A Visit to Liverpool to see My Garden, My Sanctuary at FACT
WE'VE SENT WRITERS to FACT in LIVERPOOL FOR A FEW YEARS NOW, and this was my first time going. I wanted to see the show that just opened at the end of July - an exhibition across two spaces that two artists are cohabiting – Sian Fan and Yaloo. I was attracted by the promise of video game worlds, and immersion. There's still a bit of snobbishness about immersive installations that I don't believe in – there's nothing wrong with a bit of spectacle and flash, it only makes art more accessible. One of my favourite exhibitions ever was one in the Vienna Seccession, where a huge room was covered in fluffy carpet and massive pastel plushies, a film showing Frankenstein eating a hamburger playing out in front of cushions strewn across the floor, turning adults to indulgent children. I generally like more of a mission statement than this mind, which is certainly what FACT gave me.
If you haven't been, FACT is a public building housing cinemas and multiple gallery spaces. It reminds me of London arts venues that sometimes suffer from neglect by fine art audiences because of their multi-use. Fan's first installation is in the foyer, just opposite the reception desk. It is a video game avatar that moves when you move – replete with glitch. We didn’t notice you could interact with it at first – the signage at FACT is, like the space, accessible and warm – this is where we read that she’d move when we did. Without wanting to state the obvious, I want to stress how much I appreciate the openness of the galleries at FACT – free, accessible, and you can see dense and complex art at a very high production value before seeing a film – I love spaces like that. We played with the avatar for a while – it was fun, but I’m sure her impassive face and glitching discomfort was intentional – it left me feeling a bit cold, like I had taken something, imposed myself too much.
On first look, the subject matter of My Garden, My Sanctuary could sound a bit hypey – the central motifs are sheet masks (Yaloo) and video games (Sian Fan) – but it doesn’t feel like a reliance on globally popular East-Asian images so much as a (very successful) attempt to make them strange. The main room does this best – the huge sheet mask that greets you hangs over a watery world from Yaloo, with mutated fish, and subtitles that read like directions through the pond you peer down into. The signage tells you this is an imagined family (future) history – it feels oddly familiar in this way, the infrastructure is rusted, warm metals; it looks ‘lived in’, by some life form at least.
Fan’s large scale video game-like installation in the main room makes you player rather than avatar – you scroll through a space-water-future world encountering similarly vague directives written on the screen: ‘Glitch. Caught in a momentary syncope’. I’ve watched streams of many (and played a few) open-world and roleplaying games, and this non-linear fragmented text was at once frustrating and a little exciting for someone who is used to the predictable patterns of video game writing. The abstracted text and cold environment created that particular feeling I had in the first installation. Fan is very good at making you feel involved, but reflective, a bit voyeuristic, quietened.
My Garden, My Sanctuary was colder, harder and stranger than that exhibition in Vienna – but it gave me that same good feeling that immersive installations can give you. It felt generous but still challenging. I hope lots of people see it.
My Garden, My Sanctuary is on until the 9th October 2022
Text by Georgia Mitchell