Playful visions of the future of technology are springing up across Brighton this month, from dystopian immortality machines to global choirs, open to the public and mostly free.
The Brighton Digital Festival includes conferences, performances and installations based on artistic approaches to the digital world and vice versa. Arts co-ordinator Laurence Hill says it is the most expansive to date: “In 2011 there were 40-odd events . This year it’s topped 180.”
Among the events are six officially commissioned “experiences”, funded by the Arts Council. Familiars, running until 20 September, is an example of how unusual and esoteric these commissions are.
Data from shipping, railway and aviation activity within a 100-kilometre (62-mile) radius of Brighton is translated live into a network of audiovisual formats and broadcast inside a darkened chamber. “We’re totally dependent on it, but it’s also very abstracted. “Transport infrastructure is enormous,” says Georgina Voss, who masterminded the experience with Wesley Goatley. There’s a weird glitch between the importance of these systems and how little we know about them.”
Leila Johnston’s sci-fi experience How To Live Forever aims to be similarly absorbing. Running for two days (22-23 September) and housed in a “specially made booth/tent”, the piece posits a near future in which we can extend our lives indefinitely by digitising our brains. Johnston hopes to engage her “volunteers” by putting them through the motions of uploading their brains, and having them investigate the idea of perpetual life. “Speculative technology is the window-dressing,” she explains, “but the show is really about belief.”
More eccentric still is James Shreeve’s “alternate reality” installation Mood Vendor, in the audience visits a futuristic clinic where they undergo “treatment” to make them happier, developed by a shadowy community of thinkers.
“I’m an autistic artist,” says Shreeve, “and Mood Vendor came out of a joke I had with my friends, when we were discussing utopia. I said, “In a perfect world, people like me would live far away, and we’d work on greater things.”
This premise snowballed into the concept behind his immersive, unsettling artwork, at the festival from 23-30 September.
“I’m excited and terrified at the same time”, says Shreeve – an attitude his audience may well share.