Jenna McDonald interviews Primary Artist Residents Reactor about how they approach collaboration to produce new work and their current projects.
Tell us about Reactor, your practice and the work that you do.
Reactor is a collaboration, a collective that has gone through many iterations of itself at different points in time, with different numbers of people involved. Reactor started in 2002, at its biggest it had eight people involved at its core, now it is Niki, Susie and a fluctuating group of collaborators.
Can you tell us about the models or approaches you would say define Reactor?
Typically we have used live situations, and we see this as differentiated from performance. By this we mean that Reactor creates situations in which people participate to make the work happen. We also make and use pre-existing objects that culminate in large-scale installations; video and sound; sculptural elements and paintings and drawings within our work.
More recently Reactor has been working predominantly with video, but the ways we produce video-based work still utilises large-scale installation, performance and collaboration. For example we develop specific scenarios for chosen individuals who co-produce the work within or with Reactor and nothing is off limits. Continuing Reactor’s interest in social microcosms these scenarios and environments help us collectively create worlds that other people populate; the idea of a slightly warped reality, or an ‘as if’ situation that you enter into and exist within.
How do you use your studio here at Primary and what do you keep in the space?
The space is flexible and operates as office meets archive meets kitchen meets storage meets workspace. Depending on what we are working on the main part of the studio can shift from a completely empty space to full to the brim in a short period of time. We have also invited other people to do one off events within our studio (as ‘Reactor Halls’, 2012-17, and we might do more in the future).
At the moment we have the remains of a set we built last year, which was utilised by a group of collaborators in order to experiment with a workshop process and produce new video.
Reactor doesn’t have a consistent approach to making work in the studio, we generally spend a lot of time sitting around and discussing ideas, and then at certain points we rapidly make things together – so the studio environment fluctuates greatly across the year. However, we couldn’t make the work we do without a studio like this.
Can you tell me anything about a current project?
For the last four years we have been working on ‘The Gold Ones’; a performance-fiction, that a group of characters collectively known as ‘The Gold Ones’ inhabit. They are like semi-gods, who exist in a different temporal dimension. These characters are seemingly superhuman, but at the same time they are unable to look after themselves – this is where the idea of the ‘Cosmic Care Home’ comes in – what happens to Gods when they are unable to look after themselves?
We are currently working on something that came out of our participation in Plymouth Art Weekender in 2016. We made a large public sculpture that sat in a shopping street – inside there was an animation related to the idea of the Gold Ones, produced via a computer game we had built. The animation was therefore not scripted but had the potential to develop different narratives through gameplay.
We enjoyed producing the first version of the compuyter game for Plymouth and what this format has allowed us to think about and do. It also highlighted issues surrounding compatibility with different operating systems which we would like to resolve so we can test how the game might stand up in the gaming world compared to that of a more typical art audience.
A digital version of the Cosmic Care Home created through the video game can expand the reaches of the care home in ways we don’t yet know are possible and goes beyond the scenarios and environments of the Gold Ones world in a way that we can’t explore within the spatial limits of the studio. This also means the game does not have to follow the laws of physics.
We will be releasing modules from this game online in spring/summer of this year.
Do you have any other projects coming up in the future?
At the moment we are predominantly focusing on the computer game. However we have retained the set in our studio, as we want to further develop the live workshop process and explore what the position of the audience might be within this. This relates to the longer term ambitions for completing ‘The Gold Ones’ and developing different ways of presenting this. One way is through a much more complex, live installation; a situation where people collaborating with Reactor are embedded in the Cosmic Care Home and the Gold Ones world over an extended period of time to develop the work and allow it to evolve. We are currently asking how can an audience encounter this as a live work, and how can the boundaries between the live space and video installation be broken down?