still from the music video for “Freefall" by Holly Childs & Gediminas Žygus. Directed by Tomasz Skibicki & Elif Satanaya Özbay, commissioned by VIRTUALLYREALITY as part of VIRTUALLYREALITY SS21: The Long Triumph, premiered via AQNB.
June 25, 2021
Interview w/ Michael Brailey
“It’s a lot” – exercises in empathy and computation with VIRTUALLYREALITY’s SS21 series ‘The Long Triumph’

 

Michael Brailey, the artistic director of VIRTUALLYREALITY, an artist-led, boundary-pushing series of events centering adventurous new music and performance in Manchester (UK) since 2017, gave us a thorough insight into the series. Both Michael and the co-director of VIRTUALLYREALITY, Callum Coomber, aim to promote innovation and inclusion in the curation of their events, oppose compromises and prejudices and create metaphors on existential, social and emotional issues that plague not only the contemporary art scene but also modern societies.

Our entire SS21 series is staying accessible until the end of July. This means you can continue to engage with our already-launched ‘The New Anxiety’, ‘Devotion’ and ‘Antagonisation’ programmes. Entertain the views of Flat Earthers, watch dancing holograms, discover fantasy border forces, fangirl over Snow White, antagonise the Power Rangers, explore dust, comprehend (racial) Capitalism, feel the weight of geolocation, have your heart broken… it’s a lot.
Tell us a few words about your experience as the artistic director and curator of VIRTUALLYREALITY. What was your motivation for founding and establishing the event series?

As an artist who used to work overwhelmingly in Classical music fields and institutions (I still do) I was unsatisfied with the majority of museum-like, archaeological, Classical canon-propagating programmes/systems that my work was being situated in. I wanted to make space to present my work in contexts I was passionate about, provide space for peers to do the same, and showcase work I admired that wasn’t being performed in the UK.

Image from B Covington Sam-Sumana’s media complex ‘Ally Theatre: Excerpt from SYZYGY I’ commissioned by VIRTUALLYREALITY as part of VIRTUALLYREALITY SS21: The Long Triumph.
VIRTUALLYREALITY has been taking place since 2017, offering adventurous and boundary-pushing events. What has been the overall creative direction of the series during all these years?

Early on, it felt important to make connections between electronic/club-culture-adjacent music and experimental music from more institutionally-recognised lineages because of my own interests and social circles. Yet, this became a vessel to think more deeply about encouraging people from different backgrounds to engage with what we do. By continuously broadening our curatorial decisions we’ve been able to showcase more people with marginalised identities, or people who’s training doesn’t fit established (colonial) (music) education models.

It’s also been important to learn over the years how I can’t speak about everything myself. Curation right now feels like a process of learning and unlearning in relation to others’ lived experiences. I’m feeling totally invigorated by this.

‘The Long Triumph’ is the main title of the 2021 edition of the series. Could you reflect on the meaning of the title in regard to the artistic direction?

The title is inherently ironic. I hope people come to it with questions like “who is triumphing?”, “how long is ‘long’?”, “what does triumphing mean anyways?”. I hope it can lead people to think about systems, plurality and anxiety in our current world system; plus dealing with the ramifications of these themes across astounding works of film, music, writing and performance.

We have reached a point in human society where we can compute the world on a planetary scale; predicting climate, mapping terrain, monitoring users, comprehending geological time, nudging geopolitics, spawning realities. It feels like a byproduct of this (for some of the Western world) is to slowly unravel or begin to notice the damage that interconnected systems including capitalism, colonialism and extractivism (of minerals and people) have reaped over the past 3-400 years. ‘The Long Triumph’ attempts to address this planetary-scale computation (Benjamin Bratton) and how we might rethink our worldly engagements during and after times of emergency. The series should feel rather sprawling, maybe overwhelming, difficult to totally traverse. I think that’s a feeling many can empathise with.

You are commissioning and featuring works from both upcoming and established artists from different artistic backgrounds, specialising in multiple mediums. How does this diverse and multidisciplinary pool of artists and artworks unite for VIRTUALLYREALITY?

The series is programmed over five fortnights, each with a separate sub-theme. You can expect up to eight works per fortnight, totalling around 30 works by people from varying career backgrounds. This includes composers, instrumentalists, performers, electronic musicians, visual artists, choreographers, filmmakers, coders, theorists, critical thinkers, curators, activists.

Explaining the importance of more holistic curation feels unnecessary in 2021. The majority of “Contemporary Music” curation within Classical establishments is at best exclusive, elitist, cheap (figuratively and financially), lazy, spoonfeeding and boring. It’s often racist and classist as well.

This year, text feels particularly important to us. There’s a particular focus on artists straddling writing, sound and video like Holly Childs & Gediminas Žygus, Chino Amobi, B Covington Sam-Sumana (N-Prolenta), Rowland Hill, Erica Scourti, Óscar Escudero & Belenish Moreno-Gil and Dele Adeyemo & Christxpher Oliver. More artists seem to be speaking directly to the audience. It seems there’s an increased pressure to make sense of the world and our emotions – compute them – as they mutate post-Brexit, post-Trump, post-COVID… (the list is ongoing). We’re developing our understanding that the accumulation of these and many other ‘post-’s implies that they are not in the past – we are not post- them – they are ongoing relivable traumas that manifest for different groups in differing ways across parallel realities. Someone once told me that “Time is not linear – this is a reality we are working with”. Comprehending the magnitude of our world system seems infinitely, exhaustingly vital.

In 2021 it feels very difficult to monitor and encourage engagement. People are exhausted. Social media is failing us. I think these are things that ourselves and organisations similar to us should continue to think about: imagining new futures with more empathic forms of engagement.
The series is happening mainly online this year. How did this transformation of setting change both the curation process and the artistic result?

Curation finished in late 2019 with the expectation of hosting a normal physical series in late 2020. Of course, this didn’t happen. Our tentatively-titled initial theme was ‘The Apocalypse Will Blossom’, a quote taken from artist Jenny Holzer, but after last year apocalyptic thinking leaves a sickly, complacent feeling in the mouth. We must acknowledge that the end of the world arrived a long time ago.

In 2021 it feels very difficult to monitor and encourage engagement. People are exhausted. Social media is failing us. I think these are things that ourselves and organisations similar to us should continue to think about: imagining new futures with more empathic forms of engagement.

What could your audience expect from the upcoming events?

On the 2nd of July we are launching our penultimate programme ’Dystopian Thinking Is No Longer Helpful’. Across this theme we suggest that speculative futurism, utopian thinking and hauntings play vital roles in antagonising the present and building more triumphant futures. Over two newly commissioned video works, one live performance, one conversation and one film-come-mixtape, you can find seances, nurturing wastelands, Eurodance, non-Western perspectives on microtonality, memory, family, ghosts, and AI.

Our entire SS21 series is staying accessible until the end of July. This means you can continue to engage with our already-launched ‘The New Anxiety’, ‘Devotion’ and ‘Antagonisation’ programmes. Entertain the views of Flat Earthers, watch dancing holograms, discover fantasy border forces, fangirl over Snow White, antagonise the Power Rangers, explore dust, comprehend (racial) Capitalism, feel the weight of geolocation, have your heart broken… it’s a lot.

Thank you, Michael! We are inspired and we wish you all the best :)
still from ‘ILLUMINAZIONI’ by Chino Amobi. Co-directed by Johnny Utterback with additional cinematography by Ariel Arakas.

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