Pest control

Shonagh Short wants to show that gaming can be art and has enlisted the help of insects to do so in a new project at Liverpool’s FACT

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“I describe myself as a social practice artist,” explains Bolton’s Shonagh Short, “which means my work is about creating opportunities for interaction and shared experiences rather than necessarily making physical pieces of art.”

To this end, Short has crafted Pests. Part of the online FACT Together project, curated by Liverpool’s FACT new media arts centre, Pests is her first interactive choose your own adventure video game. Although Short has only been working as a FACT online artist in residence since May, this particular work was inspired by a short story she wrote several years ago, initially concerning, of all things, cockroaches.

“The game examines an everyday encounter between a human and a housefly from two different perspectives and is set in the context of Covid-19 when our own movements are limited to avoid the spread of disease,” explains Short. “Yet we still instinctively think of ourselves and our homes as clean and the insect as dirty.”

To help with the technical construction of the game – “I knew I wanted to do something online and interactive but initially I was terrified,” Short confesses – experts in digital animation were drafted in, alongside comic artist Rob Jackson and drum ‘n’ bass producer Mavamatics, who handled the soundtrack. With a background producing fanzines, the artist was determined the finished product retained a “rough, DIY feel”, describing the final work as “pretty unique”.

“There is something about being immersed in the story and experiencing it through the eyes of the character that means you are naturally more invested in the outcome,” Short says, expanding on the appeal of gaming as art.

“Pests is all about different perspectives and that idea really lends itself to the gaming format. And I’d really like people to take away the question who or what is exactly the pest?”

The FACT Together project itself is an online commissioning scheme to support artists, specifically during the restrictions imposed by our current pandemic. Proposals for the available grants were received from over 250 artists across northern England, with the 10 successful applicants commissioned to produce work responding to the Living Planet, FACT’s principal theme for 2020. Each piece was expected to look at ways in which wildlife, plant life and ecological systems have responded to the impact of human interference.

An online discussion series, Framework for Resilience, will also form part of the Living Planet. Now rescheduled for early next year, the conversations will feature activists, researchers and artists (Short included) addressing how we are shaping the world in which we live and examining which systems may soon fail and those likely to prevail.

All of which ties neatly back into Pests. “One of the questions the game asks is does one of us have to lose in order for the other to win? There are parallels in Pests with society in terms of hierarchical structures relating to class and wealth.

“We are encouraged to believe that lives decrease in value as you move down the social scale and, as a consequence, the people at the bottom are perceived as less than human. If we get rid of that up and down way of thinking it gives us chance to think about how society, and our relationship to the environment, could be different.”

fact.co.uk/artwork/pests

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