THE RIVER RUNS BACKWARDS
AN INCLUSIVE, INTERACTIVE AUDIO-VISUAL EXPERIENCE
Enticing the public towards the unknown... An accessible, interactive audio-visual encounter, challenging expectations and perceptions of the institution of art through participation and shared experience.
Working beyond, outside of, or parallel to the accepted, represented and perpetuated categories and structures of contemporary society, The River Runs Backwards is an approach to form and function that aims to sidestep contemporary pillars of categorisation, enticing the public towards the unknown, to explore a level of experience not based in re-presentation. The work offers strangers the chance to become collaborators, collectively shaping their environment through responsive technology, working together to create a space which adapts to them and recognises their role as change-makers.
ALGORITHMS HAVE CONTROL
Our cultural experiences in contemporary society are determined to a large extent by the use of algorithms. They are ubiquitous in our lives, from weekly online grocery shopping to vacation locations, cars we drive and the culture we consume:
You like 'this', so you will like 'this'.
Easy categorisation defies exploration of the new and unexpected. By definition it boxes in and segregates. In the current national and worldwide condition, in which we are arguably content to gaze inward, The River Runs Backwards offers a moment in which one may embrace the logic of uncertainty and the potential of an open and uncharted plane of possibilities.
The work draws on the mechanisms of choice we have become so familiar with to facilitate engagement in an experience that draws on popular culture. Yet the world in which it immerses you is not so easily categorised.
RECOGNISING PARTICIPANTS AS CHANGE-MAKERS
The River Runs Backwards utilises the affective nature of immersive experience and combines it with the ability of participants to individually and subtly alter the environment in which they find themselves, handing over control and a sense of ownership through active engagement.
Deliberately non-targeted in terms of demographic, the work recognises the cultural diversity of visitors to cinemas, nightclubs or festivals, viewers of Netflix, NowTV or YouTube, and listeners of Spotify, BBC Sounds or internet radio, by bridging these cultural venues and platforms through an immersive installation which echoes aspects of each.
The River Runs Backwards features four short films, each derived from four genres of popular TV and movie culture, each one abstracted to remove signifiers, yet retaining a manipulated version of their original audio and visuals, obscuring the commonplace utilisation of categorisation and algorithms in contemporary media consumption.
Layers of visuals and sound overlay each film, all of which entitle viewer-participants to become part of the work, crafting their own unique experience while affecting the experiences of others, encouraging them to recognise their agency and autonomy in its realisation.
In collaboration with ceramicist Carwyn Llewelyn and auditory augmented reality software developers, Holonic Systems, The River Runs Backwards utilised ceramic artefacts to mediate audiovisual experiences, to challenge the perception of arts institutions and the expectations of consumers of art within the gallery space.
Questioning the traditional role and ‘do not touch’ nature of ceramics on display in museum and gallery spaces, the work instead encouraged the handling of such artefacts as a means to control viewer-participants' digital experiences, with each artefact bearing its own unique effect on the audio visual aspect of the work through gesture-responsive technology.
Each artefact has been designed to house a hidden sensor which relays messages gathered from gesture control to the iPhone app Holon.ist, which in turn sends OSC messages to a computer running Ableton Live and Resolume software, allowing participants to take control of their audiovisual experience through physical, tactile artefacts crafted by a contemporary ceramicist.
The work also features four push buttons, embedded into the wall on which the ceramics are displayed - each ambiguously offering no attempt to signify consequence, yet inviting interaction through intrigue. Each button, attached to an arduino, triggers one of the four films, challenging the notion of categorised algorithmic choice.
In addition, a webcam placed above the screens that participants
are interacting with uses Resolume to convert their reflection into pixelated shapes, allowing another layer of interactivity which literally reflects their presence as a central aspect in the work, highlighting their importance and role in the artwork's realisation.