24 October 2003
Nottingham Evening Post

Nottinghamʼs experimental art collective Reactor have had a busy few months. Yes, read that again in case you thought youʼd fallen into a parallel universe of 1960s clichés. Reactor, you see, is the name of a group of Nottingham Trent University art graduates who came together when two local artists studios, Graze and Aldaran, merged. Theyʼre a “collective” because, like an anarcho-syndicalist trade union, they choose not to have a formal leader. And theyʼre “experimental” because what they do is creative, fun, funny, chaotic, colourful, immersive, provocative and hasn’t got a lot to do with looking at pictures on gallery walls.

But is it art? Probably. More certain is that Reactor create interactive happenings which may be about the way art is normally assimilated and how the usual distance between creator and viewer can be dissolved. Reactor claims to have staged eight “events” over the last 16 months, the last involving a radical makeover of the Angel Row Gallery into a kind of art funfair where stones were thrown at plaster figurines, paint was splashed and visitors were required to wear paper party hats.

Today, and for today only, the wacky funsters at Reactor turn their attention to Nottinghamʼs own NOW arts festival in an event titled Ghaos Starts Here!. Staged in the old NOW festival office, at 55 Castle Gate, Reactor promises to offer an “alternative history” of the festival via multiple interactive guided tours lasting around 20 minutes. The tours take place in a four-storey building near the recently closed-down Costume Museum and cover gardens, basements and offices.

Reactor founder Niki Russell said Reactor had browsed the NOW archives and extracted a variety of unrelated snippets which would be re-presented at Ghaos — an effigy of NOW. For example, thereʼs a “robotic cow” which has to be milked, a “virtual reality world” which has to viewed through 2-D red-and-green glasses and a re launched “NOWfm”. Hang on, youʼll also have the chance to tour a recreated Delux nightclub, Bonington Gallery and take a ride a “Ghost Train” which “will emerge to offer fast-track tours of NOW with an added ‘scary’ element”.

Perhaps most intriguing is the “old guns vs new guns” shoot ʼem-up in which one of the gunfighters has to wear a mask bearing the face of Prof Robert Ayers, the former artistic director of Nottingham Trent University and a man generally reckoned to have been the backbone of contemporary arts in this town until his redundancy this summer. “Weʼre looking for someone to take the spirit of Robert Ayers,” says Niki Russell. “So we have this Robert Ayers mask which someone has to wear. About ten years ago someone sent a letter which described Robert Ayers as one of the ʻold guns of the arts worldʼ, so we have a shoot ʼem-up in which the old guns fight the new guns.” Does Prof Ayers know of these proceedings? “Heʼll have got the e-mail, so perhaps heʼll come down and play himself.”

Ghaos Starts Here! is itself part of the NOW festival. Is Niki happy with this yearʼs NOW? “I am a fan of NOW but sometimes I wonder exactly what itʼs for. But I canʼt go into any more detail on that because Iʼm not allowed.”

Mark Patterson