Jeremy Bailey is all over Manchester. Take a stroll around the city centre between now and Saturday and you’re likely to bump into the Canadian artist, offering to give you a tour of the exhibitions in the Abandon Normal Devices (AND) festival. At the same time, the man himself is sat in a curious, futuristic pod at Cornerhouse arts centre. How can he be in two, three or four galleries at once? Like most things at the annual festival of emerging digital cultures, the answer is one of art falling into technology’s embrace.

A commission that has emerged under the gentle tutelage of Liverpool’s FACT and is being delivered in Manchester using Cornerhouse as a base, Bailey’s ‘Master/Slave Invigilator System’ takes inspiration from the artist’s experience as a gallery assistant. It also draws on the North West’s historical relationship with slavery.

Anonymous, Lycra-clad ‘slaves’ are guiding festival guests twice daily around exhibitions by artists including John O’Shea and Mark Amerika, while Bailey’s face appears in real time, on screens attached to their heads. Bailey, meanwhile, acts as a ‘distributed presence’, providing supervision via a digital link. It’s an unsettling prospect, not least for Bailey himself who can only see and guide guests around each gallery on a reciprocal data stream. So far, though, the artist is pleased with the reaction.

“What I have found on the streets here in Manchester is that people take out their phone and need to take photos [of the guides],” says Bailey. “Electronic art is generally a subculture, and if someone is at least inspired to shout out ‘there’s Lady GaGa’, I really don’t mind.”

The representation of these servantile invigilators as anonymous, androgynous and glamourous visions of the future is admittedly GaGa-esque. Driven by the motives and aspirations of Bailey’s alter-ego ‘The Famous New Media Artist Jeremy Bailey’ – a title the artist views as paradoxical – the work is also a warped self-portrait that he feels fits perfectly with this year’s festival themes of success and the consequences of failure.

“My alter-ego is a combination of my worst qualities in many ways. He’s naïve, makes a lot of mistakes and is always looking for solutions that involve technologies. Clearly, I am not going to do a very good job of guiding people round the shows. It’s a vision of the future and it ultimately has to fail. This character’s grandeur can’t possibly be accepted, so it’s a vision of the wrong future that we should avoid before we get there.”

Master/Slave… is destined to be a memorable folly to ignite ongoing thought and debate into the past, present and future of art development and consumption. “Ultimately,” says Bailey, “I want to tell people about art and to ask questions. One of my favourite sayings is: ‘Don’t do it if you’re not having fun’, and it’s supposed to be fun.”

AND Festival continues until Sunday 2 September at various locations across Manchester city centre.