10 December 2012

It's a tricky operation to set-up an exhibition. There's hardware to install, measuring up to do, technical planning and a whole repertoire of other variables to consider. This all has to be juggled all the while keeping in mind what the artist wants and the budget for it. FACT only has two and a half or so weeks to change over from each exhibition from the next. It's quite a feat really, considering the amount of change between some installations.
"The whole shape of the room changes…we might change colour" Joan Burnett, the Visitor Services Manager here at FACT, tells us. It's clear she's enthusiastic about this project. "For this one, it's a really exciting piece of work," she explains as she leads us towards our first stop.
Currently, we are in Gallery 2. At the moment, it resembles a workshop, with the smell of sawdust in the air and various complex-looking implements in cardboard boxes scattered around. "This time next week it will be a fully functional artwork!". She laughs. And I can see why this amuses her- it's hard to believe that this place can be converted into a flawless gallery in a mere two weeks. But they do it four times a year, and have done for the past decade.
Later in the week, this will be two banks of Tesla coils, up on platforms and behind glass panels. Why glass panels, a disappointed audience may ask? Apparently, before the Impacts piece is even open, the first thing potential visitors ask is 'Can we touch it?'. "That's just human nature", Joan speculates.  So, no touching these lethal electric beasts then. Though we can't get too close and personal, they will be affected by the proximity of visitors, and will use X-box kinnect technology for this.
Joan gives us an interesting comparison. "What I always say is FACT is like a time machine. Curators, working a year to 18 months ahead, thinking way into the future putting the programmes together. Then there's Marketing, thinking about how to sell the programme, especially when they're working with magazines. The technical team, talking to the artists about the installation. And the present day people, that's me and my team. We get to live with the art", Joan says proudly.
Next, she shows us Evolving Spark Network, a concept designed by Edwin van der Heide. It comprises of a lattice of cables, with light and sound creating spark plugs where they cross. There are eighty lights altogether, which will flash in a "…sort of musical score" of light and sound. It's less interactive than Alexandre Burton's piece upstairs, though it will be just as intriguing.
We spoke to Nick Lawrenson, who has taken part in installing all the exhibitions that have ever been on at FACT. Joan's 'time machine' principle is proven, as we asked him how long he has been working on this project. "This show probably for about…twelve months?" he recalls. He has at least been working on this almost full time from about two months prior to this point. "There's a lot of design work on the shows beforehand, so before they go into the galleries everyone knows what to expect". It will be the first time this space will be completely open in about two years, and this space will be used to great effect for this particular installation.
The final part of the Winter Sparks exhibition will be Wilberforces. Upon inquiring about this with Joan, she brings us to the Atrium, where devices will be held up on the rig high above the ground floor next to the Café. They will incorporate sound and video, which can be viewed in a small room branching off the main floor. This display will be put up Monday night on the rig, ready for the big opening.
We also got to test out the newest and already open attraction at FACT. It's ping pong- but not quite as we know it. It's called Noisy Table which is an appropriate title. The table is sensitive to the ball bouncing off it, and everywhere it hits it makes a different sound. However, you can mix the sounds yourself, or keep the same noise. This means it can sound like your ping-pong ball is causing the apocalypse, or like you're playing a virtual NES table tennis game.
From next week, there's going to be plenty on at FACT for all to enjoy. Make sure you visit this winter! You won't regret it.

See the result of the team's work at the Winter Sparks opening this Thursday at 6pm with special introductions and performances and local ales from Liverpool Organic Brewery.