Each year Brighton Digital Festival hosts a vibrant programme of independently organised events that run alongside a curated strand of arts and education programming. In the last 6 years we’ve had the pleasure of commissioning, supporting and working with a huge amount of artists and technologists with whom we’ve built some valuable lasting relationships. In this new series we reach out to the artists we’ve worked with to showcase where they’ve been and where they are now.
Back in 2015 we launched newforms, a new commissioning opportunity for mid-career artists and creative practitioners working to transcend boundaries between art and technology. One of the selected works was Finding Fanon 2, the second installment in the now esteemed film trilogy exploring the post-colonial condition by David Blandy and Larry Achiampong. We caught up with Blandy after their recent performance event at Tate Exchange to hear more about The Finding Fanon project and what they’ve been up to since 2015.
Colliding art-house cinema with Machinima (the use of real-time computer graphics engines to create a cinematic production), Finding Fanon 2 set out to explore the post-colonial condition from inside a simulated environment. The film is part of the wider Finding Fanon project, a series of works inspired by the lost plays of Frantz Fanon (1925–1961), a radical humanist whose work explored the mental distress caused by colonisation and the social and cultural consequences of decolonisation. Through their film and performance work, Achiampong and Blandy negotiate Fanon’s ideas, examining how the politics of race, racism and societal issues affect our relationships in an age of new technology, pop culture and globalisation.
At the time of the newforms commission Grand Theft Auto 5 had just been released on the PC, opening up the all new possibility of game visuals at 4K resolution. “Having the support of the commission meant we were able to invest in some high specification PC equipment, enabling us to create sublime vistas inside the game space,” Blandy tells me. “It also gave us the time and the confidence to pursue the idea fully, to try and make a fully rounded artwork as machinima.” Building on the script and audio work that they had written for the first film, the pair then designed the avatars and got to grips with the virtual camera system in the Grand Theft Auto 5 in-game video editor. Once they had a handle on the technical necessities, Blandy explains, “we knew we had the makings of something new.”
Since Finding Fanon 2, the whole project has been propelled both in terms of development and exhibition. “The response to Finding Fanon 2 has been incredible,” Blandy says. “It directly lead to our performance event in the new building at Tate Modern in London at the end of 2016,” and since screening at Fabrica during BDF15, it has been featured in ‘Game Video/Art. A Survey’, part of the XXI Triennial International in Milan; ‘Histories of a Vanishing Present’ at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles; in EVA International 2016 in Limerick; the Long Progress Bar in Brighton; and is part of a semi-permanent exhibition at Brighton Museum looking at experimental video work called ‘Experimental Motion’.
“The film was part of the reason we were selected for residencies at Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire, leading to further exhibitions there, and PRAKSIS in Oslo” Blandy goes on. It has also lead on to a whole new body of work for both Blandy and Achiampong together, the FF Gaiden series, through which they work in collaboration with groups of young people, paperless migrants and war veterans, to let them tell their own stories. In his own work, Blandy continues this investigation into the relationship between personal relationships and global events by focusing on the emotional impact of how the two influence each other in the physical and virtual world.
The collaborative partnership between the two artists has taken on a life of its own, making David Blandy and Larry Achiampong two names expected to be heard in tandem. “Our collaboration is complete,” Blandy tells me. “Every aspect is a shared responsibility, with both having input to the final result in concept, image, script and sound.” The words for the voiceover are worked on independently, then combined into the final script, which has roughly equal amounts of both of their input; “by the end of the process it’s often hard for even us to tell which words originally came from who.” Blandy takes the lead with the visuals and Achiampong with the the audio, recording and mastering the synth soundtracks and field recordings for atmosphere.
Finding Fanon 3, the sequel to Finding Fanon 2, which mixes real life footage and the virtual space, will be showing at Plymouth Arts Centre from 21st March to the 6th April. “Where Finding Fanon looked at our relationship to the colonial past, and Finding Fanon 2 looked at race, identity and the virtual present,” Blandy says, “the third film looks to the future, showing our children working together to form a new life in a possibly post-apocalyptic world.”
As the world becomes more in need than ever of thoughtful creative interventions in topics such as race, technology and globalisation, Blandy and Achiampong’s project continues to make waves. To make your mark, keep an eye out for chances to get involved in Brighton Digital Festival 2017.