At the Heart of it All – Into the Zone

The Zone

Our live art critic C James Fagan takes a deep breath and treks into the Zone…

Somewhere out there awaits The Zone, a place that may just exist on the edge of the imagination. It’s a place where the paths lead through a layered narrative of fiction, memory and the real.

The journey into The Zone is in part a psychogeographical one; no matter what the destination is, it has to be imagined. To that end it’s hard to define when the first step was taken. Did it begin at first learning of The Zone as part of FACT’s latest exhibition? Or on deciding to sign up for the trip? Did it lay in the fictions which inspired the formation of The Zone, one which describes a fictional trek through a fictional country?

Before I’ve even stepped out on this path mapped out for me, I run the risk of become lost in the layers.

“The first stage of the journey, one that has some claim to reality, sees a liminal landscape of industrial estates and retail parks slip by”

The first stage of the journey, one that has some claim to reality, sees a liminal landscape of industrial estates and retail parks slip by and I find myself at a meeting place. Though there’s no clear indication that it is a meeting place — no A board, no hand written sign. Maybe I imagined this, conjured it up, fell into a slipstream of make believe.

I’m at the right place. A small group of people are greeted, regulations explained, and another stage begins. A stage that feels like the one that preceded it; normal, almost tedious, and not what I was expected. As we pause at an underground station, our ‘leader,’ or The Visitor, hands members of the group tabards which proclaim individual professions. These will identify us.

Only it’s not me, it’s someone else: an ‘Insectary Technician’. As this group undertakes another stage of the journey, I wonder if the only way to cope with these competing narratives is to become fiction myself. To be a simulation.

Eventually we reach a starting point, in a landscape that is as familiar as it is new. The architecture of these places never change; maybe we prefer it this way, it saves us from falling into strange alien worlds.

Why are we here? To explore, to discover, to find ‘The Room’. The Room is the El Dorado of this adventure, the place where we will find the answers to our deepest desires. Who are we? We are the descriptions on our chests: Doctor, Security, Producer, Writer. Enough to separate us, to identify us and yet collect us together as a group.

Whatever we are, we are moving.

Close and Remote - The Zone

Trying to develop a inner narrative, as we run through this wasteland. Adopting a persona, a inner dialogue as to why I, the Insectary Technician, came here. I was here before, at some imagined beginning after the first event.

When I left something behind.

Though I keep this to myself, as we gather to watch a spluttering screen amidst the carcass of electronic parts. I look and see another pile of rubbish, in which I see a flask or an abandoned Dyson, some kind of remnant. Do I tell the others? They seem happy to be themselves. Soon enough where moving on and deeper into The Zone, where The Visitor finds a battered radio, in a battered suitcase. It plays a memory of a voice, speaking of Managed Decline. Looking around me that’s all I see.

Further along, moving huddled together, moving ever closer to the end. The narrative unfolding in my head, where encouraged to speak. I speak about a past of the strange Black Dog that has been sighted. Though I feel like that my personal story will interfere with the narrative already laid out for us.

“The Visitor produces water and sandwiches. I consider telling my companions of the huge military and scientific camp that once belonged here”

At a brief stop under flyovers, where The Visitor produces water and sandwiches, I consider telling my companions of the huge military and scientific camp that once belonged here. To which I, Insectary Technician, belonged. Of how when we discovered nothing was too lethal, we surrendered this place to a state of managed decline. Ignoring what happened as we could never truly comprehend what occurred nor its ramifications.

Instead we press on, following the abandoned train tracks, enjoying some spring sunshine, it seems that this landscape we’re passing through has become fictionalised. The objects we pass become stations for narrative possibilities. Whether they be discarded clothes, or the brick skeletons of a building, even an empty glass jar, they transform into a part of the story unfolding. Each object offers its own role in this open tale.

As do a small group of people sitting outside a tent on the other side of a reservoir; they become something sinister, a possible threat to the group? We all stop at the edge of the reservoir. The Visitor fishes out a bag from the reeds, and after receiving directions we follow the water’s edge to ‘The Crab’. At this point, we are instructed to rest, to lie down and dream of our deepest desires. The group does so but there’s something that stops me from joining them. This is not my narrative.

It never has been.

We’re nearing The Room; the reason for us being here, and the conclusion to the story. Perhaps it’s my awareness of the source materials surrounding The Room, but I decide that I will take a piece of paper into it. Mirroring the events at the end of the novel the film was based on.

As we draw ever closer, The Visitor tells us of The Regenerators, earlier visitors whose arrival caused the upheaval which formed The Zone. Invisible instigators of a change they didn’t care about or were even aware of.

Another roadside picnic.

After an amble past concrete monoliths, whose existence and propose are as unknown to us as we are to their indifferent gaze. These things exist in a time beyond ours. The group gathers at the bottom of the hill and we are told that The Room lies at the top. We are to go in one by one.

Soon enough it’s my turn. I pause at the bottom of the hill and take the piece of paper out of my pocket. It’s a prop to use in this role I’m playing. At the top I find an open suitcase filled with envelopes with our ‘zone names’ written on them. I fish mine out and pass over the crest of the hill. Inside I discover a pen drive which may contain the last secret of The Zone.

I’ve passed some point and a sense of normality returns, the narrative I’ve held in my mind for the last two hours is gone. Dissipated of the sharing of the experience, almost as if where passing through an airlock from fiction to reality.

Though the journey isn’t complete yet, the majority of the group still wear their identity tabards on the return journey back towards some kind of origin. In turn by writing this I have recreated the journey, or recounted it, filtered through my experience and memory. Adding yet another layer of narrative. This experience has been make believe, a kind of play time; in The Zone I could see how our experiences of the real and fictional mingle with our memories and allows us to produce new interfaces with the world we inhabit.

It leaves me in a philosophical mood. I begin to consider how we project our experiences onto the spaces we inhabit. How we use make believe to create experiences beyond simple physical experience.

C James Fagan

The next Zone Tour is Saturday 24 May — places limited to eight places, booking essential (free)

The Zone is an artwork located at Bidston Moss, Wirral, commissioned for the Science Fiction: New Death exhibition at FACT Liverpool. Exhibition continues until 22 June 2014, free entry

Read C James Fagan’s review of the exhibition here

Posted on 16/04/2014 by thedoublenegative