Initially, Your Progress Will Be Saved feels like something you’d find in a modern art gallery. Attendees start off in a sort of holding area, a dimly lit room with a clean, minimalist aesthetic. A flight of stairs takes you to a broken mirror resting on a pedestal, with a description of the mirror emoji pasted on the wall behind it. But things get strange when you turn around. In order to move forward, you have to walk right through a glowing blue wall into a completely new location. This is art by way of Fortnite.
Your Progress Will Be Saved is the first part of a new project from the Manchester International Festival (MIF) called the “Virtual Factory,” which is essentially a virtual art gallery built using Fortnite’s creative mode. (An actual IRL space called The Factory is currently under construction.) Fittingly, the debut installation was created by LaTurbo Avedon, an artist and curator who also happens to be a digital avatar.
“LaTurbo Avedon’s project does everything we need The Factory to be: a place where new artistic forms and experiences are created, played with, and enjoyed by richly diverse audiences,” says MIF artistic director Mark Ball.
After you make it through the wall, you’re transported to a similarly dimly lit studio apartment space, rendered in harsh pink and purple lights. There’s a drafting desk beside the bed and a kitchen table with spilled cereal on it. The goal, you’re told, is to collect memories. You do this by finding gleaming objects; when you approach one, you’re given instructions like “inspect overturned painting.” Do so and you’ll be greeted with cryptic snippets of text like, “I remember a cabin, out in the wilderness.”
As you move through the installation, the scene changes. The apartment gives way to a more industrial building, where mundane spaces — like a birthday party or an office cubicle — are stacked on top of each other like boxes in a warehouse. A glittering stage sits in the center, complete with a microphone standing silent and alone. Smoke machines create a foggy haze. Move further and you’ll enter a club filled with thumping dance music. Once you’ve collected each of the five memories, you can “look closer” at a broken mirror, after which you’ll start falling through a strange, psychedelic world reminiscent of Travis Scott’s surreal Fortnite event in May.
“You begin to see reflections throughout the Virtual Factory,” Avedon says of their work. “From the memesis of the installed works and locations, down to noisy reflections from the game engine itself. As much of the world grapples with a cultural moment of immateriality, Your Progress Will Be Saved shines back the close-yet-far tension of being alone online, together.”
There are aspects of the experience that are reminiscent of a real-world art installation, but Your Progress Will Be Saved is most notable for the ways it’s different. It’s widely available, for one thing, a free extension of one of the world’s most popular games. (You can check it out for yourself by using the creator code 1248 2128 4287.)
You can also take your time here. If you’ve ever been to, say, a Yayoi Kusama exhibition, you’ll be familiar with the rush of bodies moving through a space quickly, using their brief time mostly to capture the perfect Instagram photo. You don’t really get an opportunity to take in the work. That doesn’t exist in Your Progress Will Be Saved. You can spend as much or as little time with it as you want, and you don’t have to worry about touching the art; while you carry a pickax around with you, it can’t actually damage anything. You can also completely change the mood by dressing up as a sentient banana or your favorite Avenger.
These kinds of virtual exhibits are especially notable now as the world is forced to revisit its relationships with physical locations. Fortnite developer Epic has been particularly adept at this, creating a brand-new social-focused island used to host concerts and movie nights. Similarly, Minecraft users have done everything from hosting graduation ceremonies in game to erecting massive libraries to house censored journalism.
Your Progress Will Be Saved is also just the start of a much bigger project. The MIF has also commissioned virtual works from the likes of American game developer (and professor) Robert Yang, British Nigerian filmmaker Jenn Nkiru, and British artist Tai Shani. “They are creating work for a building that hasn’t opened yet,” says MIF digital director Gabrielle Jenks, “alluding to the reconfigurable shape of things to come and sending out a message that The Factory will be open for everyone to re-interpret and re-use.”