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Merge Bankside Festival

22 September 2015 Imogen Greenberg

Now in its fifth year, Merge Bankside is a festival that promotes interactive and immersive art, transforming London’s riverside with innovative projects that will change your perspective on the arts. London Calling headed down to Bankside for a sneak peak at some of the projects involved in this year’s festival...

Merge Bankside is just 5 years old, but has fast established a reputation, driven by the innovative and prestigious artists they’ve secured in recent years, presenting installation pieces that are interactive and immersive. This year’s line up is set to be another stellar one, with their theatre line up as impressive as their arts offer.

Standing on America Street in Southwark, with the South Eastern train rumbling overhead, Arch 37 is utterly unremarkable, a brick façade you might just walk past. But step inside, and it has been transformed in to On Your Wavelength, a collaboration between Marcus Lyall and Rob Thomas. It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Once inside, visitors are invited to put on a headset and be part of the mind-powered laser and sound installation. The headset monitors brain activity, specifically your focus, which is processed to create the immersive light and sound installation that reacts to you personally. Visitors take part one at a time so each has a unique experience. You are asked to stand on a platform in the darkness, and look straight ahead. Once the installation starts, your eyes are absorbed in to a tunnel of lasers that surrounds you, intense and mesmerising. As you focus more, the music rises to a crescendo. The more it draws you in, the more it changes the way you’re thinking, heightening the intensity. Descriptions and photos don’t do it justice, and only experiencing it allows you to experience the unique ‘brain signature’.

This year’s Merge Bankside is particularly good at transforming everyday or unnoticed spaces in the area, with art works that change your perspective. Colourful Crossings takes one single spot in Southwark and shines a spotlight on it. When the unknowing public walk through the spotlight, the sound of applause and cheering rises with their movement. Baffled commuters look around for the source, and half the fun of this piece is watching other people’s confusion. It uses a real-time audience simulation and motion sensor, so it feels as if a 500-strong audience is applauding just for you, and the more you move, the more they applaud. Of course, the spotlight is most visible at night, when it becomes a haunt for those heading home late, as they do everything from tap dance to get naked for an imaginary and attentive audience. Artist Adam Frank wanted to create a piece of public art that turned around the creative process, applauding the public for a change. Look out for the spotlight when you’re heading through Bankside, for your very own moment in the limelight.

Bompas & Parr’s Chamber of Wishes is still under wraps, as they work through the night to perfect their algae. Drawing inspiration from archaeological remains in the area, including Roman baths, votive offerings and lost springs, the Chamber of Wishes offers visitors the chance to experience one of the ocean’s great mysteries, bioluminescent seawater, up-close. Bompas & Parr merge art, science and folklore and ask why this natural phenomenon is so mesmerising. They are also asking visitors to focus on their hopes and dreams in The Chamber of Wishes, which Bompas & Parr will turn in to a digital art work as part of the project. It’s a mystery at the moment, but tipped to be one of the festival’s best pieces as Bompas & Parr continue to pair art and science for phenomenal sensory experiences.

Alongside the art installations, Merge has put together an impressive array of exhibitions, performances, street theatre and music. Time to Be Late also looks at transforming everyday experiences, and will be bringing immersive theatre to commuters with a series of energetic and humorous scenes at bus stops on Blackfriars Road. Caravan Theatre is a golden caravan turned in to a theatre space, which is parked up by the Tate Modern for the festival. They’ve worked with emerging writers, directors and actors to present fantastic, free and immersive theatre to an intimate audience of just four. If you’re looking for free exhibitions then Merge, in partnership with the TV Times, are presenting two exhibitions to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the magazine, including incredible candid photographs taken over the years of actors, musicians and entertainers from The Beatles to Bruce Forsyth, and Cilla Black to Ella Fitzgerald. To top it all off there is a stage on the River walk by Tate Modern of free music every Saturday and Sunday.

Merge Bankside’s dedication to immersive and interactive arts means all their events, installations and experiences feel a little unique to you. It’s a great way of getting art-phobes involved, and to transform an otherwise familiar and ordinary street or room in to an experience of wonder. What’s more, nearly everything is free and drop-in. Merge Bankside is still new and emerging by the standards of London arts festivals but with this their fifth instalment, they’ve proven they’re here to stay.

Merge Bankside runs from 18th September to the 18th October. For more information, see the website.
 

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