One of the exciting things about visual art in the 21st century is that – as technology continues to develop apace – the parameters are constantly shifting and the boundaries between forms are becoming increasingly blurred.
At the cutting edge of this kind of innovative work are Leeds-based artist collective Invisible Flock – Ben Eaton, Victoria Pratt and Richard Warburton. They create interactive art that seeks to re-imagine the everyday, using digital expertise to provoke surprising and meaningful encounters – and their latest piece If You Go Away is their most ambitious project yet.
Described as a GPS powered art game, it sounds intriguing – if a little difficult to get your head round. Comprising elements of gaming and aspects of film, using real locations as well as real-world data, it is an app for mobile phones which enables people to experience their city in a whole new way.
“We have been working on it for quite a while – it’s taken just over two years,” says Eaton. “We always knew we wanted to create an experience for people to travel through their city and see it differently, as though through a cinematic lens. That was one of our starting points.”
The piece invites audiences to use their mobile phone as a portal to explore the virtual world of the story which is directly influenced by their physical landscape – even the weather plays a part, so for example if it is raining in the real world, it rains in the game – and the choices they make within it.
Launching in Leeds today and several other cities in the UK over the coming weeks, every night at sunset a new story will be ‘unlocked’.
“It is a game and not a game and it is like some art experiences but also quite unlike anything. People will be able to see other players in their own city as well as people who are playing in other cities at the same time,” explains Eaton. “The interesting thing about the piece is that you still have to go out into your city streets to experience it. For all its technology there is a physicality about it – it takes you on a walk of just over a mile.”
Technology always plays a key role in the work produced by Invisible Flock, but never quite to this extent. “It is always there in some way in our installations but this is the first time we’ve done something completely digital,” says Eaton. “We are usually there to guide the audience through, so it’s quite a weird experience because we are surrendering a big part of what we do in our work.”
All the technical side of the piece has been developed in-house by the three artists themselves. “That’s partly out of habit and partly because we really like doing it,” says Eaton. “We learn how to do it – the technology and the code become part of our process and our craft.”
There is also a physical installation – they have placed their version of an old vinyl recording booth on Albion Street in Leeds and the artists will be there today from noon onwards. “People can go in there and sing a song and it will go online,” says Eaton. “And we will be talking to people about what we are trying to do with If You Go Away. We want people to have a very unique beautiful experience playing the game. It’s quite an immersive thing – you put headphones on and you are in a little bubble walking through the city you live in but at the same time it’s not; it creates a very other-worldly experience.
“It transforms a place that is normally quite familiar and it will change the way they look at the city of Leeds.”