You don’t need me to tell you that technology is an unavoidable part of modern life. It influences how we interact with the world, so it makes sense that art – a reflection of the world around us – has now been influenced by the digital age. Richard Warburton, of the Leeds based arts group ‘Invisible Flock’, helped enlighten me as to how technology and art can cooperate to create something beautiful. Richard is one of three head artists, and works alongside Ben Eaton and Victoria Pratt to create technology driven, interactive artwork. Their projects consist of a mixture of performance and instillations, and they are often fully immersive experiences where the audience are encouraged to leave memories as well as create them.
Their website – invisibleflock.co.uk – is a piece of art in itself. ‘Invisible Flock’ are “…driven by a desire to invite people to re-imagine their everyday.” This is evident in their project ‘If You Go Away’, which is described as a “live cinematic experience” requiring the audience members to download an app so they can explore and see the local area in a completely new way. As Richard puts it, “phones are intimate devices; they fill in our dead time and are a gateway to socialising and contacting the rest of the world. It is how we explore the world these days”. With this in mind it seems only natural to use mobile phones to warp people’s perception of the world into a sort of dreamland, shaped by individual experiences. However a concern surrounding the use of an app is that it makes the presumption that all audience members own an iPhone or an Android. I expressed this apprehension to Richard, who acknowledged it and apologised. “We are trying to create work that doesn’t alienate the audience…” he said, and continued by explaining that this piece in particular was made for these devices. However, as popular as these particular types of phones are there are still some people who haven’t yet jumped on the bandwagon, which raises the question – are those people falling behind? Is technology-driven art the future? “It’s not necessarily the future…” was Richards’s response, “but it is offering different ways to experience art. It isn’t replacing traditional forms but is definitely giving us different avenues to explore.” It does seem to be an exciting and innovative way of looking at how art is going to evolve in the centre of this overpowering digital era.
One of the especially brilliant things about ‘If You Go Away’ is that it will have the same effect in every city on the scheduled tour. “It is designed for 6 cities. The narrative is naturally unfolding, and only really played out in the environment you’re in. You should have just as rewarding an experience in Leeds as you would in say, Lille. The experience itself allows for cross communication, so it is experienced in isolation but opens up as you explore the world.” The project allows you to interact with “ghosts” of previous audience members, meaning that it is an ongoing interactive encounter. Your impact on the project as a member of the audience doesn’t end when the piece is over; I personally think this is a wonderful way of using technology to encourage the evolution of art.
Another example of ‘Invisible Flock’ allowing the audience’s personal experiences to have a long term impact is ‘Bring the Happy’, their flagship piece. It is an ambitious attempt to “map the happiness” of the UK, conveyed through an installation, a digital map and a performance. “Each production has felt like that was the right piece for us to make at the time”, but this is the one Richard is most proud of. This is because of the effect that audience involvement has had on the project. “Over 4000 memories have been left with us, so in terms of what has made the most impact this is something to be proud of.” Through the website it is still possible to leave a memory as it is an ongoing project.
‘Bring the Happy’ also manifested as a live show, where ‘Invisible Flock’ collaborated with a group of musicians, ‘Hope and Social’ (hopeandsocial.com). Collaboration is a common occurrence within ‘Invisible Flock’s work, for example “Flock 21”, which is a project I was particularly drawn to due to its theatrical elements. Still focused around the use of technology, “Flock 21” is an exploration of how digital interaction will define us in the future. “If we don’t have the skills set, we will look outside the company” Richard told me, and in this case their collaboration with the Crucible Theatre (sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) allowed them to combine their expertise of digital art with the theatrical knowledge that the Crucible Theatre could provide.
Collaboration is not always necessary as it is evident that Richard, Victoria and Ben collectively possess an impressive skills set. Their projects are varied, for example “Book of Beasts in the Nighttimes” seems to have very different aims than any of the other projects. Its audience consisted of children, and in an era where my 7 year old cousin has an iPad I think engaging children with art through the use of technology is simply genius. As Richard said, “It definitely aids the experience. It could be used to hide the fact you don’t have a good narrative!” he laughed, but judging from the screams that can be heard on the promotional video I highly doubt that is the case. “…Our aim was to make it an immersive experience that added to the possibilities of this world. In the environment of the forest it certainly felt like everything was interacting with each other.”
Richard was a lovely man to talk to, polite and obviously passionate about his work. This came across strongly, particularly when he spoke about ‘If You Go Away’. “We want to really get our teeth stuck into the possibility of what it could be, and creating an emotional narrative. We are trying to push all of the techniques we have honed over the past 4/5 years.” The skill and dedication to digital art that ‘Invisible Flock’ bring is inspiring. If this keenness and commitment to their projects isn’t enough to spark your interest then check out their website – the minimalistic, high tech pages are enough to engage anybody. Alternatively, Richard offers a strong argument as to why you should come and be part of one of their projects – “All of our work requires your engagement with it in some way. Our audiences are the heart of everything. You are as integral to it as everything else.”