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Robots & Avatars

Mike Stubbs from the Liverpool-based FACT collective discusses a show exploring the relationship between advanced technology and our cultural identities

The reaches of technology have expanded the limits of human innovation to incomprehensible heights, which is perhaps what makes it such a hypnotising mirror for self reflection. Co-curated by Liverpool-based FACT and body>data>space, Robots and Avatars has pulled together artists from around the world to explore how our relationships with technology, and reactions to its advancements, are morphing our cultural identities into a futurist mould.

The poor Londoners who don't make the effort to go north of Watford miss out!

Blurring the lines between reality and the virtual world, the exhibit examines our reliance on technology and our willingness to hand machines increasing degrees of control. The show premieres at FACT in Liverpool today and is due to appear in Slovenia, Romania, and Paris, before taking the long trip over to South Korea. Dazed caught up with FACT’s director, Mike Stubbs, ahead of the projects launch.
Dazed Digital: How did the idea for the exhibit come about?
Mike Stubbs:
Of course robots feature strongly in many of the films that form FACT's cinema programme now, like Avatar, Wall-E, Robocop. And for many of us, as children, these representations of robots formed a huge part of our vision of the 'future'.

The stereotypical image of the anthropomorphic robot has dominated and skewed our vision of what a robot is and what our relationship could be.  We asked artists to take this and reconstruct what robot and avatars really mean in today's society.  A vision of the future embracing progress, modernism and technology with robotnik slaves and helpers is actually a reality if we consider our smartphones and ubiquitised technology and networks as the reality!

DD: What about your collaboration with body>data>space?
Mike Stubbs:
The collaboration with body>data>space was natural – they have been researching this field for some years –looking at the implications of telepresence and shifting perceptions of cultural identity. We've never worked together in the same sector for a long time, and it's been great to team up for something on this scale.

DD: In a few sentences, how would you describe 'Robots and Avatars'?
Mike Stubbs:
Playful, visceral, disturbing at times – 'Robots and Avatars' is a group show filled with works by international artists. Expect talking robots, wearable robots, collaborative games and lots more!

DD: The 'Robots and Avatars' artists hail from a mix of places, how did these artists come under your radar?
Mike Stubbs:
We advertised internationally for new commissions and new work with our partners body>data>space, Alt Art (Romania) and Kibla (Slovenia) and then formed a jury to select the best work. We were amazed at the number of artists working in the field who applied, 200 from 25 countries in total, so it was a tough decision-making process!

DD: For you personally, what would you say has been the most interesting aspect to come from the Robots and Avatars project?
Mike Stubbs:
That the simplest works (even Karina Smigla-Bobinski's analogue work ADA – autonomous 'being' that appears to have a life of her own) force us to reconsider our bodies in fundamental ways.
DD: Does being based in Liverpool present any barriers for FACT?
Mike Stubbs:
We are very proud that Liverpool is the third visited city in Britain and that with our partners such as the Tate and the Bluecoat we have an incredible offer which attracts not only national but international visitors. The poor Londoners who don't make the effort to go north of Watford miss out! That said the local and regional interest is massive, so it's all fine!

DD: What about Liverpool inspires and drives FACT?
Mike Stubbs:
I never stop being surprised and inspired by Liverpool. It's made up of some of the most determined, independent, sharp-witted, resilient and straight-talking people you could meet. The city has a rich cultural history, that extends way beyond the Beatles and football, and a massive community of people from all round the world choose to stay here. Cultural influences and trade winds have brought together new ideas together in this city in amazing ways! To me it's no surprise that FACT, the UK's leading media art centre should evolve in this city from the beginnings of 'Video Positive', Britain's first video art festival, which I exhibited in 1989 as an artist myself...

Robots & Avatars runs at FACT in Liverpool March 16 - May 27, 2012 - More info HERE