Introducing AND Festival 2020

Fri 31 Jan 2020

Jonathan May, Director (maternity cover) introduces the site for AND Festival 2020

This year Abandon Normal Devices’ roaming biennial of new cinema, digital culture and art, will be exploring the industrial waterways of the North West. Across four days, the festival will see a host of site-specific installations, world premieres and performative journeys through docklands and across the water, possessing found industrial sites in Merseyside and Cheshire. From steamboats to floating laboratories, intersectional ecologies to infrastructure fiction, AND will take to the water to explore the uncharted and rewrite industrial narratives.

Following two festivals that inhabited rural and natural sites, we’re excited to bring AND back to urban space. Placing the festival within an industrial context allows us to rub against heritage infrastructure and narratives that have formed the North West. Through AND Festival 2020, world-class artists and critical thinkers will offer provocative perspectives and alternative accounts of these hidden infrastructures, and the ecologies that permeate this ubiquitous industrial network. AND will travel this global trade gateway via the River Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal to explore our past, present and future industries, their ecologies, and how these infiltrate and affect our own bodies.

The ports and their waterways are part of a liminal space which mediates land and sea. Loading and unloading, checking and weighing, logging and queueing; this is the threshold between the means of our everyday life, and a complex system of inhuman scale and increased automation. Underpinning this is the immense Victorian architecture of canals, locks and ports that once represented the height of economic innovation, cutting routes from the Irish Sea through open countryside to link cities and catalyse communities. Undeniably one of the most iconic waterways is the Manchester Ship Canal, a staggering and colossal feat of engineering., It’s five sets of huge locks – able to take boats up to 180 meters in length – have lifted ocean-going vessels 18 meters along the thirty-six-mile route from the Mersey Estuary all the way to Manchester for the last 125 years. 

It is true that the Manchester Ship Canal can be viewed as the HS2 of the 19th Century; fiercely contested by the Port of Liverpool and the railway company, it had a profound effect on the social and economic fabric of the region. Crisscrossed by seven swing bridges, five high-level railway viaducts, four high-level road bridges, its immensity remains largely hidden from sight and public consciousness, yet it continues to function to this day with over 7.5 million tonnes of cargo passing through each year. Today, products from oil refineries, recycling plants, shipping containers terminals, wind farms and agriculture are transported from the water banks to sites across the region and globe. 

Whilst the Manchester Ship Canal endures, the vast network of canals have fallen into various states of abandonment. These former arteries for the Industrial Revolution are regularly used to offer portraits of the decline in manufacturing and shifts in power, from water to rail to road and onto the digital network. Dereliction has led these canals to act as ‘wet skips’ for dumping shopping trolleys and waste, whilst becoming sanctuaries for urban and rural wildlife, effectively forming a network of linear ponds. But delve below the surface, and it’s not long until you bypass the established narratives of the past, present and future that perpetuate our myth of normality and progress, and you encounter a connection with the raw weirdness of our times in a never-ending array of ecological possibilities.

Locked away beneath the oily cloak of the surface, the world beneath these waters is where an almost unimaginable, and largely unknown wealth of life inhabits. Extended ecologies unfold blurring lines between the organic and inorganic in strange and wonderful ways. Thriving below the horizontally distributed material and immaterial trade networks lays a process of living interconnectedness that exists with the waste and detritus of industry. Delve deep and you uncover a flow between living and non-living systems which dissolve our anthropocentric categories and artificial distinctions between nature, ourselves and our technology. Searching beneath these waters reveals the ways in which the accidental byproducts of our industrial society act upon both the bodies of other species and our own.

 AND Festival 2020 is a space to suspend established understandings for how we define ourselves, our relationship with our industry, and the ecologies we are a part of. AND will materialise on water, docklands, ferries and factories, offering a programme of site-specific, interactive, immersive, one-off experiences that read infrastructure and waterways from the global horizontal to the microbial depths, from the anthropomorphic into the distinctly in-human. AND invites artists to challenge complacent readings of normality and offer new accounts for how, and with what, we coexist.

AND invites you to abandon your normal devices and submerge yourself in this industrial waterscape.


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