Manchester International Festival (MIF) has announced Virtual Factory, a new series of artistic commissions inviting artists to create online and digital work that responds to The Factory, the landmark cultural space currently under construction, which will be MIF’s permanent home.
The first commission 'Your Progress Will Be Saved' sees the influential avatar artist and curator LaTurbo Avedon taking over a reimagined version of The Factory, which has been built on an island in the global gaming platform Fortnite Creative. 'Your Progress Will Be Saved' opens on Wednesday 1 July and runs until the autumn.
Designed in the real world by international architectural practice Rem Koolhaas’ OMA, under the direction of OMA partner Ellen van Loon, it is believed to be the first major cultural building to be recreated in Fortnite, and the first to be launched in virtual space before it opens in the physical world.
LaTurbo’s work plays with and deconstructs our ideas about identity, authorship and the conventions of artistic practice. Much of Your Progress Will Be Saved deals with mirrors, taking visitors on a constantly evolving journey through shifting spaces, across illuminated dance floors and into private booths, experimenting with and blurring the distinctions between what we call the real and the virtual worlds.
Gamers and non-gamers will be able to experience 'Your Progress Will Be Saved', which is free to try by playing the full game in Fortnite Creative, choosing their own adventure in an adapted journey on the Virtual Factory website and taking tours of LaTurbo’s intervention on Twitch.
LaTurbo Avedon says: “You begin to see reflections throughout the Virtual Factory. From the memesis of the installed works and locations, down to noisy reflections from the game engine itself. As much of the world grapples with a cultural moment of immateriality, 'Your Progress Will Be Saved' shines back the close-yet-far tension of being alone online, together.”
Virtual Factory underlines the digital ambition that is a cornerstone of the real-world Factory. With LaTurbo Avedon leading the charge, the artists commissioned for the Virtual Factory series, have built reputations through very different artistic practices and offer commentary
on the political, social and philosophical issues of the day.
Subsequent commissions include a new project by the British-Nigerian artist and director Jenn Nkiru, whose global reputation was cemented by her work on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s 'Apeshit' video; the New York City based game developer and professor of video games, Robert Yang, whose work often focuses on gay men, intimacy and queer spaces; and the British artist Tai Shani, whose work encompasses performance, film, photography andsculptural installations and was one of the joint winners of the Turner Prize 2019.
MIF began developing Virtual Factory in 2019, as part of its pre-Factory programme on the journey towards The Factory, where artists will be encouraged to create radical and interdisciplinary work that maximises the boundless potential of the highly flexible spaces within the building and the expanding digital spaces beyond its structure.
Gabrielle Jenks, Digital Director at Manchester International Festival, says: “Virtual Factory reflects a time when we are increasingly inhabiting non-physical environments, from social media and virtual reality to live-streamed theatre and videogames. These artists through their distinct practices construct worlds through computer games, cinematic tools and augmented reality. They are creating work for a building that hasn’t opened yet - alluding to the reconfigurable shape of things to come and sending out a message that The Factory will be open for everyone to re-interpret and re-use.”
Mark Ball, Creative Director for MIF and The Factory, adds: “The Factory has always been an invitation to artists to make bold and radical work, whether that’s within the walls of the building, or the virtual spaces we create around it. So it’s thrilling that the very first work to be created for it is by a virtual artist within one of the world’s biggest gaming platforms for our Virtual Factory programme. LaTurbo Avedon’s project does everything we need The Factory to be: a place where new artistic forms and experiences are created, played with and
enjoyed by richly diverse audiences.”
This latest series of commissions and The Factory’s ambitious experimentalism build on MIF’s record for commissioning innovative digital work, including Björk’s Biophilia app (MIF11), Ed Atkins’ Performance Capture (MIF15) and Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang’s To the Moon (MIF19). MIF has also commissioned two games, which are available for free: Songs of the Lost by Paloma Dawkins featuring music by Jlin (MIF19), and Nina Freeman’s Lost Memories Dot Net (MIF17).
Whilst preparing for Virtual Factory, MIF has also been supporting Greater Manchester artists to develop work online during the lockdown, through initiatives such as Festival in My House and Yours and Remote Residencies. MIF supports local artists and makers year-round and during the Festival, through other programmes, including Creative Lab, which offer the opportunity to develop their skills and digital practice.