exploring new and alternative modes of measuring, predicting, and sensing the world.

Humans have always used tools to observe, but now technology alters our perceptions more than ever. Today we are all connected to ever-growing systems of data. Corporations, governments, machines and individuals are constantly tracking and interpreting the smallest details of our lives.

Artists in The New Observatory create instruments, or use data, to measure the world differently. They conjure new and untold stories, from the personal to the political, micro to macro. They collectively challenge assumptions and standardisation, investigating the moments when logic fails and how that failure might create new possibilities.

Artworks reflect upon how powerful observational tools, once the preserve of scientists, are now part of everyday life. Liverpool has its own unique history of observation. The Liverpool and Bidston Observatories, active from 1845 and 1867, monitored natural phenomena from the stars to the tides, and created their own bespoke scientific instruments. The exhibition engages with this history and spirit, reimagining what an observatory, and observation, can be.

Many of the artworks in the exhibition are the result of unusual data gathering expeditions. Phil Coy visited ancient copper mines in Ireland, Natasha Caruana trawled coastal towns and pawn shops across the UK, and David Gauthier travelled out to sea to film a Waverider buoy in Liverpool Bay. Other artists collaborate with, or create, new communities of observation. Julie Freeman works with a colony of naked mole rats and Kei Kreutler and Libre Space Foundation invite us to become amateur astronomers.

The exhibition suggests we are becoming ‘observatories of ourselves’ and considers the roles of analysis, understanding, and imagination in this process. The New Observatory stands as an open call for everyone to become actively involved in responding to our complex, contemporary relationship with data. It offers a space to reassess our roles as active citizens within a ‘surveillance’ culture, and to forge more critical, creative relationships with the data landscapes we inhabit.

Curated by Hannah Redler Hawes (ODI) and Sam Skinner, the exhibition includes interactive works, installations, sound, film, photography, critical design projects, drawing and mixed media. It will be the world premiere of Recruitment Gone Wrong (2017), Divorce Index (2017) and Curtain of Broken Dreams (2017), three new large-scale commissions by internationally renowned British artists Thomson & Craighead and Natasha Caruana, respectively, who were the ODI’s first ever artists in residence in 2015. Artists: Burak Arikan, Wafaa Bilal, Natasha Caruana, James Coupe, Phil Coy, Citizen Sense, Julie Freeman, David Gauthier, Interaction Research Studio, Rachel Jacobs, Jackie Karuti, Kei Kreutler and Libre Space Foundation, Liz Orton, Proboscis (Giles Lane and Stefan Kueppers), Evan Roth, Stanza, Thomson & Craighead, Jeronimo Voss (with Radamés Ajna), and Yu-Chen Wang.

The 3D and 2D design for The New Observatory will be created by Ab Rogers Design.

Public Programme

The Public Programme gives visitors opportunities to get much more involved by creating their own pieces of of art, instrument making, collecting their own data, and open data training. The Public Programme also links to the history of local observatories through events including monthly demonstrations of Tidal Prediction Machines at the National Oceanographic Centre Liverpool University, a new video commission by exhibiting artist Phil Coy at the Liverpool Planetarium World Museum Liverpool, and weekend opening of Bidston Lighthouse. There will also be activities for young people and families on offer throughout the summer, and a Learning Centre in the FACT foyer.

The New Observatory is co-produced by FACT and the Open Data Institute.

The exhibition is supported by Manchester Metropolitan University, Canada Council for the Arts, DXARTS (University of Washington), Ministry of Culture (Taiwan), COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology), and the North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership. Commissioning Partners: Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival and METAL. Material sponsors: American Hardwood Export Council and Forbo Flooring Systems.

Phil Coy, Natasha Caruana, Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead, and Yu-Chen Wang are supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

With additional thanks to Mixed Reality Lab and Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory.

FACT is supported using public funding by Arts Council England, and Liverpool City Council.