A look back at this year’s Fact-commissioned pieces and live performances filmed around the world.

In 2021, Fact launched a new series of original commissions from some of the world’s most exciting artists across music, visual art, dance and filmmaking. These commissions included a music video directed by FKA twigs, an autobiographical work from choreographer Holly Blakey, a film about United Visual Artists’ striking installation at Printworks London and several works at LUX: New Wave of Contemporary Art, a group exhibition at London’s 180 Studios co-curated by Fact and SUUM Project.

This year, Fact also travelled to Italy’s Nextones Festival and Metabolic Rift, a month-long event from the team behind Berlin Atonal that combined live performance and installations. At these festivals we filmed live performances from artists including Caterina Barbieri, who this year premiered her new light-years platform, and LABOUR, who presented a fresh work in the halls of Berlin’s Kraftwerk. Meanwhile, at 180 Studios, we welcomed Paul Institute artist Ruthven, who presented new work alongside his band.

Here we present some of Fact’s 2021 commissions alongside highlights from a year of live performance, all produced in spite of another year of challenging creative conditions.

Holly Blakey: Phantom

Phantom was the first of Fact’s new series of commissions. Filmed at 180 Studios, the work was devised and directed by choreographer and dancer Holly Blakey, featuring original music from Gwilym Gold, as well as costumes from London-based designers Chopova Lowena.

Despite always working from an intensely personal place, Holly Blakey has never considered any of her work to be wholly autobiographical, until she worked on Phantom. Originally commissioned by the London Contemporary Dance School for the EDGE Postgraduate Dance Company, Phantom is described by Blakey as “a ritualistic summoning of something that never arrives”, a spiritual interrogation of the symbolism and aesthetics of pagan fertility rites and a wry ode to folk dance traditions. Though she draws heavily from the esoteric and supernatural, the narrative of the piece is very much lifted from Blakey’s own life, rising up out of a very real place. “Phantom was made because I was commissioned to go and make this new work for EDGE and I had just had a miscarriage,” explains Blakey. “I felt completely exhausted and pretty helpless and I hadn’t any ideas and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t have much strength.”

LUX: Julianknxx – Black Corporeal (Breathe)

Interdisciplinary poet, visual artist and filmmaker Julianknxx creates evocative work that combines the written word with imagery and performance. Born in Sierra Leone and now based in London, Julianknxx’s practice drwas inspiration from the stories and languages of his birth place while exploring themes of inheritance, loss, belonging and the collective Black experience.

In Julianknxx’s work Black Corporeal (Breathe) – commissioned by 180 Studios and showing now at LUX: New Wave of Contemporary Art – the artist examines the relationship between materiality and the Black psyche. It explores the idea that our ability to breathe – an act that is challenged by everything from air pollution, stress, anxiety and societal prejudice – is more than our lung’s ability to take in air, but a reflection of the way we live individually and together.

United Visual Artists at Printworks London

Earlier this year, as the UK’s clubs prepared for a full return to events after more than a year of lockdown measures, United Visual Artists was commissioned by Broadwick Live, the company behind the iconic Printworks London venue, to create a site-specific installation to mark the reopening of the club. The audiovisual concept imagines Printworks London as a sentient being, reawakening after its long slumber, using lighting and visuals to create a work that evolves and tells a narrative across the course of each event at the venue.

In this film, commissioned by Fact and made possible thanks to United Visual Artists and Broadwick Live, UVA’s Matt Clark reveals how the industrial architecture of Printworks London – once one of the largest newspaper printing factories in western Europe – and the country’s emergence from lockdown inspired him to create an installation that engages in a dialogue with audience feels as if conscious of its interior.

Koreless – ‘White Picket Fence’ (dir. FKA twigs)

In the video for Koreless’s ‘White Picket Fence’, directed by FKA twigs, the Welsh producer takes a fishing trip in a Lamborghini accompanied by three dancers, while a young boy wanders into the scene. The surreal visual, which is the first to be directed by FKA twigs for another artist, reflects both the earthy tones and mysterious qualities of Koreless’s track, which is taken from Agor, his debut album for Young. The visual, which was produced by creative studio Object & Animal, is a co-commission between Young and Fact.

“Lewis is not only a dear friend of mine but also one of my favourite collaborators,” twigs says of the collaboration. “His sonic palette is equally as alien and otherworldly as it is grounded and in me it evokes feelings of being close to nature. For Lewis’ video I wanted to create this in a visual. The mystery intertwined with a feeling of familiarity. The ‘White Picket Fence’ visual is a modern day reenactment of a fable that doesn’t exist. Each character represents a sound in the music and the audience is a voyeur as the music is personified into a mystical happening.”

Nextones Festival 2021: Caterina Barbieri presents light-years

Over the summer, Fact travelled to Italy’s Nextones Festival to film a selection of performances from the event, which takes place at Cava La Beola di Monte, a historic quarry located between the shores of Lake Maggiore and Val D’Ossola.

The festival’s headline performance was the world premiere of Italian composer and modular synthesist Caterina Barbieri’s new label platform curated showcase, light-years. Sharing a name with her new label platform, light-years aw Barbieri perform with a changing cast of collaborators, which in this show included saxophonist Bendik Giske, Nkisi and MFO.

Paul Institute Presents: Ruthven, Live at 180 Studios

To mark the release of his new single, Fact invited Ruthven and his band members into 180 Studios to play some new songs. Directed by Jasper Brown, the performance features an all-new live band, including Ben Reed, who featured on Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Endless, on bass, Avi Barath, who was the musical director for Berwyn & Pa Salieu, on keys, Nicola Sipprell on backing vocals, Calum Duncan on guitar and Ellis Dupuy on drums.

“Music’s kind of been life for me,” admits Ruthven. Growing up around a family of musicians and music lovers, the vocalist, songwriter, producer and proud Paul Institute alumnus would accompany his mother to piano lessons she would teach throughout south London. “I got to know Jazz Piano Grade Three in the ’90s,” he explains, “I know them pieces. They’re just locked in my head.” It’s from this early introduction that Ruthven developed what he considers to be his greatest musical asset, his ear. “I feel like I can hear where the parts are going to go,” he says.

LABOUR live at Metabolic Rift

In September 2021, the team behind Berlin Atonal launched a new live concept in response the challenging conditions presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. Titled Metabolic Rift, the month-long event series combined both an exhibition spread across Berlin’s Kraftwerk venue and a series of concerts that captured the spirit of Berlin through site-specific interventions and live performance. 

LABOUR’s Metabolic Rift performance, which was captured by Fact, featured the debut of a brand new show from the Berlin-based multidisciplinary artists Farahnaz Hatam and Colin Hacklander. LABOUR says: ‘the hit of enlightenment (بیگانگی)’ debuted at Metabolic Rift 2021, beginning where ‘next time, die consciously (بیگانگی)’ ended the 2018 festival: both musically with an articulation of architectural and acoustic space, and conceptually with the realisation that heteronomy is the condition of all things – that external forces create our notion of self which tends to be constructable and therefore de-constructable.”

LUX: Es Devlin – ‘BLUESKYWHITE’

In this film, we spoke to Es Devlin about the inspiration behind her latest installation, ‘BLUESKYWHITE’, a large-scale work commissioned by 180 Studios, which is currently showing at LUX: New Wave of Contemporary Art. The work combines light, music and language, and was conceived as a sculptural expression of our emotional response to the possible extinction of blue sky.

The installation is formed of two parts: In Part I, text from Byron’s 1816 poem Darkness underscores the viewer’s passage through a 24m long red-lit tunnel. Part II draws from contemporary solar geo-engineering models documented by Elizabeth Kolbert and others which suggest that a haze of suspended particles might reduce global temperature to pre-industrial levels and might also turn the blue sky white.

Listen next: Fact 2021: Mixes

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