Clive Gillman is Artistic Director of FACT, Liverpool
Notes by Lucy Wurstlin of The Culture Company
Clive Gillman has been working with FACT for a number of years. His main role has become the development of the new building project but he is also a new media artist himself.
FACT has been established for 13 years and is one of only three organisations which is supported by the Arts Council specifically to support and service new media work. In 1989, FACT began the biennial ‘Video Positive’ festival of video and new media work. FACT also runs MITES, the national new media equipment hire and support service and has a Collaboration Programme working with community and education. But FACT wants to create a more permanent position and it seemed logical to do this with a capital build. Historically the organisation had been very flexible but to achieve the level of status needed they needed a more ‘concrete’ presence.
One of the first things to consider with this capital build project was "what are we losing in moving to a concrete structure?" A building was the next stage of the process and the building would provide a ‘staging post’ to longer term development plans.
Liverpool has Objective 1 status and therefore there are plenty of opportunities for accessing European funding. Certain geographic areas are designated as development zones in the city and the plan was to build in the Ropewalks area which was one such designated area. The LA’s master plan for the area was to develop a Cultural Quarter and to make spaces available for creative industries. They wanted a flagship building in this area and FACT showed that they were an organisation who could deliver this flagship project.
The project is an £8.5 million development (£6.5 capital costs and £2 million in project development costs). The project is now 9 months from completion. The building is very near to the main shopping street in the same street as ‘Open Eye’ gallery. The building has been informed by FACT's own longer term development plans but also by the intentions of the other stakeholders in the development.
The main exhibitions space is 200 sq. metres and is dedicated to showing new media artworks. It has been designed with classic gallery proportions and has raised floor systems and hanging grids with theatrical lighting.
Opposite this space is ‘The Box’ which is an identical space but has a fixed screen for showing linear based work as well as gallery work. There is a big ‘sofa-pit’ and the room has been designed with a very flexible configuration. This provides a ‘micro-cinema’ which has a programme of ‘streamed’ events, televisual pieces and short films.
The building has a box office and then a ‘Media Lounge’ which is an extension of the foyer space. A big open space separated with glazed panels which is designed like a ticket office at train stations to create an atmosphere where you feel the space is somewhere to ‘go and find out more’.
On the first floor there is another smaller gallery space which is much more intimate and has lower ceilings and columns. This space has been specifically designed for showing ‘personal’ projects. There is a bar area for 60 people.
On the second floor there are 3 cinema screens and these dominate the bulk of the building and to a certain extent have determined the architecture of the building as they need to be ‘blacked out’ and each will seat 100-250 people. These cinemas will be programmed by City Screen not by FACT and will be ‘mainstream arthouse’.
On the very top floor there will be a MediaLab for production and training which will also incorporate a streaming media studio and a digital mastering service. Also a research space and small-scale viewing facilities.
The majority of spaces are black box spaces and therefore the architecture of the building is quite difficult. It has big concrete elements and the outside of the building is covered in zinc tiles and uses LED lights so the whole building ‘signs’ itself within what is quite a tight street plan.
FACT are very aware of what the building ‘will’ and ‘won’t’ do. And one of the biggest challenges is marrying a programming function with delivery of outputs required by the funding bodies.
Over the last few years FACT has shifted its position from operating within a predominately media arts context to one which is more positioned with contemporary art. This is some ways mirrors the shift globally, as this practice has become closer to the mainstream. One issue for FACT is ensuring that it is able to build on its legacy and position the programme and design of the building so that the right balance is achieved between these two areas.
The project inevitably ‘cherry picks’ components of design and ethos from other good examples and has attempted to resolve issues for itself where there are no good examples. For example using a bespoke non-gallery lighting system is a big risk but offers the maximum flexibility.
* Designing for a very diverse audience
* How to design a media arts space for people with sensory disabilities.
* How do you make it cool but accessible
* How do you deliver on the funding outputs
* Who is responsible for these spaces.
* What is the staff structure
* What is the staff budget
It is thought that the galleries will be programmed with a 6 week turn-around, giving around 8 new shows a year. FACT’s focus is on’ new emerging artists and new emerging media’.
There is also the question of whether you solely operate from and within the building or if you do things outside, like public art. This capital project is only one project of FACT and it is planned to have satellite broadband access points in addition around the city.
The building has an array of flexible spaces each with different flexibilities - how does this inform commissions. Don’t want to pre-define the spaces and how they will be used and therefore the first work, exhibition, show you see will in each space is in danger of defining the space for you and it is difficult to move away from this. FACT have tried to work in a way which doesn’t pre-judge the way in which the spaces will be used and will work. There have been artists advisors on the team and Clive himself as an artist has been able to bring this understanding to the project. FACT have tried to remove the awareness of stepping into a ‘gallery’. The space is designed to ‘include’ and ‘engage’ as many people as possible. Creating a gallery in a public space has it’s own problems. LUX used the exterior of the building to project work directly into public space - conventional definitions of public art are limited.
The Box has also been designed to work as a rehearsal space. It’s also smaller and therefore works in progress could be shown. In the building plans there was a space designed for creative design studios for artists in residence and this space was lost. The box has now partially become this space and can work with or without an audience.
Research is needed into how people use these kind of spaces and FACT has lots of experience showing, marketing and commissioning new media/digital work. The relationship between production and exhibition needs to be right and trying to work out the ‘futureology’ is difficult to design for, spaces which can anticipate where artists practice is going and also where audiences are going. Clive has undertaken a research project for the Arts Council on how people use media centres. One thing that this showed was that Managers of these spaces have very different perceptions of the space and it’s potential use. As part of some other research, Clive worked with sensory impaired users and their experiences are not actually vastly different from many other users. There were difficulties for the sensory impaired users relating particularly to information and access which were the same issues for non-impaired users.
There is also a ‘novelty’ issue around new media and we need to get through the ‘novelty’ to let new ideas come though. Work is being produced for the gallery paradigm and there is a worry that new media will suffer from the same constraints that film and video suffered in the gallery paradigm.
Building a massive building is not necessarily the way to engage audiences in new media. But we need to capital build to give us the research credibility to look at this issue. Very aware of building and creating a very cinematic space but this project has had to be a set of compromises. The building must deliver audiences and therefore cinemas do this. It is inevitable therefore that this is the driver of the building in terms of architecture which cinema informs.
FACT asked the architect to establish a defined route through the building so that visitors would see as many spaces along this route as possible. FACT found that ‘borrowing’ and ‘playing with’ cinematic designs as opposed to actually developing cinemas is fantastic. It gives the opportunity to investigate ‘relationship’ between cinema/video/digital art. The cinemas which the building incorporates are not digital and therefore how future proof is the project? The cinema equipment is City Screen’s and not FACT’s and it is presumed that City Screen will update the equipment if and when necessary.
Another problem was that the resources to service residencies were pulled for financial reasons and finding it hard to rationalise ‘what these spaces would be’. Flats which were planned to provide accommodation to support residencies had to pulled as the building was far too public. FACT regret the loss of artists studio space and it’s still not known how these might work in the building, the fact is that they may not.