Blurring the worlds of gallery and theatre and drawing on the visual language and art speak of gallery websites, Proteus Theatre commissioned multi-disciplinary digital artist Paula Varjack and web developer Ben Gregory to create a website for the [fictional] gallery MOCA North, including additional material that extends the narrative of Proteus’ new production Indestructible.
The MOCA North site features a virtual gallery and online guide for the Indestructible exhibition which our central character in the play, Catherine Shaw, agrees to curate and create new work for. An alumnus of the YBA movement of the 90s, Catherine hasn’t had a solo exhibition in 10 years, and this drives the narrative forward at the beginning of the play.
As a creative team – we really had some fun seeing how far we could push the blurring of lines for anyone who comes across the website but hasn’t seen the show. There are also lots of examples of riffing on references within the show itself for audiences to enjoy afterwards, from an interview with the artist, to the real-life gallery tote-bags that can be purchased from the venue!
The digital gallery itself includes 26 artworks mixing real work by emerging and established female artists, alongside fictional digital works created using AI, and leans in to raising questions about truth, authorship and the rising using of digital creative tools across art forms.
We spoke to Paula and Ben about the creative process of extending the world of the play online.
What is MOCA North?
PAULA: MOCA North is a contemporary art gallery in the Northeast of England opened last year. It’s the gallery representing Catherine Shaw’s first exhibition in over a decade, featuring the work of emerging artists too.
Is it a real place?
PAULA: It’s a real website for a fictional gallery, that forms part of the narrative of INDESTRUCTIBLE (the show.) Some of the artworks featured are of real emerging female artists, some have been created with AI by myself and Ben, some have been created by projection designer Chris Harrison.
How did you find the inspiration to design MOCA North?
BEN: We looked at what was already there. We took parts from lots of different contemporary art gallery websites which follow the fundamental principles of web design, so it all kind of just fell into place when we started adding the content.
How does this contribute to my experience as an audience member?
BEN: We had the idea of blurring the lines between the fictitious and real. An original reference point was the marketing for the film The Blair Witch Project. This was at the top of both mine and Paula’s minds, because back then The Blair Witch Project had a website that was about the missing characters which made A LOT of people believe the film was a real documentary. We didn’t think we’d fool anyone, but at least we might make a few people second guess that Catherine Shaw was a real person.
Other emerging visual artists featured on the gallery are: Naomi Escott, Laura Greenway, Imogen Reeves, Susan Francis and Claire Prouton. Some of these images have been created by AI, can you tell which ones?
The beauty of the MOCA North website is that it represents a full circle moment, echoing Catherine Shaw’s original intention in the real world (albeit online only) to curate an exhibition that gives a platform to elevate and magnify the work of emerging female artists, and shining a light on more established artists whose work inspire or influence her! Indestructible is on until 3 February, avoid disappointment and book your ticket!