YORK Mediale returns next month to deliver ambitious and cutting-edge digital arts projects inspired by and reacting to 2020.
For its second iteration, the international new media arts organisation has lined up six new commissions, five being world premieres, the other, a UK premiere.
Running from October 21 into the New Year, the programme of events will take place in York neighbourhoods, online and at two cultural landmarks, York Minster and York Art Gallery.
The first York Mediale in 2018 was the largest media arts festival in Britain, drawing an audience of 65,000 to diverse digital-rooted events over ten days, celebrating York as the UK’s first and only UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.
The Coronavirus pandemic has led York Mediale to forego the original 2020 festival dates of October 21 to 25, instead “pivoting from a biennial festival to a charity creating and delivering a year-round programme of exceptional digital arts events, embedded in and enriching the creative life of the city of York and beyond”.
In a progression from the 2018 debut, this will involve working closely with York artists, young people and neighbourhoods.
Themes of love, nature and community – particularly poignant at this time following months of lockdown and isolation – will run through artists’ installations and interactive performance, engaging audiences both in person and digitally.
Leading artists in their field from across the world have created work for York, such as Marshmallow Laser Feast, fresh from their show at the Saatchi Gallery in London; composer, musician and producer Elizabeth Bernholz, otherwise known as the artist Gazelle Twin, and arts collective KMA, whose installations have transformed numerous public spaces, from London’s Trafalgar Square to Shanghai’s Bund.
The York community is being encouraged to take part, so today the Mediale team is launching two calls for participation. Firstly, Mediale is calling out for 50 members of the public to feature in a piece that will serve as a memento for the times we live in.
Secondly, in collaboration with York’s Guild of Media Arts and nine other UNESCO Creative Cities of Media Arts, Mediale is launching a call-out to York artists, worth £2,500.
Tom Higham, York Mediale’s creative director for the 2018 festival and now the 2020 one too, says: “York Mediale is a place where, through digital arts, we can explore, challenge and reflect on our lives.
“Plans for this year’s Mediale were well underway as the pandemic took hold. That we’re able to work with artists and producers to create an event at all is something we’re really proud of.”
Mediale planned “as best it could” for what it knew would be a different type of event. “We looked closely at the works already submitted and worked to develop the pieces that would most closely examine these extraordinary times,” says Tom.
“We wanted to explore how we connect with loved ones, with our community, with nature and with our culture. We have been developing projects around those themes, and we’re excited to now present a series of works.
“All of these projects resonated with us at the start of 2020 but we could never have imagined how they could develop to so beautifully reflect our worries, hopes and relationships to our communities.”
York Mediale audiences will discover how the human body is hardwired, synchronised and inextricably linked to nature; experiment with a new form of performance, and explore the invisible transaction between a person and a piece of art and how WhatsApp has shaped communities for the COVID generation at this year’s “diverse, digitally engaged and mentally stimulating event”.
What digital delights are upcoming in York Mediale 2020-2021?
People We Love, November 2 to 29 at York MInster
THIS commission from creative collective KMA will be positioned in the Minster nave, where a new temporary “congregation” will be made up of a collection of five large high-definition screens, showing a series of video portraits focused on people that have been filmed looking at a photograph of someone they love.
The viewer will not know who is being looked at but will experience the emotion on the face projected on screen before them, interpreting each unspoken story.
Visitors can add their story to the installation as a pop-up booth will be on-site, ready to capture the love stories of the city without the need for words.
Human Nature, October 21 to January 24 2021 at York Art Gallery
A TRIPTYCH of installations under the banner of Human Nature, curated by York Mediale and York Museums Trust, comes together as a centrepiece of York Mediale 2020 in a “hugely ambitious show”.
Embers And The Giants, a short film by Canadian media artist Kelly Richardson, makes its UK premiere, exploring human intervention through thousands of tiny drones mimicking a natural spectacle, suggesting a time when we will need to amplify nature in order to convince the public of its worth.
The Tides Within Us, a commission from immersive art collective Marshmallow Laser East, looks at the journey of oxygen from lungs to the heart and body in a series of installations that echoes the ecosystem within nature.
Fine artist Rachel Goodyear presents Limina, a series of animations supported by her intricate drawings, in response to an untitled sculpture from York Art Gallery’s collection; all offering a glimpse into the psyche and fragments of the unconscious.
Absent Sitters, October 21 to 25, online
GAZELLE Twin, billed as “one of the UK’s most vital contemporary voices in electronic music”, collaborates with York artist and filmmaker Kit Monkman and the University of York Music Department to experiment with a new form of performance.
In this intimate, shared event, you will be guided by a “performer medium” to investigate what is live performance in 2020? The audience, contributing via video call, will become part of an online audio-visual experience that examines the power of “collective imagination” and the importance of “presence/absence” in a live event. Are we live? Can we connect? Who are you? Questions, questions, questions.
Good Neighbours, October 21 to 25, The Groves, York
GOOD Neighbours, from Amsterdam’s affect lab – interactive artist Klasien van de Zandschulp and researcher Natalie Dixon – is based on research into the micro-politics of communities and the increase in WhatsApp neighbourhood watch groups through lockdown.
Individual audience members will use their own mobile devices as they immerse themselves in a weirdly familiar fictional documentary walk alongside live performance, taking place in The Groves area of York.
What exactly is York Mediale?
York Mediale is an international media arts organisation that celebrates York as the UK’s first and only UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts. The independent arts charity was founded in 2014 to mark that designation.
As well as bringing new commissions from leading artists to the city for each festival, Mediale provides opportunities for the best emerging talents to showcase their art. Through incorporating technologies into their works, artists of all kinds will challenge, provoke, interrogate and celebrate our cities, our landscapes, our lives.
THE RETURN OF PEOPLE WE LOVE, YORK MINSTER, OCTOBER 16 to NOVEMBER 12 2021
YORK has the chance to love People We Love all over again after the KMA creative collective’s installation for York Mediale had to close only three days into its York Minster residency in November 2020.
The Covid pandemic’s second national lockdown forced the sudden shutdown, but now Kit Monkman’s commission from the festival of digital media arts has a second run from October 16 to November 12.
People We Love returns refreshed for 2021 with 25 new subjects added, filmed at Spark:York, to combine with those recorded last year for the evocative installation sited in the Minster nave, just below the Great West Window with its Heart of Yorkshire.
This temporary ‘congregation’ is made up of a collection of five large high-definition screens, each showing video portraits of York residents looking at an unseen, unnamed picture of someone they love.
Viewers watch them reflect, remember and be reminded of a loved one, filmed as they respond silently but expressively to a series of questions in a Scottish accent, unheard by the audience.
After multiple months of Government restrictions keeping people at a distance from family and friends, People We Love has become an even more poignant reminder of how precious love and those loved are. Then add the church season of All Souls Day and Armistice Day, and the exhibition could not be better timed nor better placed.
People We Love was inspired by The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Coxwold parson and author Laurence Sterne. First published in York in 1759, the book contains a blank page for the reader to imagine, draw or write about a person they love.
KMA’s Kit Monkman, artist and creator of People We Love, says: “In Tristram Shandy, the reader becomes an active participant in the book. We wanted to take that idea and incorporate it into People We Love, making the audience member an active participant in the creative process as they engage with the film.
“There is a private communion between the person filmed and the viewer, and each draws their own meaning from it, the viewer never knowing anything about the story between the person on screen and their photograph.”
Each unspoken story has its own tale to tell, but one that will never be discovered by the viewer, who will instead have their own understanding of what they are watching, creating a different narrative.
In a time where it has become more commonplace to interact with those we love via a screen, this quiet artwork offers a chance for contemplation and consideration in a sacred building.
Neil Sanderson, director of the York Minster Fund, says: “We’re delighted to have People We Love return to the Minster after its early closure in 2020 due to the national lockdown. The installation forms part of a wider season of remembering at the cathedral that we hope will give visitors time to pause, reflect and think about their own loved ones during what has been an extraordinarily difficult time for so many.
“This installation kicks off our season of memorial, with All Saints’ Day, All Souls Day and Remembrance Sunday to come, and it’s such an important thing to do, remembering people who have died, especially at this time.
“This is a model we would like to build on as it fits in so well with the vast window and the Heart of Yorkshire. One of the great challenges is finding things that work well here as the Minster is such a monumental building, but People We Love does exactly that. But you also don’t need to explain it to people: they will each get something out of it, just as people get a lot out of the Minster in different ways.”
Among the new faces in the installation for 2021 is York Mediale assistant producer Willow Bowen. Explaining her choice of photograph, she says. “In choosing someone who was dead, I didn’t necessarily want to make myself cry. I’d heard the recording with the questions before, because of working on the project, and one person came to mind when I first heard them, so that was the only choice for me. Being filmed was a very cathartic experience for me and transportive too.”
Looking at herself on screen, Willow says: “I remembered being really emotional when I was filmed, but now, when I see myself, I look really stoic, so maybe I had constrained my feelings inside, rather than bubbling over, and yet I’d felt very emotional – I’m just not showing it.”
KMA’s Kit Monkman loves the interaction between the installation and the Minster. “Just being in this space, even if you’re not religious, it’s an awe-inspiring building that makes you reflect and contemplate. You look around and you find yourself contemplating, and so it’s nice to make that connection, with People We Love being here, as we approach All Souls Day and Remembrance Sunday.”
Coming face to face with the human face on screen at a time when we have had to wear masks adds to the installation’s impact. “During the pandemic, we’ve talked about how people have been masked, when so much of the face and emotional expression is hidden, but all these faces in People We Love are without masks and that makes them all the more powerful,” says Kit.
Silence is important to the installation: “We could have had the sitters talking, but that’s not what this work is about. It’s about human connection, and a desire to have that connection, without the need for conversation,” says Kit.
“You can just look into their eyes and empathise with them. It’s not about knowing about what someone is feeling, but being supportive and understanding.
“You don’t have to emote with words; it can be all in the face. Besides, if you ask the people you’re filming to tell you about the person in the photograph and what they’re thinking, they probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as forthcoming.”
Developing this point further, Kit says: “What always strikes me is that it’s just so rare to see an ‘uncurated’ face, faces that are stripped of self-consciousness. In People We Love, they are genuinely being themselves in that moment. It’s a privilege to hold them in our gaze as they do that.
“We have just filmed them; we have not ‘curated’ the videos in any way; we are just showing people as they are. That’s where it differs from advertising or portraits.”
The power of imagination is important to People We Love. “If you are just showing a human face, it is still fascinating, but when you know they are looking at someone they love, that sparks the imagination,” says Kit.
“Our culture in the modern world has robbed us of the space for our inner imagination because instead it’s been commodified amid the rise of binge-watching. Our inner space has been bought, but this installation is unapologetically about imagination. Empathy and imagination are two bedfellows here.”
People We Love is testament to “the invisible thread that binds us all” – love – as we seek to understand each silent story. “Because that’s what we do every day, isn’t it, as we try to reach out and understand what’s going on behind the eyes of another.”
YORK Mediale’s People We Love installation has now been commissioned by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership in the United States, where it will open next April in its first international showing.
In keeping with KMA’s York template, the team there has filmed Pittsburgh people looking at photos of someone they love, and on November 5, the York Minster installation replaced the videos of York residents with around 70 people from the Pennsylvanian city.
Participation in the project was especially meaningful for siblings John and Penny Mateer. John lives in York and his sister Penny is an artist in Pittsburgh; they have not seen each other since the start of the pandemic . Penny took part in the project and her face was among those shown on the screen in the Minster for one day only.
Penny said: “Even though I am camera shy, I had to participate in this project because of its theme. I also had to participate because my brother John, a video-effect producer, lives in York. I was surprised to feel such emotion and love through focusing only on a photograph during the guided meditation. It was truly cathartic.
“Those feelings of community, connection and love, which we’ve all missed because of the pandemic, are needed now more than ever.”
John said: “It was a great surprise when my sister Penny told me that she was participating in People We Love and I couldn’t wait to see her contribution.
“As she’s an artist, I’m used to seeing her on the ‘other side of the frame’, so to speak, not as part of the work itself. Having known Kit Monkman for nearly 20 years, I knew it would be something special. How serendipitous that he chose to use my hometown for the installation’s US debut and how wonderful that I could see it in my current home of York.”
Artist Monkman said: “People We Love is a work with global appeal; the ability to read a loving human face is universal. Every face tells its own unique story, and each and every edition of People We Love speaks of and to its own community. That’s why I was so excited to bring the varied and poignantly beautiful faces of Pittsburgh to one of the world’s most contemplative spaces.”
Tom Higham, York Mediale’s creative director of York Mediale, concluded: “It’s so exciting that a project that started out at York Mediale is travelling over to the US next year. People We Love is such a profoundly moving installation. It feels very personal to be looking at a person as they contemplate the face of someone they love, and I know that audiences in Pittsburgh will feel the same connection.”