Virtual visionaries

Emma O’Kelly anticipates an audiovisual feast this week as a high-tech collaborative show involving DJs, artists and Net link-ups opens in Glasgow.

French artist Orlan may frequently subject herself to the surgeon’s scalpel, but would she rig herself up to the Internet via electrodes and trust hapless surfers worldwide to control her muscle movements? Australian artist Stelarc uses what sounds like a form of electroshock therapy to demonstrate his belief that the next stage in evolution is to incorporate technology into the body. To this end, he can be seen wiring himself up in Glasgow this weekend in a three-day collaborative exhibition.

Entitled the Virtual World Orchestra (VWO) and organised by NVA Organisation, the show consists of sculptors, live performance artists and musicians from more than 150 countries. In a huge empty space which, 20 years ago, was the fruit market in Glasgow’s Candleriggs, images, sounds and text will be blasted on to huge screens via the Net. The result will be a “hybrid club atmosphere”, says director of NVA Angus Farquhar. He believes this approach “is a more direct way to develop ideas, now that there is a huge crossover in media and the conventional Victorian theatre idea is dead”.

Glasgow graphics group Locofoco and the indefatigable Tomato have tackled the theme of size, from molecular to universal, which runs parallel to the technology theme. Locofoco’s Alistair Bell explains: “More than 1000 images will move through a colour spectrum and form a backdrop to the show”. Farquhar says: “I have chosen artists with different radical perspectives to take part. Tomato has given me no clues as to what to expect, but it will no doubt be outstanding.”

This is not the first time Farquhar has put together such a site-specific and collaborative event. In 1995 he organised Stormy Waters in Glasgow’s River Clyde docklands, an audiovisual music and performance art event. Tomato was involved that time around, too.

Farquhar has always been drawn to the avant garde. He is a former member of Eighties industrial band Test Department – a “pre-techno band along the lines of Cabaret Voltaire”. He left the band in 1989 to set up on his own, organising collaborative exhibitions. He will be DJ-ing at the Glasgow event under his stage name of Dr Rapiniki, and will incorporate sounds coming over the Net into rhythmic sequences which will coincide with live percussion. Since the event starts at 9pm and finishes at around 2am, punters will have the chance to express themselves in any way they feel fit in the “disco pit”. If all this is starting to sound like a Wim Wenders movie, don’t worry – he hasn’t called on any trapeze artists or talking angels to perform.

Farquhar reveres technology: “In the world of arts, technician used to be a dirty word. But thanks to the likes of Robert Wilson who pioneered technology in the theatre, it has become acceptable”. And it is not only Farquhar and his motley crew who are aware of the importance of technology to modern life. Scottish Telecom has sponsored the event to the tune of 30 000, and is helping with the communication link-ups.

Let’s hope this event succeeds in conveying its message to visitors in a clear and accessible way. There is always a danger in tagging something as “avant garde”. You tend to imagine a group of people standing around in a dark space taking themselves far too seriously. With between 1000 and 3000 people expected at VWO for three hours of clubbing under spectacular lighting and to interesting graphics, maybe this event will get rid of this stereotype – and not before time. On the other hand, Farquhar eulogises: “Art is stuck in superficial discussions and if it is to be relevant it must address scientific issues… “

The NWO website can be accessed at

NWO takes place in the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow from 4-6 April from 9pm-2am. Tickets range from 8-10. Call 0141-227 5511 for details.

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