"The most original artist project in Britain today" Kultureflash
This proposal outlines plans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my storytelling art project 'WITH' in 2024. It initially outlines a brief history of the WITH project and then describes my ambition to create and launch a new series of online WITH adverts, client case studies, a new WITH website and public exhibition in 2024.
WITH: HOMESPACE™ (Exercising on your behalf in the woods near your home) 05:02:07. Al Hopwood, 2007.
What is WITH?
I have created stories and artworks under the guise of the fictional art collective 'WITH’ since 2004. There are currently 40 ‘solutions’ advertised on the project website, where it is claimed that WITH can be commissioned to generate fake evidence of experiences that haven’t happened to you - including the creation of a ‘happier’ past. WITH can also be commissioned to be a hired proxy who will ‘exercise’,’ take the blame’ or ‘do nothing’ on your behalf, while recording each part of the delegated performance. The story that accompanies these artworks and performances is that the fake evidence created by WITH is literally believed by the client and then assimilated into their life story. Although WITH are presented as a ‘real’ art collective, there is little attempt to convince the viewer that these scenarios are actually real.
As WITH, I have produced a series of exhibitions and performances at Tate Britain, ICA London, Hayward Gallery, Mona Tasmania, Rokeby London, Liverpool Biennial and Chapter Cardiff. The project has received extensive arts coverage, being described by critics as a “brilliantly bizarre spoof”; as a project that could have been the “brainchild of Andy Warhol”, and as “the most original artist project in Britain today”. It uses humour and an innovative storytelling framework as a potent tool to encourage meaningful discussion about the impact of digital culture and role of fiction in our lives. As the leading British curator Emma Ridgway said in her essay ‘WITH: Life Enhancement Solutions’, “The implicit intention of WITH [...] is to jolt each individual from being a self-conscious visitor to being a self-aware, critical, thinking viewer.”
WITH solutions #61 (Thinking Time), Fomona. 2019. Al Hopwood. Commissioned by Museum of Old and New Art (Mona), Tasmania.
In 2024 I will be relaunching WITH with a series of new public artworks, including the following:
1. The online distribution of videos that ‘advertise’ WITH solutions.
Since WITH’s launch in 2004 I have created a series of commissionable solutions at the project website withyou.co.uk. They were originally circulated via email to art communities as text and image artworks that adopted the language of advertising. I then subsequently realised the solution ideas in gallery and museum contexts.
I consider these WITH ‘adverts’ as short stories and works in themselves. Each speculative notion triggers an imaginative process that asks the viewer to consider what kind of evidence would be required to tell such a story. The adverts are designed to be both convincing and yet obviously false – using humour as an entry point to a wider discussion about the role of fiction in our lives.
I will create a new series of adverts that will be distributed across several social media platforms including Tik Tok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and X. See below for two prototype examples.
WITH 20: Adverts 2024 Happynolucky & Knowidea. (prototypes) Al Hopwood. 2023.
2. The creation and online distribution across the same platforms of fictional client case studies that illustrate the activation of these new WITH solutions (made with actors).
Previous WITH projects have presented performances and objects in gallery settings that represent the fictions suggested by the WITH adverts. In this new project I will create a series of 30 second – 1 minute videos in the form of client testimonials. The clients will be played by actors and their testimonials will be interspersed with the activities of WITH agents (also played by actors). This content will be distributed across social media platforms including Tik Tok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and X as a follow up to the WITH adverts.
WITH WATER. Performance event profiling the experiences of former WITH clients at ICA London. 2006.
3. The creation and marketing of a new WITH website that hosts new WITH content.
The current WITH website provides an overview of the project, however as a key part of the 20th anniversary I will be redesigning the site to be more dynamic and user friendly. The home page will include the new video content and information on previous, current and future projects. There will also be clearer ways to interact with the project through a subscriber and members portal. It will function as a new home for the project and will be the platform that audiences can link to after viewing the social media content.
with solutions #61, Fomona (Ways Of Seeing), Commissioned by Museum of Old and New Art (Mona), Tasmania. 2019
4. A showcase event / exhibition in central London
This exhibition will be the focal point of WITH 2024 and leading art producers Kitmapper have agreed to facilitate and produce this aspect of the project. The final design of the exhibition will be developed from February - June 2024; however, I’m interested in how it can mimic the aesthetic of a ‘pop-up’ shop – a device often used by major brands to lure the public – here though the idiosyncratic WITH solutions and new client case studies will take centre stage. As in past WITH exhibitions, I would like to work with individuals who would like to commission their favourite WITH solution - these commissioners will be 'in on the act' and part of the fiction that emerges from each iteration of the solutions on display.
This activity will also be complimented by a showcase event organised by the AKO storytelling institute at UAL where I am currently one of their storytelling fellows. Previous WITH exhibitions can be seen here.
Why WITH in 2024?
As an AKO storytelling fellow I am examining with 11 other fellows how storytelling can help to counter mis/disinformation. WITH is a useful contribution to these discussions for the following reasons:
WITH involves the creation of storytelling content that initially appears to be ‘real’, which then reveals itself to be a fiction - encouraging audiences to have a sustained, critical engagement with an original source of information.
WITH fictions present an imagined narrative where fictions are created by an art collective for a ‘client’ to prove that something not true in their lives, is ‘true’. This paradox oscillates between being surreal, funny, serious, poignant and troubling - it illustrates the absurdity of believing in something demonstrably false, while challenging us to consider our own beliefs, biases and assumptions.
I will use this new iteration of WITH as an opportunity to evaluate its wider impact as a unique storytelling framework that encourages metacognition and critical thinking. I will collaborate with the Storytelling Institute and with my existing network of psychologist collaborators to create this impact analysis.
WITH 2024 will then be a playful, experimental, and novel project that uses satirical humour, storytelling and art-making to encourage critical thinking about the psychological pressures of digital culture and the role of fiction in our lives.
Left: WITH: Solutions Unknown. Mounted USB drives in presentation cases. Exhibited at Rokeby London 2008.
Right: WITH: We will accidentally break a glass on your behalf. Commissionable performance during WITHstore at Rokeby Gallery. 2010.
Al Hopwood is an award-winning artist, writer and curator. Over a 25-year career, he has made performance and exhibition projects with leading galleries including Tate Britain, Hayward Gallery, ICA London, Wellcome Collection, Espacio Fundación Telefónica Madrid, Science Gallery Bengaluru, Talbot Rice Gallery and Mona Tasmania. He was the first visual artist to receive a prestigious Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellowship and in 2019, he curated (with Honor Beddard) the landmark exhibition Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic at Wellcome Collection. He has attracted extensive media coverage from leading art / science magazines, national newspapers, and international broadcasters, including the BBC and ABC Australia. His work is in private collections in the UK, USA, and Europe, and he was recently awarded an unconditional PhD by Publication from the University of Westminster. He is currently an AKO Storytelling Fellow at the University of the Arts London. CV