Turner Prize-winning artist Tai Shani, who is celebrated for crafting complex fantastical worlds that draw on forgotten histories, will present the world premiere of The Neon Hieroglyph a major new commission for Manchester International Festival’s Virtual Factory series on Wed 31 March.

The Factory in Manchester, designed by Ellen van Loon from Rem Koolhaas’s OMA, is one of the most exciting new cultural spaces being developed in Europe and will be the year-round home of Manchester International Festival (MIF). For Virtual Factory, MIF has invited some of the world’s most exciting artists from the worlds of gaming, film and visual art to reclaim the virtual environment as a space for infinite possibility and imagine new worlds in response to the architecture and artistic ambition of The Factory.

For the second project in the series, the Turner prize-winning artist Tai Shani presents her first online artwork The Neon Hieroglyph. Nine hypnotic stories expand her ongoing creation of a feminist mythology of psychedelics and bring together hallucinatory CGI with video and a haunting soundtrack by the Manchester-born composer Maxwell Stirling.

Shani creates worlds that are at once dark yet luminous, both feminist and fantastical. The Neon Hieroglyph is inspired by her research into ergot as a psychedelic catalyst, a fungus that grows on rye and other common grains from which the hallucinogenic drug LSD is derived. There were many ergot poisoning outbreaks linked to the local crops and rye bread which caused mass hallucinations, with the last reported UK incident during the late 1920s in Manchester.

For Shani the psychedelic is a space that can drive new visions of society, an imaginative space where new futures can emerge. The Neon Hieroglyph uses these experiences to spark new visions and alternative realities: a dreamlike CGI journey that takes us on an epic journey across time and space – from the cellular to the galactic; from Palaeolithic cave markings to the optic markings left by drone photography as well as dancing plagues, communist psychedelic witches and hyper-sexual fungi.

Tai Shani says: “I was interested in Ergot as a vector for this project, tracing a feminised history through folklore, myth, and historical events surrounding outbreaks or controlled ergot consumption. This project is also autobiographical in the sense that I was brought up around LSD evangelism and esoteric and occult practices and forms of knowledge, so it is also trying to make sense of that and see some of it through the lens of my politics.”

MIF began developing Virtual Factory in 2019, as part of its pre-Factory programme on the journey towards The Factory, where artists are encouraged to create radical and interdisciplinary work that maximises the boundless potential of the highly flexible spaces within the building and the expanding digital spaces beyond its physical structure. The first Virtual Factory project, Your Progress Will Be Saved, created by avatar artist LaTurbo Avedon in the Gaming platform Fortnite, has already been visited by more than 1.5 million people.


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