Winter Sparks – Reviewed

FACT’s first post-Biennial show, would Winter Sparks prove illuminating? 

Billed in the promo material as ‘a personal sound and light show’ which ‘turns away from … the museum as … white cube space’, FACT’s latest exhibition features the work of international new media artists, working around ideas of, and inspired by, electricity.

With little in the way of thematics (other than the obvious) to pull the show together, the works which make up Winter Sparks are best – and perhaps most fairly – judged from the point of view of the experience each offers. When working in the realm of new media, as is FACT’s remit, it is often the experiential works which fair best. Look no further than Kurt Hentschlager’s ‘monsterpiece’ ZEE (as part of 2011’s AND Festival) for proof.

With that in mind, where to start? It seems most prudent to look at each piece in turn and on their own merits. So, beginning with Gallery 1, we have Dutch artist Edwin van der Heide’s Evolving Spark which utilises, in van der Heide’s words, “80 individual spark bridges [to] generate a clapping kind of sound”.

“It comes in waves, eventually resulting in a crescendo of snaps, crackles and pops”

That clapping sound is accompanied by floods of light, no two of which are the same, in the darkened room generated by those 80 spark bridges. It comes in waves, starting slowly and gradually, eventually resulting in a crescendo of snaps, crackles and pops, which at times falls only slightly short of awesome. Give it time to get going for the full, immersive, effects to take hold.

Taking up the challenge of filling FACT’s (sometimes under-used) atrium is Dutch/Spanish duo Bosch & Simon’s Wilberforces. Inspired by Nikola Tesla’s experiments and referencing the Wilberforce Pendulum, the piece carries a fair amount of weight on its innovative shoulders. The first thing you encounter are those pendulums, fitted out with video camera, microphone and a pair of tiny loudspeakers.

Described by the artists as “a kind of laboratory in the public space to produce another piece in the ‘secret’ space”, it makes for an odd spectacle and only tells half the story, for in the corner of the cafe is a temporary space which, in effect and in plain sight, is a hide for viewing the results carried out in that laboratory. Played out live for the viewer (an at-first unwitting voyeur), in the ‘secret space’ are the comings and goings of unknowing customers, whose disorientated reactions (belatedly aware of the cameras) are captured, eventually rendering our voyeurism entirely complicit.

The whole thing is sound-tracked by a “device [which] shifts and delays feedback”, making for an eerie, found-footage horror movie feel. Beware though, the fun only lasts as long as your stomach can cope with the swinging and swaying of the pendula.

Moving upstairs to Gallery 2 we find the work most obviously inspired by that man Tesla, exploiting as it does, five Tesla coils. Canadian Alexandre Burton’s Impacts (pictured) is also the piece in Winter Sparks which most captures and illustrates our fascination with electricity and its mesmeric qualities, and though generations have taken the harnessing of its power for granted, unquestionably it remains in the ‘force of nature’ category. Channelling arcs of electricity, the eyes are captivated first, following the flows like mini forks of lightning, but in addition to the visual, there is also a playful and twitching musical aspect to this elemental piece.

If you let it, Winter Sparks, with its handful of pieces, makes for an all too brief gallery experience, but allow yourself to be immersed in the waves of sound and light on show, and you could be in for an electrifying treat.

Winter Sparks continues @ FACT until the 24th of February

Image courtesy Brian Slater

Posted on 07/01/2013 by thedoublenegative