Sheffield Doc/Fest is delighted to announce that the Alternate Realities Commission, worth £20,000, has been awarded to artists Barnaby Francis (aka Bill Posters) and Daniel Howe for Spectre, an interactive installation which subverts the power of the digital influence industry.  Spectre, which will be part of the Alternate Realities Exhibition at Site Gallery during the 26th Sheffield Doc/Fest, is comprised of six 2.5 metre high black monoliths, each featuring touch screen technology and in the artists’ words invite audiences to “pray at the altar of dataism”.

The artwork engages audiences with a personalised journey that tells a cautionary tale of computational propaganda, technology and democracy, curated by an alogorithm, and powered by visitor data.

Says Dan Tucker, Alternate Realities Curator, Sheffield Doc/Fest,  “I am thrilled that Spectre has won the commission this year and that the support of Site Gallery, the British Council, and Arts Council England have enabled us to bring this incredibly ambitious project to Sheffield Doc/Fest. It is so prescient and so powerful. A deceptively dark exploration of the power of the digital influence industry, Spectre is an algorithmic alchemy that will keep the audience guessing all the way through”.

Barnaby Francis stated, “we live in unprecedented times and as a result, must strive to work with others to make unprecedented art, that seeks to reveal, interrogate and understand the historic moment of today. The international team of artists, technologists, academics, designers and developers behind Spectre hope to open up a space for interrogating computational forms of propaganda and the wider digital influence industry itself. Both exert powerful forces on ourselves as individuals, but also on collective society: on the democratic processes that are essential for democracies to function.”

Says Daniel Howe, “It’s been amazing to explore the critically important issues surrounding digital surveillance with the diverse group of artists, scientists and researchers that came together for the Spectre project. This type of collaboration wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Sheffield Doc/Fest, Site Gallery, British Council, MUTEK and Arts Council England. Alternate Realities is one of the rare programmes that supports socially-engaged, critical practice on contemporary issues.

Continues Barney Francis, “We would also like to take the opportunity to extend our gratitude and thanks to our partners at the Psychometrics Centre, Cambridge University, Tactical Technology Collective, Reflect, Canny AI, Respeecher, Anchor Manufactoring and Futures Venture Foundation for their continued support.”

Barnaby Francis and Daniel Howe will also be speaking at the 2019 Alternate Realities Summit: Incomputable Sensbilities on Sunday 9 June, which this year aims to challenge preconceptions and disrupt narratives to deliver a new vision of documentary making. A day-long event of provocative and artistic debate, with talks, presentations, panel discussions and performances from the world’s leading immersive and interactive storytellers. This year it will focus on the colonialism of the connected world, examine the evolution of query-based narrative and encourage an awakening in relation to personal data and unconscious bias.


Spectre will be exhibited at the Alternate Realities Exhibition at Site Gallery, Sheffield 6-11 June, attended by Barnaby Francis and Daniel Howe. The artists will also attend MUTEK, Montreal (20-25 August, 2019) as part of the Alternate Realities Touring Programme to talk about Spectre.

The Commission, now in its sixth year, is selected from an open-call for a new digital project focussed on non-fiction supported by Arts Council England, Site Gallery, the British Council and MUTEK.

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