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The New Observatory, A collaboration between FACT, Liverpool and the Open Data Institute (ODI)

The New Observatory
A collaboration between FACT, Liverpool and the Open Data Institute (ODI)

The New Observatory transforms FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) into an observatory for the 21st century. Open from 22 June until 1 October 2017, and in collaboration with the Open Data Institute, the exhibition brings together an international group of artists whose work explores new and alternative modes of measuring, predicting, and sensing the world today through data, imagination and other observational methods.

Today we are part of ever growing systems and evolving data infrastructures, which include organisations, algorithms, numbers, facts, governments, machines, and others. Inherent to this is the opportunity for the minutiae of our everyday lives to be watched and tracked. The New Observatory is an open call to everyone to become actively involved in responding to the opportunities and threats this situation demands and to reimagine new possibilities, subjects, and modes of behaviour, in interesting, surprising and sometimes playful ways.

Liverpool has its own unique history of observatories with the Liverpool and Bidston Observatories, which began observations in 1845 and 1867, monitoring natural phenomena from the stars to the sea, creating and using bespoke scientific instruments. Taking this as a key reference point, artists in The New Observatory ingeniously explore how data, devices, and networks once exclusive to scientists are now part of our everyday lives.

The New Observatory responds to the challenges of standardisation in an increasingly technologically-mediated world. It offers a space where the predictability of things is challenged, where logic may fail, and where that failure can create space for new possibilities.

By conjuring new and untold stories, from the personal to the political, micro to macro, abstract numbers are transformed into tactile and immersive artworks: personal health records are metamorphosed into digitally printed seashells, the data of divorce is reassessed, soft robotics visualise the social structures of micro-chipped naked mole rats, open source ground stations trace the constellations of satellites that circle the earth, and animatronic face masks replay covert recordings of NSA employees.

It invites visitors to consider how everyday life is a subject of observation in which we all perform as our own micro-observatories, or ‘observatories of ourselves’. It asks us to reassess our roles as active citizens within a ‘surveillance’ culture, where the infrastructure that surrounds and enables our lives is both physical and digital, and to forge more meaningful, critical or intimate 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 (2016), Divorce Index (2016) and Curtain of Broken Dreams (2016), 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. Other confirmed artists are: Burak Arikan, Wafaa Bilal, James Coupe, Phil Coy, Julie Freeman, Citizen Sense, David Gauthier, Interaction Research Studio, Rachel Jacobs, Jackie Karuti, Kei Kreutler, Libre Space Foundation, Stanza, Liz Orton, Proboscis (Giles Lane and Stefan Kueppers), Jeronimo Voss, 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 Capuana, 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.