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States of Play and 15 Years of FACT: A Political Perspective



Part of the Spring 2018 season

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Whether it be through exhibitions that have been directly commissioned by FACT, or projects that the organisation has facilitated, in its 15 years of existence since 2003 the work produced by the centre has not only been cultural or artistic but inherently political. A prime example, is the current exhibition, States of Play: Roles of Reality which runs until 17 June.

States of Play illustrates how games are a site
of contested power and identity, playing out across physical and virtual worlds. Within the exhibition Rindon Johnson’s Away with You installation highlights how NBA 2K16 facial recognition software cannot accurately read and output a black male face, pertinent as it exposes bias, albeit bias that could be unconscious, within the design and coding of computer software and games. At a time where global racial politics is particularly heightened, improving such issues is something that the creative technologies sector should consider and it is great that FACT is increasing awareness of this.

In March last year, FACT became the home of a He Will Not Divide Us Flag as part of LaBeouf, Rönkkö and Turner’s performance installation as a show of unity against the inauguration of Donald Trump, whose comments and actions have been viewed by some to incite racial tensions. The artists describe the installation as a show of insistence, optimism and opposition, and it is guided by individual participants from varying communities, highlighting how political statements such as the “He Will Not Divide Us” motto can become a mantra bringing together individuals of all ages, races, genders, sexualities, and beliefs. The project has been deemed controversial, and it was a bold move by FACT to house it, but one that justifies the organisation’s role as a political force, considering that its former site Museum of the Moving Image had to remove it citing violent altercations.

Around a similar time, FACT also housed a thought-provoking exhibition, How much of this is Fiction. Relating Politics and the creative technologies, it underlined how in a world of ‘post-truth’ politics, it becomes harder to discern between fiction and reality. As well as reflecting on the use of creative technologies in cultural and political movements of the past i.e Tactical Media, a cultural and political movement at its height in the late 90s that combined art, PR and digital media to generate political opportunity, the display also outlined how social media has been used as a new technology to further media politics whether this be through platforms such as Twitter, Wikileaks or Facebook Live streaming. Crucially the exhibition stressed the influence of the recent ‘fake news’ phenomenon on global politics, which many view as a further corruption of politics.

Even the February 2018 exhibition The Separate System concerned with the correction process can be considered political to a large extent, with the likes of artist Katie Davis collaborating with FACT, the views of inmates are being voiced, ultimately establishing important political questions on the success of The Separate System and providing awareness to the civilian population.

This is not the first time the organisation has furthered representation, in 2017 they collaborated with the Liverpool Girl Geeks programme with the aim of empowering girls aged 13 to 17, encouraging and inspiring them to consider a career in technology through a course on creative and digital skills. The programme successfully continued this year with the theme of gaming, and can be considered political as a part of the wider feminist movement today, equality will not only be achieved by increasing women’s representation in parliament but also in all other male-dominated fields, the technology sector being one of them.

FACTs political endeavours are commendable, whilst politics may be grounded in London and among the business elite, grassroots movements are equally as powerful and important. The organisation has facilitated such a movement and involved people of all backgrounds, whether this be by inspiring feminism via the work with youngsters at Girl Geeks, highlighting social issues by voicing the sentiments of inmates at HMP Liverpool, working on projects with specialists such as Rindon Johnson to highlight racial biases in technology used by the masses or with celebrities such as Shia LeBeouf to outline international outrage at political leaders.

As an organisation FACT can be proud of the work it has achieved and the difference it has inspired, through its exhibitions, installations and programmes, thus it is vital that both the central and local government follows through with arts sector funding. As it is clear that the tech, creative and cultural industries are making a marked difference, a difference that certainly should not be underestimated.

Shihab Mozumder is a second-year politics student at the University of Liverpool. He was on placement with FACT's Exhibition Team in the month running up to the opening of States of Play: Roleplay Reality.

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