Switch Circuit | BlankSpace | Future Everything
Saturday May 7th. It’s a warm evening as I set out, with only a fine patter of rain threatening, but only hesitantly, to turn into something heavier. I check my pockets to make sure I’ve taken my mobile, wallet, keys – the usual. I check the battery on the phone as it doesn’t last too long and I don’t want to be stuck in the centre of town with no means of communication. I’m making my way to BlankSpace for the 12-hour opening event of Switch Circuit, a new interactive exhibition held to tie in with the forthcoming FutureEverything digital media, arts and music festival between May 11-14th, whilst simultaneously texting my mate to make sure we synchronise our arrival.
By the time I make it to the corner of Hulme Street and Oxford Road, the rain is heavier and the buses’ wheels threaten me with puddles as I wait at a nearby bus stop for shelter. My mate is late. I pretend to be texting to look busy. A man is drawing an architectural study intently at a 90degree angle on some paper using the bus-stop’s bench as a work surface. My mate arrives, phone in hand and we head down the road.
Switch Circuit was devised with two of FutureEverything’s themes in mind, ‘FutureEverybody’ and ‘Global & Connected’, with the idea centring on interactivity and subverting the normal rules on how we use our phones. It’s billed as an ‘unpredictable experiment’ involving the audience, ‘looking at how intrusions and interruptions can take advantage of the trust we place in [our phone’s] potentially dangerous functionalities’.
It’s true, there is an over-reliance on technology these days. There’s talk of a second ‘dot com’ bust involving the new-breed of internet start-ups and smartphone app developers. The mobile phone market itself seems to be split between people who worship the smartphone and others who seem to be actively subverting the genre by using deliberately ‘basic’ models, so I’m intrigued by the exhibition’s basic, and somewhat timely, premise. The MoD just a fortnight ago for instance, warned of a ‘terminator-like’ future of warfare with the increasing frequency of un-manned drones in combat; what’s more, this seemed to come when a ‘secret’ tracker algorithm stored deep within iPhone’s operating system ‘tracked’ users movement from phone calls and every time they accessed GPS services.
But the exhibition, despite its grand write-up of establishing an ‘Orwellian atmosphere of control, examination and scrutiny’ for the audience, not to mention the prescient milieu of current events, fundamentally failed to hit the mark. For an exhibit which studies and actively stipulates interactivity on behalf of the audience, I for one was left feeling quite lost, disengaged, unplugged perhaps from the supposed events apparently transpiring. Was this the intention? Apparently so according to one of the lead curators at BlankSpace, but I seriously doubt it. I can see how this feeling of frustration and perhaps even isolation from what was meant to be happening could, at a push, be deemed to be one of the effects this exhibition purposed to create. But it was far from Orwellian. Far from real or tangible.
Earlier, the man at the bus-stop who drew at a 90 degree angle was vulnerably housed. He called himself Titch. He made art on a day-to-day basis to put towards a bed for the night and was based in the Northern Quarter. I bought a landscape of Affleck’s and Tib Street from him. His art was far more real, his social position far more relevant to anyone who reads Orwell.
Switch Circuit runs from 7th to 22nd May, BlankSpace, 43 Hulme Street, M15 6AW
Titch’s work is showcased in many bars and cafés across the Northern Quarter.