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Behind the Brush: The Overload Project

"Experimental, Participatory, Audiovisual."

First established in 2016, The Overload Project is a series of interactive artistic installations that encourages participation and immersion within the audience. Over the last few years, the project has developed into a series of different sensory experiences that allows the viewer to become part of the art. We had a chat with Nat, who was first inspired to create The Overload Project by the 'sights, smells, and sounds' of Leeds.

Draw on me, 2017, Interactive audio-visual installation

For someone who has never come across your work before, how would you explain what The Overload Project is all about? The Overload Project is all about creating and changing spaces to engage or overload the senses. It aims to take something familiar or mundane and twist it. Giving it a new meaning or purpose, making people feel anything from confusion, fear, peace or even amusement. Projects consist of several layers from wooden built structures to interactive elements to audio-visual projections, combining to form a participatory space for an audience to immerse themselves in. Projects build and build until they reach the point of ‘overload’.

How did The Overload project first come to be? The project all started with a move in 2016 to an 11th floor flat in the centre of Leeds. There were so many new sights, smells and sounds, I loved the buzz of it all but there was too much to take in all at once and I found I had to choose what to focus on. I loved the idea of recreating this sensory overwhelming experience and exploring how people react in these settings. It began with nervously showing a short experimental film at Lady Beck Studios, Leeds in 2017. From there, it has developed into an ongoing project, constantly exploring new technologies and ways of inviting participation from an audience.

Tell us about your recent installation 'Take a Seat'

‘Take a Seat’ is an interactive sound event exploring chance and control. It invites an audience to collaboratively compose a soundscape, through sitting on chairs fitted with audio triggering pressure-sensitive pads. I’m always looking at ways I can give the audience more control in the project. I believe more art should have room for play and allow legitimate audience input. ‘Take a Seat’ is all about finding the balance between what elements are controlled and what elements invite playful possibilities and creative input from the audience. In this project the audience is given 6 sounds to play with, they can control the composition and volume through the way and order they sit on chairs. As the project has mainly been developed during lockdown, it hasn’t been able to be interacted with by a public audience yet, but when it can be I’m so excited to experiment with different sounds and see what the audience creates!

Take a Seat, 2020. Interactive sound installation

You recently posted a series of diagrams that explain the process and results of the installation. This is done in an almost scientific fashion. Do you think that this measured scientific approach to your art is what perhaps makes the project unique?

I feel developing participatory artworks is an inexact science, as knowing exactly how someone will react to or interact with a work is impossible (and it would take the excitement of the unknown out of it!). I really enjoy showing the consideration behind a particular project or event, as I think it helps to invite people in to consider and question what is happening around them. Also, I’m always wanting to know what is happening behind the scenes or how things are constructed at gigs, events and galleries, so I love being able to let people into the madness.

Diagrams of Chance and Control,

Take a Seat project, (From left to right) Diagram of Control: Construction, arrangement and sound; Diagram of Chance: Composition; Diagram of Chance: Pressure, 2020. Drawing ink on cartridge paper.

Tell us about some of your other past projects.

One of my favourite projects to date is still an early collaborative project, ‘Spectra’, this was an experimental film installation hosted in the Old Art Hostel on Kirkgate, Leeds. The preparation involved booking out a photography studio for a few days and playing with all types of materials from coloured plastics, projection to silicone and plaster. I believe working with other people through playing with materials is a great way to develop ideas!

Spectra, 2017. Interactive audio-visual installation. Another project I loved was a recent short film created during lockdown, entitled, ‘Self-care’. This was a dark twist on the self-care ritual of a bath and glass of wine. It involved burying a bath in the ground, tiling around it and placing several wine glasses around the edge. The next step was then building a makeshift irrigation-type system in the air which when a water pipe was attached, dropped water into the bath and individual wine glasses. It was all shot in the dark only lit by a deep blue light, and is my strangest and muddiest shoot to date!

Self-care, 2020.

How has lockdown affected you? Has it inhibited you, or has this time of relaxation and focus been a source of creativity and inspiration to you?

Initially, it was a big block for me. People are so key to The Overload Project, they are often involved in physically activating the work and their responses complete and develop projects. I couldn’t see how I could continue developing participatory, multi-sensory experiences without people. It took some time to be excited about developing ideas in a lockdowned world where it was likely the only interaction with projects, for a little while at least, would be digital.

Once I had got over this block, a positive of the lockdown however, has been that it forced me to figure out different ways to show parts of projects that I felt weren’t visible without interacting with them, such as the diagrams mentioned earlier. I love discovering new technologies to play with, but I am certainly no coding whizz so this meant returning to ink and paper, which has been really relaxing and therapeutic during lockdown.

Take a Seat, 2020. Interactive sound installation (Video)

Do you have any more work in the pipeline?

I recently took a little break from The Overload Project after graduating from University to pursue some other DIY projects I had been thinking about, from renovating old furniture to building a clothes rail out of branches! Now back to it, I have been working on a few ideas to develop ‘Take a Seat’ on a bigger scale, I’d love to explore collaborating with musicians and/or performers on this too! I have another little project completed during lockdown, which I can’t wait to share soon. There are also a few ideas for rethinking how the participatory event can work in the current social-distancing situation, so lots of exciting things coming up! You can check out more from The Overload Project over @theoverloadproject on Instagram. I am always up for discussing collaborative, creative projects, so feel free to get in touch!

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