Art And so to FACT one of the Biennial’s main venues. It’s difficult to remember a time when the FACT centre didn’t exist or what was in its place on Wood Street before all of this art and cinema took up residence here. It’s only when compiling this tag for my blog that I realised just how regularly I’ve been a visitor even if it’s been to the cinema less and less.
Indeed it’s only on this visit that I noticed how some of the staff have FACT on their t-shirts and other Picturehouse. As was explained to by an usher as I idled by the Box screen, there is an invisible demarcation line through the building, with everything on the left being owned and run by the arts organisation and everything on the right by the cinema chain.
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In the area which used to be the Media Lounge, Pedro Reyes has installed Melodrama and Other Games, a kind of playground for existential angst in which strangers and friends are tasked with playing games which the artist believes can “foster new tools for collective problem solving”. The walls are covered with brightly coloured posters in pastel shades, most eye-catchingly “Pillow Fight” next to a storage facility filled with all kinds of soft furnishings.
An invigilator approaches and explains some of the above and asks if I’d like to have a go. I wonder if there are any solo items and I’m introduced to a map of the Great Britain filled with words, the aim of which is to read rhythmic poety out-loud as quickly as possible. She says that because I’m on my own I’ll only need to go as far as Scotland but since that would seem like a job half finished I indicate that I’ll work my way through to Dover.
Shouting nonsense in public is surprisingly easy once you get started (which is presumably why politicians happen) and beginning with “Ingle Angle Golden Bangle” and finishing with “Iggle Oggle Black Bottle Out” I work my way through the Milliganesque mess of verse influenced by regional accents and sayings each indicated by a geographic location and arrow. Liverpool has no arrow, but since Ipswich didn’t have The Beatles it probably balances out.
Reading unfamiliar verse is unsurprisingly difficult and I do trip over my words a couple of times and have to stop briefly around Birmingham because it's becoming increasingly difficult to read without bending over so I carry on with the indentical poster above. I think I briefly have an audience too which serves me right though I’m not sure how much they are entertained. But this is the kind of art I tend to like, with an interactive element, sometimes mental, sometimes mental and physical.
Reyes’s main game is Melodrama, a homage to Snakes and Ladders which forces the player through the ups and downs of a relationship. The invigilator manages to corral a couple of other visitors, two girls, students I think, to play and the three of us sit around the table giggling our way through the various stages from meeting at a party to marriage to a party, the up arrows indicating emotional fulfilment, the down arrows signifying the pitfalls, the arguments, settling for less, that sort of thing.
The experience of playing with strangers is presumably different than with friends. Friends tend to know all of your secrets and each circle is a potential reminder of some moment experienced. Strangers are a blank slate and although there were a few knowing glances between the other two, none of us were prepared to say too much. The simplicity of the game presumably means its own as enjoyable as the company and the three of us were never going to be fast friends.
Perhaps relationships are a form of "collective problem solving". Even if the only people involved are the people involved, rather than the family and friends with their ears to listen, voices with advices and shoulders to cry on, the word "problem" so often used in relation to relationships suggests that there has to be something to solve. Except, of course, some problems are crossword puzzles, some are campaigns in Portal and some are the Hadamard conjecture.
For the end of the experience Reyes has left prizes in the form of the posters of the games so we can enjoy them again at home and they’re now sitting next to me as I type. The invigilator suggests I return when it’s busier and it's true this probably works best when there are more people to watch or enjoy the games with. But Reyes has at least created workm that like of the best artwork, forces the visitor out of their comfort zone.