I walked over the rubble of the demolished Rialto Cinema in Broughton, Salford. A single plush red chair arm which had in the past held a stream of thousands of elbows, or separated back row kisses lay amongst old broken bricks and tiles. The black and white marble foyer floor still invited people off the street onto the rubble. Kids crossing the site told me there's going to be a McDonalds there soon.
Imagine the web equivalent, an old site perhaps "last updated 20 - 12 - 94", a broken hypertext link inviting you to "my favourite movie page" which leads to an Error 404 message, a dead end. A broken image icon described by the line "This is my house". The Server closes the account of the increasingly unpopular and forgotten author and sells the space to a company who's site it has recently begun to host.
Data on computers has been described in spatial terms since at least the inception of the multi user text spaces of MUD's and MOO's and certainly in such common metaphors as the 'desktop'. We feel comfortable within a metaphor of real architectural space, whether or not it is in fact the most useful or interesting way to deal with computers or the net.
One of the most glaring differences between 'real' and internet 'space' is the nature of things becoming old. Programming code is re-used, borrowed and patched together in new ways, taking on some of the characteristics of its previous author's intention, having others added, the content it deals with varying wildly. The space that is used both conceptually and physically may also be re-used, but that re-use is more often than not a writing-over that erases at the click of a mouse. Out with the old, in with the new, update software, upgrade hardware. A file made 2 generations of software ago is often no longer accessible by the current version.
What does the derelict or the disused offer us that we miss out on in computer 'space'? How do we access and use the disused and derelict [web]sites of the past. How do we negotiate the current lust for the newest, latest, shiniest piece of technology.
Autoparts is an exhibition of the work of 12 artists who have made 10 new works in a building that dates back to 1878 when it was the first in the area to incorporate the 'tower brewing system'. The building has recently been bought by IDEA. It is to be renovated at the end of the year 2000, to become a centre for "innovation" in digital and electronic arts.
So what legacy will the building itself have on these renovations, on this latest in a continuing line of uses? If we picture the building as an interface which has allowed people to access, use and work within the technologies of brewing, fruit preserving, motor accessories and now the digital and electronic arts, how has that interface changed as each new process is seen through its architecture? How have those technologies reflected upon it, and how can we use its current emptiness to re-interpret the architecture of this interface.
In an open call artists were invited to propose works that would intervene in the building at this moment in time, which would use digital and electronic technologies to reflect upon and interrupt the fabric of the building, to take charge of this interface and insert different and individual responses to it and its past read through its current state.
The artists chosen for the exhibition have approached this in a variety of ways. Most works in some way refer to the previous uses of the building, some through evocative use of audio and visual elements directly related to brewing, bottling or car spares, others through an articulation of the process of flux within the building, in the technologies used through that history and their influence on the surrounding environment. A concern with the transferral of agency from the production of consumer objects to the digital production of information design is evident within many of the works, as a factory building becomes a managed workspace for small businesses dealing with virtual commodities. Through both action and image the alternative history of the individual in relation to the building is articulated through installed works.
Each work draws our attention to aspects of the buildings past, present and future and then reflects our gaze back outside. The works are not descriptions of the space of technology couched in the language of architectural installation, but are temporary interfaces to a building and an area which has a history of build and re-build, use, disuse and re-use, of shifting populations and changing fortunes.