And say the animal responded? 

A response to FACT Liverpool's new exhibition written by Caitlin King

Images courtesy of FACT

On Tuesday I headed up North to check out FACT’s new exhibition ‘And Say the Animal Responded?’. The collection reflects on the ways in which animals communicate, both with humans and with each other. It explores the theme of natural and man-made worlds colliding, posing questions about technology, observation, human influence and morality. It evaluates how technology can be used to shed light on the lives of the species which surround us; whether it can be used to communicate with them; and poses the question of whether they respond in turn. 

 

Upon entering the space, you’re greeted with an enormous projection of a video loop entitled Pan Troglodytes Ellioti and Cousins (2016) by Amalia Pica and Rafael Ortega. The footage portrays a moment in the life of a group of Apes in the wild. It’s fascinating to watch the way animals behave, especially primates who are so similar to humans. It’s as though we’re being offered not just a window into the reality of another species. but also a mirror in which we can view aspects of our own humanity in their body language and facial expressions. This piece welcomes you into the space and sets the tone for a journey of glimpsing into the lives of other species in their most intimate moments. The grainy surveillance of CCTV-like footage opposes the setting, and reminds us that what we're seeing is subjective. 

OH!M1GAS by Kuai Shen is a living installation in which you can view a mini ecosystem of ants moving through tubes and spheres. Several screens zoom into specific areas of ant activity revealing more detail and a sound installation plays an amplified version of the noises the ants are making. There is a set of turntables which are using data from the ant movement to create a track of scratching. This piece focusses on a tiny pocket of immense activity. There’s something special about observing living insects, and the soundtrack being reactive to their live activity. It makes each time you experience this piece unique. The sound of the ants forms a rhythmic beat, which layered with the scratching of the record, creates a seemingly man-made piece of music. Shen draws parallels between sounds which occur naturally within the activity of ants and sounds humans create through music. It made me reflect on the fact we use technology to mimic real life. This multi sensory experience is fascinating, I couldn’t get enough (see the promo video on the FACT website for proof I was truly taken by the ants). 

 

The work which struck me most in this brilliant exhibition was Wolves From Above (2018) by Demelza Kooij. It’s a film of a pack of wolves shot using a drone and projected onto the floor. The floor projection, along with swaying grass and accompanying sounds of nuzzling and grunting as the wolves interact, all serve to create the illusion of being physically present in the scene. Kooij removes you from the gallery altogether and immerses you in the film’s landscape. This made for a somewhat trippy, yet tranquil, experience. As the wolves occasionally look up at the drone, the fly on the wall illusion is shattered and their apparent awareness of the drone confronts the viewer. You feel at first as though your voyeurism is discreet but become suddenly aware that the wolves knew you were watching all along. In this moment they also become viewers rather than subjects which questions the role of the observer. Who is watching who? Can we truly gain an objective insight into the natural world using something as intrusive as man made technology? 

 

Upstairs Alexander Daisy Ginsberg’s ‘Machine Auguries’ uses a light panel to mimic sunrise whilst a multi-channel sound installation plays a mixture of natural and artificial bird sound. I sprawled out on a cushioned bench in the dark cinema-like room, and was transfixed by the illusion of day breaking. It made me reflect on the natural daily occurrence which I take as a given. Seemingly an unchangeable, permanent phenomenon which dictates how the Earth’s species behave. As the light grows warmer, the soundtrack becomes louder and louder, with real birds competing to be heard over machine generated ones. Ginsberg comments on the ways in which we are changing the environment we live in. Through human advances in technology such as electricity, birds have actually evolved to behave differently. Their song used to signify the beginning of the day but now it’s more frequent, confused by artificial light and nocturnal human activity. The idea that the natural world is so malleable and ever changing is brilliant and terrifying in equal measure. ‘Machine Auguries’ forces you to examine the idea of change and imagine how far it may go. 

 

This was my first venture into an arts space since before lock down in March. The exhibition was the perfect post lockdown first, as it was sensory but not overwhelming. ‘And Say the Animal Responded?’ leaves you acutely aware of your position as a part of, rather than separate to, nature. Lots of us have reflected on our impact on the planet during this time of decreased human activity. There couldn’t be a more poignant moment to examine the themes which arise within this cleverly curated collection of art. I haven’t spoken about all of the work exhibited here, there are far more to explore. Go and see for yourself until the 13th December! Thanks for having me FACT. I’ll be back.

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