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Featured: Blast Theory (Brighton, England)

Blast Theory is renowned internationally as one of the most adventurous artists’ groups using interactive media, creating groundbreaking new forms of performance and interactive art that mixes audiences across the internet, live performance and digital broadcasting. Led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, the group’s work explores interactivity and the social and political aspects of technology. It confronts a media saturated world in which popular culture rules, using performance, installation, video, mobile and online technologies to ask questions about the ideologies present in the information that envelops us.

Their approach:

The group makes collaborative, interdisciplinary work that is highly innovative in its process and execution. To maintain this practice requires long rigorous periods of development followed by international showings over several years that are usually context specific. Innovation and risk is central to the artists work. Blast Theory has a strong track record of taking major artistic risks – in Kidnap (1998), for example – and has tackled themes of violence, pornography and politics. The group has made major innovations in its use of technology, in its working methods, and in its business model. The uses of locative media and mixed reality in works such as Can You See Me Now? (2001) and I Like Frank (2004) have had wide impact. The group recognises that true innovation requires significant risks and it continues to be agile and highly responsive to new ideas and opportunities. Its BAFTA nomination for Technological and Social Innovation is an example of the success of that model.

Uncle Roy All Around You from Blast Theory on Vimeo.

The group’s collaboration with the University of Nottingham has grown and deepened over ten years and, to our knowledge, is the longest and most productive partnership between a university and a group of artists anywhere in the world. It has yielded four BAFTA nominations, a Prix Ars Electronica and academic papers of international significance at world leading conferences in computer science, computer human interaction and ubiquitous computing. This dialogue between scientific and artistic research now forms a core thread of Blast Theory’s practice.

In recent years the group has been increasingly widely acknowledged as innovators in games, winning the Maverick Award at the Games Developers Conference in 2005 and being represented by Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles for games design. The group’s recent game projects have probed the fundamental laws of games and of play, posing questions about the boundaries between games and the real world that also have important ramifications for art, performance and virtual worlds. The artists have contributed extensively to debates about the development of games as an artform and how games may be conceptually, intellectually and emotionally demanding while also engaging a wide audience.

Invisible Bullets from Blast Theory on Vimeo.

Blast Theory’s early work was in the field of live art. From Desert Rain (1999) onwards the relationship with live art and performance became less apparent and it is perhaps notable that, for example, the group’s participation in Live Culture at Tate Modern was as curators of a video programme. In recent years however there has been a marked recognition of the importance of the group’s thinking about performativity, presence and site specificity which has led Matt Adams to become a Visiting Professor at the Central School of Speech and Drama and an Honorary Fellow at the University of Exeter. Books such as Virtual Theatres by Gabriella Giannachi and Digital Performance by Steve Dixon have highlighted the group’s groundbreaking intermingling of the real with the virtual, the ludic with the performative and the playful with the serious.

The artists remain fascinated with how technology, especially mobile devices, might be considered to create new cultural spaces in which the work is customised and personalised for each participant and what the implications of this shift might be for artistic practice. How are the economically and culturally disenfranchised engaged amid a culture of planned obsolescence and breathless futurism. The group’s expertise has led to frequent invitations from the television industry as creators (BBC Interactive Factual and Learning, Superfine Films), as mentors (Crossover Australia, Crossover UK) and as speakers (Picnic in Amsterdam, Broadcast Summit in Adelaide etc.) (2006), a 30 minute commission for Radio 3, was a dialogue between the artists and radio listeners on their mobile phones.

Rider Spoke from Blast Theory on Vimeo.

As the development of Blast Theory’s new building at Wellington Road in Brighton with four studios nears completion there is great potential for it to act as a node within regional, national and international networks of practitioners in games, locative media, mobile applications, experimental performance, interactive art and technological innovation. Given the group’s history of exploring the urban landscape and considering the city as a networked social space a permanent, dedicated building provides exciting new artistic opportunities.

Most particularly, Matt, Ju and Nick have systematically explored the role of the audience; from Can You See Me Now? (2001), which places the audience online alongside Blast Theory runners, to Day Of The Figurines (2006), where the audience themselves populate an imaginary town and guide its outcomes. Works such as Rider Spoke (2007) and Uncle Roy All Around You (2003) use the real city to invite new roles for the audience. Uncle Roy All Around You prompted transgressive actions by players as they were asked to explore the offices and back streets of the city while Rider Spoke embeds personal recordings made by the audience into it and gives the audience license to find any path through them. These projects have posed important questions about the meaning of interaction and, especially, its limitations. Who is invited to speak, under what conditions and what that is truly meaningful can be said?


2009 So, err…
2009 Urike and Eamon Compliant
2009 Flypad
2008 You Get Me
2007 Rider Spoke
2007 Prof Tanda’s Guess-A-Ware
2006 Soft Message
2006 Day Of The Figurines
2005 Single Story Building, Tate Online
2004 Energy Gallery, The Science Museum
2004 Light Square
2004 I Like Frank
2003 Uncle Roy All Around You
2001 Can You See Me Now? – Installation
2002 Stay Home Read
2002 Single Story Building
2001 Viewfinder
2001 Can You See Me Now?
2001 An Explicit Volume
2000 Choreographic Cops In A Complicated World
2000 Sidetracks : Light Sleeper & Body Chemistry IV
1999 Desert Rain
1999 10 Backwards
1999 Route 12:36
1998 Kidnap
1998 Architecture Foundation
1998 Atomic Installation
1997 Safehouse
1997 Invisible Bullets (video)
1997 Atomic Performance
1997 Blipvert
1997 C’mon Baby, Fight! Fight! Fight!
1996 Something American
1996 Ultrapure
1996 Internal Ammunition
1995 The Gilt Remake
1994 Invisible Bullets
1994 Stampede
1992 Chemical Wedding
1991 Gunmen Kill Three

Featured Work:

In 1998 Blast Theory launched a lottery in which the winners had the chance to be kidnapped. Ten finalists around England and Wales were chosen at random and put under surveillance. Two winners were then snatched in broad daylight and taken to a secret location where they were held for 48 hours.

Kidnap from Blast Theory on Vimeo.

The two winners were Debra Burgess, a 27 year old Australian working as a temp and Russell Ward, a 19 year old from Southend working in a 24 hour convenience store.The whole process was broadcast live onto the internet. Online visitors were able to control the video camera inside the safehouse and communicate live with the kidnappers.

During the run up to Kidnap, a 45 second video – the Kidnap Blipvert – was shown at cinemas around the UK. The Blipvert carried a freephone number, allowing people to register their interest.

“My view of the performance was clouded by the terror, frustration, boredom and fury that dominated my 24 hours in captivity. Then again, maybe that was the point of it all. Certainly, no other performance I have ever seen has brought about such intense extremes of emotion.” Journalist Stephen Armstrong, The Sunday Times, 5 July 1998, following his kidnapping.

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Caden Manson is a director, media artist, and teacher. He is co-founder of the media ensemble and network, blog, and publisher, He has co-created, directed, video- and set designed 18 Big Art Group productions. Manson has shown video installations in Austria, Germany, NYC, and Portland; performed PAIN KILLER in Berlin, Singapore and Vietnam; Taught in Berlin, Rome, Paris, Montreal, NYC, and Bern; the ensemble has been co-produced by the Vienna Festival, Festival d’Automne a Paris, Hebbel Am Ufer, Rome’s La Vie de Festival, PS122, and Wexner Center for The Arts. Caden is a 2001 Foundation For Contemporary Art Fellow, is a 2002 Pew Fellow and a 2011 MacDowell Fellow. Writing has been published in PAJ, Theater Magazine, and Theater der Zeit. Caden is currently an associate professor and graduate directing option coordinator of The John Wells Directing Program at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama.

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