Saturday, 14 August 2010


16 – 25 July 2010
IF Milton Keynes International Festival 2010

IF is not the first Arts festival for Milton Keynes but it has certainly been my favourite. With a really great line up of events for all tastes I’m sure that anyone who attended would have found something to suite them. So, on a grey Sunday afternoon my partner Jill and I set out with some friends to see two very different art experiences.

“Mirazozo” created by the Architects of Air is a luminarium style walk in sculpture. It was set up in the Station square and, from the outside, was reminiscent of a certain episode of South Park involving cats (if you’ve seen it you will know what I’m talking about). From the outside the grey domes rise up like a form of alien architecture and create an interesting feature on the skyline, but it’s not from the outside that you want to experience this.

Upon entering through the air lock we were greeted by a steward who gave us some background information about Mirazozo, at this point I was pretty excited and just wanted to get inside. Everything she said went in one ear and flew out the other, I was a bit like a child in a sweet shop, but with someone blocking the door insisting on telling me the history of sweets first. Finally allowed to enter all I can say is WOW! It was incredible. I had a full sensory meltdown. The luminarium is made up of a series of small rooms and linking corridors, all through the space are small pods set back in the walls where you can sit and relax. The design is influenced by Islamic architecture. A series of straight lines formed by coloured light create geometric patterns in the upper sections of the rooms that rise up by about twenty to thirty feet in height. The real magic is the simplicity of the lighting effects created by natural light from outside penetrating thinner areas of coloured plastic and bouncing around the grey metallic walls. It’s a world of psychedelic colours that blend and bleed into one another.

The only way I felt it could be improved was if you could make the environment zero gravity and float through the space, we have the slight problem with technology there. It was nice to slowly make my way through, absorbing the colours and then sitting in the pods and relaxing. The real world outside no longer mattered and all I wanted to do was sit there and contemplate.
This kind of work which creates an almost physical experience of colour has always been a favourite of mine and, like the James Turrell light sculptures that I have visited numerous times in previous years, this is a must see. Mirazozo lacks the intellectual depth that you get from Turrell, it could be best described as when art meets an amusement park. Visitors of all ages walked through with a look of wonder in their eyes. So, if you ever get the opportunity to see this, do it.

The second installation was “Asleep at the Wheel” by artist Janek Schaefer. This was situated in the empty Sainsburys store at the food hall in the Center MK. Janek is a sound artist and once resident of Milton Keynes. He has exhibited and performed across the world and has had success in the Sonic Art world, winning several awards.

The old Sainsburys store was where I used to do my weekly shopping. The store had closed years earlier and seemed strange to say the least. With all the shelves and counters removed I was surprised by the shear size of the space. The windows were all blacked out and the lights were off, this made the space seem bigger still. On one side a large circular table with armchairs set around it and TVs that you could sit and watch, listening on headphones. On the left the cigarette kiosk, the only resemblance from the old store, had its lights on and people serving hot and cold drinks. If I didn’t know I was walking into an art installation I would have thought I was at a surreal WI coffee morning. It was bizarre. The people sitting watching the tv’s seemed as if they existed outside of time, they sat taking no notice of us walking in. Maybe this was the installation?

“Asleep at the wheel” is based on the theme of cars. Janek has created what he describes as a “ghost road” which cuts diagonally through the far side of the vacant store. A series of cars are randomly lined up across lanes of an artificial road, each facing in the same direction. The cars have their hazard lights flashing and this becomes the light source for the work. This dissection of the cars from where you would normally see them is very spooky, you feel as if the people who have left them have done so in an apocalyptic hurry. We the viewers are allowed to walk between all the cars and are invited to sit inside each of them. Once inside a car you feel cocooned, the front windows are frosted out as if it’s a rainy winter’s morning, the flashing hazards and silhouettes of other viewers outside become distorted and ghostly giving the experience an almost morbid feel. You are reassured by the sounds of the stereo as it plays ambient noises overlaid with people talking about technology and an optimistic hope for the future. This juxtaposition of morbid and optimistic feelings I thought was quite cleverly created by the work.

Asleep at the wheel has a deeper underlying message about green issues that it highlights in quite a subtle way. The road is a metaphor for the technological journey that our species is travelling along. We are the consumer of our planets resources and create new technologies with little understanding of what is at the end of this road. Is it going to be a hideous car crash with humans becoming extinct or will the road just go on forever.

I enjoyed this journey along Janek’s ghost road. I enjoyed the interaction that we the viewer could have, this is something I would like to see more of. If art can challenge our perception of the world and use all our senses in doing so, the strength of the illusion is greater. Today I felt that both installations have done this, even if in two very different ways.