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23rd February 2024

Review: FACE TO FACE at the Fête of Britain

Brian Eno’s installation FACE TO FACE at Aviva Studios invites focus and contemplation on the state of things and how we might change them.
Review: FACE TO FACE at the Fête of Britain
Photo: Marco Cappelletti, @ OMA and Factory International

This weekend, Factory International has lent its landmark venue, Aviva Studios, to a four-day long festival: The Fête of Britain. The festival, curated in collaboration with Hard Art, is a collection of events, encompassing several art forms and activities, all concerning the future of Britain. The weekend’s events contemplate pressing issues like the cost of living crisis and the climate emergency.

The festival encourages participants to harness the power of togetherness and to take an active role in creating a better future. Despite the severity of the issues which the Fête addresses, the festival is a joyful event which hopes to inspire visitors, and remind them of the power of imagination and creativity.

Photo: The Fête of Britain @ Charlie Waterhouse

The festival’s curators, Hard Art, are a cultural collective, who believe that a new culture of participation and positive change can help remedy some of the problems facing Britain today. The collective is using art and culture to foster a sense of hope, that the state of Britain and the world right now, doesn’t have to be permanent.  

The part of the festival’s programme I was most interested in was FACE TO FACE. An art and music installation by multi-disciplinary artist, Brian Eno. On arrival at Aviva Studios though, I was directed to the ‘public living room’, a comfy-looking social space in the venue’s foyer, and an interesting precursor to the installation. The living room is one of many, dotted around the UK, and is part of an initiative by Camerados. 

Camerados is a social movement, established in 2015, which creates public spaces where people can come together, and encourages people to look out for each other a bit more. The ethos behind the living room certainly resonated with the themes of the festival and got me thinking about the role of community, even before seeing the installation.  

FACE TO FACE is installed in Aviva Studio’s North Warehouse, a large and versatile space on the building’s second floor. In some ways, the work is reminiscent of other large-scale digital works. The warehouse is nearly dark, and the floor is scattered with armchairs and beanbags, suggesting that viewers should get comfortable in the room. The installation though is focused in one place, rather than surrounding the viewer.  

The artwork was made using specially developed software, to create a series of images, mostly of people who don’t exist. The starting point was a small group of photographic portraits of real people. Between each real photo, a sequence of pixel-by-pixel changes occurs, creating a chain of new people in between each one. The transitions are accompanied by an instrumental soundtrack composed by Eno. 

The installation is certainly thought-provoking and builds on the idea of collectivity which is so central to Hard Art’s mission. The proliferation of brand new faces is a potent reminder of our role, in a much bigger community. At a time when we are becoming more and more individualistic, it is a confronting piece that challenges the viewer to recognise and appreciate our responsibility towards each other.  

Apart from the message behind the work, the setting of the installation made it easy to engage more deeply with the art than is sometimes possible. In a busy gallery, it’s sometimes easy to get distracted and only give each artwork a short glance. On the contrary, FACE TO FACE offers viewers one place to focus their gaze, and the subtle changes taking place are mesmerising. The atmosphere was relaxed and spotting which small detail of the face is shifting at any given time helped me to notice the details, and appreciate the photographs so much more.  

FACE TO FACE demonstrates how simplicity can be extremely effective, and is worth a visit for anyone hoping to take a minute out from their day-to-day. The installation is open until Sunday 25th February, from 2pm to 6pm at Aviva Studios.  

Grace Buckley

Grace Buckley

Arts Editor

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