Genetic Automata by Larry Achiampong and David Blandy / credit: Kathryn Rattray Photography
Scotland's international digital arts festival challenges outmoded systems with its most politically-charged programme yet
The streets of Dundee will be filled with scenes of protest, celebration and solidarity as the North East of North Digital Arts Festival – better known as NEoN – returns to the city from Mon 4 to Sun 10 November.
In the wake of recent seismic socio-political upheavals – from #MeToo and the yellow vest movement, to Brexit and the rise of the far-right – NEoN is recognising the important response of activists and communities to these events by taking on the theme of REACT for this year's edition. Questions such as what protest will and must look like in a digital age, and what role digital arts can play in our political systems, permeate across this rich and diverse programme.
Steve Jackson: Capitalism Works for Me – True/False / credit: Bryony Jackson
Highlights include American artist Steve Lambert's public art installation 'Capitalism Works for Me – True/False' outside Steeple Church, which will see passersby vote on whether they feel that they benefit from capitalism's profit and competition-driven model on a 20-foot long illuminated scoreboard. Local emerging artists will also be papering the streets with posters that personally address this year's theme in 'Take (to) the streets', exploring issues of identity, humanity, democracy and more.
Over in Generator Projects, NEoN will be hosting two exhibitions: Genetic Automata by Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, which explores how notions of race and identity in an age of avatars, video games and DNA testing, as well as Dundee artist Toby Jackson's Sensor, a series of live digital installations that questions what happens to anonymity and privacy in a world of digital surveillance.
Meanwhile the annual group exhibition, curated by Weave by Abertay at the Wellgate Shopping Centre, takes on the title of Re:make/Re:sist, and will showcase an empowering history of activism and digital arts. Selected works include Tina Keane's film about women's struggle against nuclear armament through the ages, to Matthew Plummer-Fernandez's 'Echo Youth', which uses AR technology to re-frame physical protest in a digital era.
The exhibition also provides the chance to see Addie Wagenknecht's 'The Liberator Vases', which sees 3D printed handguns rendered useless and formed into a series of vases, as well as the massively popular 'Barbie Liberation Organisation' project by Igor Vamos (member of the culture jamming duo Yes Men), which playfully deconstructed gender norms. Irene (Tokini) Fubara-Manuel will bring her video game 'Dreams of Disguise: Errantry' to the exhibition, which allows users to experience issues of agency at border crossings. Joseph DeLappe, NEoN associate curator and Professor of Games and Tactical Media at Abertay University, will also be reflecting upon gun culture and gaming through his gaming mod 'Elegy: GTA USA Gun Homicides'.
Igor Vamos: Barbie Liberation Organisation / credit: Kathryn Rattray Photography
Another central tenet to this year's theme is how digital art can help people engage with the important socio-political issues of our times, and to this end, NEoN's programme also boasts a range of workshops designed to help the public react to the ideas that the festival elicits. The Activity Room in the Wellgate Centre will host a series of workstations wherein participants can make zines, create GIFs or protest paraphernalia, while artist Johanna Hoffman's 'Planning Your Climate Change Future' will help audiences look forward into the future and visualise what rising global temperatures will do to our livelihoods.
On the subject of identity, Kyle T. McKelvie's 'Transient Vessels' will open discussions into the fundamental values behind avatar creation, while Zoyander Street and Jennifer Booth's 'Cis Penance' will bring together non-binary and gender queer individuals to imagine new potentials through technology.
Field Music headlines NEoN at Night
In addition to the much-beloved NEoN at Night, which, as previously announced, will feature the Mercury-nominated band Field Music, another highlight of NEoN is the opportunity to hear directly from a wide range of international artists and academics that come to discuss their work. This year's symposium has expanded to a three-day event, titled 'Re@ct: Social Change Art Technology', and will bring together 50 artists, activists and theorists to explore how past, present and future digital art practices can help us navigate uncertain futures.
Donna Holford-Lovell, NEoN's director, says of the programme: 'Together we can challenge the systems which no longer work for us or represent us. With the help of artists we can radically rethink how we learn, enact change and how we engage new forms of digital activism, in solidarity with one another.'
NEoN Digital Arts Festival celebrates the festival with a night of technology driven acts. Expect performances from Mercury-nominated English duo Field Music, and an energetic after party set from local DJs Wee Beastie and RHL.