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Studio Me artists Joshua Henderson & Veronica Watson reflect on their first exhibition.

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As our exhibition Studio Me draws to a close, we look behind the scenes and hear from artists Joshua Henderson ...


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Happy birthday FACT!










As FACT celebrate 15 years at their Wood Street home, Bluecoat Artistic Director Bryan Biggs reflects on the long standing relationship between FACT and Bluecoat.

“As director of Bluecoat Gallery, I was approached in early 1988 by Eddie Berg, who was running peripatetic film organisation, Merseyside Moviola. He was accompanied by artist Steve Littman and they asked if we’d be interested in participating in a video art festival in Liverpool and if Bluecoat would we rent them space in our building for an office.

We said yes to both requests, and the following year, operating from a tiny office at the arts centre, the first Video Positive Festival was presented at Bluecoat, Tate of the North (to become Tate Liverpool) and the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead. Despite running for just a fortnight, the event attracted an audience of some 35,000; many curious to experience this new moving image art.

While pioneering Korean artist Nam June Paik had been incorporating televisions into his work since 1964, video art was still under-represented in mainstream exhibitions, and remained, at least in this country, relatively underground. Video Positive reflected the exploration of the possibilities of video technology in the 1980s’ by both UK and international artists.

Staged subsequently every two years, the festival grew – in length, in the number of venues and artists involved, and in ambition. As the festival expanded, so did Moviola’s office space needs, and the organisation eventually took over much of the top floor of one of Bluecoat’s wings, as well as the old cinema downstairs. In 1992 they started running the Moving Image Touring Exhibition Service (MITES), which became a vital resource, providing equipment to meet the increasing needs of artists and galleries working with the new video and digital media tools.

Connecting communities to the new art was always a priority, and from the early 1990s an ‘animateur’ role formalised this work, which developed into the Collaboration Programme, bringing a participatory element that was showcased at Video Positive, something not seen in comparable new media festivals at the time. Artist Alan Dunn worked in this role to develop Tenantspin into a pioneering live streamed TV station involving local communities. It grew from an initiative with Danish artists Superflex, whose Video Positive installation was at Bluecoat in 2000.

By then the organisation had become FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology),  a name that reflected the changing nature of artists’ practice, which was broadening from ‘video art’ into an embrace of the emergent new technologies. That year (1997) also marked the planning in earnest to create a new permanent home for FACT’s work. This came to fruition in January 2003 when the organisation left their cramped Bluecoat offices for the gleaming new building just up the road.

During its fourteen years at Bluecoat, we hosted many Moviola/FACT exhibitions in our gallery. It is a miracle that shows worked as well as they did, given the clunky equipment we had to work with – big ‘u-matic’ tape decks, heavyweight cube monitors (now back in [retro] fashion) and everything analogue, ill-suited spaces, and our relative technical inexperience.

In addition to all the Video Positives, there were other shows that often went on to tour nationally, mainly thematic group exhibitions like Abstract, Still Life, Moving Image (1992), V-Topia (1994) and Watch This Space (1997). Bluecoat collaborated on others, like Tony Oursler’s first solo show in the UK (also with the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham) in 1993, following the US artist’s first ever showing on these shores in Video Positive, 1991. Tony loved Liverpool, and I recall taking him to meet one of his heroes, Sex Pistols’ graphic designer Jamie Reid who’d moved to Liverpool, while Tony’s own terrific video for Sonic Youth’s Tunic (Song for Karen) played in our gallery space – long before he was doing videos for David Bowie.

It was great to connect to Bluecoat alumni artists like Keith Piper and Sonia Boyce who we’d shown many years earlier, commissioned to make new work for Video Positive. And there were many other memorable works in the festival, including future FACT director Mike Stubbs’ Desert Island Dread (1989), which we had a hairy time installing. The work comprised a large heap of sand which were embedded record players, video monitors and a stuffed seal, balancing a globe on it nose, while from the ceiling hung hundreds of water-filled condoms.




















There were live performances, most memorably by Dan Reeves reflecting on the Vietnam War and film screenings, one including the mysterious ‘Funky Killer Buddhas’, who turned out to be no less that Eddie Berg himself. Perhaps the most haunting installation (1993) was by German artist Ingo Günther, who projected cold war imagery onto two white flags that were being furiously blown towards each other by large fans. The eerily empty sound of the howling wind seemed to emphasise the futility of the two competing ideologies of Russia and the US, and seems oddly prescient now”.

That is what makes FACT so relevant; its drive to push the boundaries and address topical issues using the newest forms of communication. FACT has come a long way since its humble beginnings at Bluecoat and has gone on to thrive in the last 15 years. Here at Bluecoat we wish FACT a Happy Birthday and look forward to another incredible 15+ years!

This weekend, FACT will be hosting a full weekend of celebrations, including exhibitions, performances, live music, talks and cinema. Artists from their past and future will unite to ensure FACT’s building becomes a hub of creativity. To find out more about the weekend's festivities, please click here

Image one: Abstract, Still Life, Moving Image, 1992, installation by Katherine Meynell

Image two: Video Positive 2000, installation by Superflex

Image three: Video Positive 1989, Desert Island Dread installation by Mike Stubbs

Image four: Video Positive 1993, installation by Ingo Günther

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