Final Developments of ‘FATAL / FERTILE’ and its installation in the degree show

After the disappointing outcome of my initial experiment ‘CONSERVATION’ (a compilation video of found footage from multiple sources that documented the global practice of wildlife conservation, narrated by audio descriptions sampled from BBC wildlife documentaries and a digitally manipulated version of a score from a Disney nature documentary) I decided to focus my attention onto footage from BBC’s ‘The Hunt – Episode 7: Living with predators (Conservation)’ only.

In the first experiment I concentrated on footage of a Harpy Eagle chick being removed from its nest, with an artificial voice recounting the opening title card from an episode of Disney’s ‘True-life adventure’ series. This title card assures viewers that the scenes they are about to witness are in fact authentic, and that this authenticity is due to the development of new photographic techniques. I found this short text to be reflective of the ways in which we readily trust visual information, as well as reflective on the ways in which we seek authenticity in nature as a form of entertainment. This text is from an episode that was made and aired in the 1950’s, so by layering it over footage of a very recent nature documentary I was able to illustrate how far photographic technologies have developed since then, as well as create an uncomfortable viewing experience that reflects man’s relationship to animals.

The second experiment fixated on footage of a tranquillised polar bear, with an artificial voice reciting a science forum post that details the ingredients of tranquilliser darts used on carnivores. Both these experiments are very literal representations of the core ideas I am currently working with. ‘AUTHENTIC INTIMATE MOMENTS’ deals with the way in which we look at animals through the TV set, believing in authentic representations of wild life whilst simultaneously destroying and neglecting it (to watch TV you must neglect other things, like being outside and must be complicit in the TV sets use of energy). ‘TRANQUIL POLAR BEAR’ on the other hand deals with the contradictions of wildlife conservation, where at the same time as it is critical it is also harmful. Wild life conservation stands as a testament to the complicated relationship between humans and global ecology. Throughout all of our technological developments we have not only neglected our local ecology but have destroyed many parts of it. Conservation is our attempt to put right what we have done wrong, and the consequences of that is brutal and uncomfortable.

These were useful tests in terms of establishing my interests and aims of the work, but I still felt that the use of imagery made these experiments too literal. To counteract this, and to incorporate my belief that these visual depictions distort our understandings of animals, I went through a process of re-recording the footage of the tranquillised polar bear. To do this I filmed the footage being played on a large CRT monitor on a digital camera. I then played this footage from the digital camera on the TV screen and recorded it again. I repeated this process until the footage had been completely obscured. I then ordered these clips in reverse chronological order, so that the original footage is slowly revealed from the unrecognisable mess of pixels. Processes such as this are integral to my work as they demonstrate the incapabilities of technology to capture completely truthful images.

I then added a digitally manipulated version of a dramatic score sampled from one of Disney’s ‘true-life adventure’ documentaries. I altered this sound to fit with each re recording, so that it starts off at 15% speed, and quickens with every new re recording. This created an eerie yet tranquil introduction to the piece, which allows the context of the work to be slowly revealed to the viewer. Yet again, this process was inspired by Alvin Lucier’s ‘I am sitting in a room’, but instead of allowing the audience to see how material develops through re recordings I have reversed this chronology in order to ask the audience for their patience in letting the original material be revealed to them.

On reflection of this test I have been very pleased by its outcome, not only does it utilise my critique of sound, wild life conservation and nature documentaries, it also reflects my interest in the physical limitations of technology. I feel that this work is almost resolved, but I would like to see it displayed on the monitor it was filmed on, for it to be a fully realised work.

Despite the success of ‘TRANQUILISE’ I still felt that any moving image work inside the greenhouse would distract from the architecture of the greenhouse itself, and would therefore be using the greenhouse as a frame for the video work. Having a screen with moving images within the work I also felt would contradict my critique of our cultural focus on the sense of sight, and therefore I decided that the work shown in the greenhouse setting should be purely auditory.

I therefore went back to working with audio descriptions for the blind taken from BBC wild life documentaries. I chose to use only documentaries that were narrated by David Attenborough, as I feel that he is a particularly poignant symbol of the British publics relationship to global ecology. This focus on David Attenborough’s narration of nature documentaries was the focus of Rowena Harris’ recent work ‘After Attenborough’. In this online work Harris compares footage of the same species of plant from a 1995 documentary to a 2012 documentary. Not only does this demonstrate the technological developments of the camera equipment in that time (thus commenting on the impossibility of completely objective documentary making), but it also touches upon how rapidly our scientific understanding of plant and animal life is expanding.

The lasting implications of these increasingly intimate scientific understandings of global ecology is something that greatly concerns me. In his 2009 text ‘Why look at animals?’ John Berger reflects on the distance created between humans and other animals due to scientific observations; “Animals are always observed. The fact that they can observe us has lost all significance. They are the objects of our ever-extending knowledge. What we know about them is an index of our power, and thus an index of what separates us from them. The more we know, the further away they are.” This is why I have felt it so critical to work with the audio descriptions sampled from BBC nature documentaries, as I feel that they demonstrate our emotionally distanced understandings of these animals, depicted in the monotonous voices and scripted content.

In this first experiment I used a similar technique to the way in which I made ‘ALERT TONES’. I took audio samples from the BBC documentaries of animal calls merging with the programmes cinematic score and then digitally manipulated them to create slow and harrowing ambient tracks. Each sample was relatively short, lasting only a couple of seconds, and so I repeated each sound in order to create an obviously constructed soundscape. I then overlaid this composition with a selection of audio descriptions ordered at random, which have also been slowed down to 60% speed in order to emphasise the ridiculousness of the monotonous voice.

This initial experiment went down well with tutors and peers but I still felt that there was room for development and improvement. To do this I collected more audio descriptions for the blind from BBC nature documentaries and audio samples of animal calls mixing with the programmes score. I then selected the audio descriptions on the basis that they described natural phenomena in unnerving ways, often giving the animals human qualities.

To more precisely select animal calls mixing with the programmes score I took the episode ‘Jungles’ from the recent series ‘Planet Earth II’ and cut out all of David Attenborough’s narration. This leaves only the score and the field recordings of animals, which was useful for me to find the perfect sound samples but also stands as a testament to my critique of how the score manipulates our perception of these animals and in many ways drowns them out.

I then constructed a much more complex soundscape of the animals that continuously develops and changes throughout the piece. I assembled this around a forced narrative that I strung together with the audio descriptions. Creating this fabricated narrative I felt was important to really complete the work as it reflects the way in which this programmes are edited and I also believed it would give the audience something to follow as opposed to randomly selected audio descriptions. I wanted the soundscape to provoke mixed feelings in the viewer in order to demonstrate the manipulative capabilities of sound and therefore the work is at times humorous, soothing and harrowing.

The development of this work was heavily influenced by the artist Patrick Brill, under his pseudonym Bob and Roberta Smith, ‘s yet to be released work ‘Make your own damn LP’. In this 23 minute long track the artist layers a calm electronic voice reciting banal instructions and descriptions over continuously changing music that develops from Rock music to Jazz music, electronic to ambient throughout. These two compositions will be played on two separate turntables, ensuring that the work will never be heard in the same way. The utilisation of the artificial voice alongside emotionally charged music, I feel, comments on our current loss of culture due to standardisation.

My ideas around the greenhouse as a stage for the work have been continuously developing throughout this process. I started off thinking about the greenhouse as a dark empty space that an audience would walk into unknowingly, guided only by a soundscape. I then wanted the greenhouse to be a set in which you would discover multiple different components that made one whole work, such as different videos playing on screens and multiple speakers. This then led me to think about the green house as a characterisation of a middle aged, middle class British male, but seeing as I have had limited experience with set design I did not feel that these ideas were viable and I also believe that they were far removed from the original intentions of the work and actually contradicted some of the critiques I was trying to make. I then began incorporating red carpet into a green house full of houseplants with a TV set at the focus of the assemblage, in order to talk directly about the cinematic depictions of nature through wildlife documentaries. Once I had decided that I no longer needed a moving image element in the work I was left with only a green house full of plants.

As this erratic development of ideas shows, before the degree show set up and the erection of the green house, I had been struggling to visualise how the greenhouse was going to function beyond simply housing my sound piece. In the meantime I had collected discarded green house items such as broken pots, old wheelbarrows and plants, but I still did not feel that putting them in the greenhouse with the sound piece would create a truly engaging and critical work. On reflection I knew that this was utilising the architecture in a very obvious way and what I really wanted to do was to subvert the space of the green house instead of constructing even more artifice.

Once the greenhouse was erected I was able to consider the space more precisely. I had purposefully chosen a greenhouse made with polycarbonate sheets rather than glass in order to obscure the viewer’s perspective both outside and inside the greenhouse. Once I had tested and installed the soundbar into the space I was keen to leave it as minimal as possible, in order to allow the sound work to dominate the space. Despite this I also felt that it was crucial to have other elements in the space that would encourage viewers to stay, so I installed upholstery foam as flooring inside the greenhouse to make it more comfortable for viewers to sit and listen. I also found the aesthetic qualities of this material interesting, as it is both recycled and domestic. In conversations with peers and tutors the subject of the greenhouse as an object of light kept on recurring and thus I decided to surround the green house with multiple LED lights on stands. This addition creates an intense artificial light within the greenhouse that not only references the artificiality of growth within greenhouses but also plays on the aesthetics of film sets, reminding viewers of artificial constructs. One final addition to the greenhouse was small, metallic animal stickers purchased from a children’s toy shop. I felt that these stickers directly reflected the prolific cultural consumption of idyllic representations of nature, that contradict the current reality of mass extinctions. I wanted these stickers to be small and subtle interventions in the space that would only be noticeable once you had spent a prolonged period of time with the work. The hope is that one will be glanced at accidentally and then more will be searched for and discovered whilst the sound piece develops.

Throughout this set up process I have been consistently referring to the aesthetic presentations of work that I came across in the Sonic Acts exhibition ‘The noise of being’, Amsterdam 2017. All the works in this show dealt with the relationship between the body and developing technologies. The aesthetic presentation of these ideas was often very clinical, in particular Joey Holder’s installation ‘Ophiux’. But other works such as Pinar Yoldas’ ‘The Kitty AI, Artificial Intelligence for Governance’ utilised humour and comfort, whilst still reflecting on apocalyptic themes. This show has been critical to the development of my recent practice as it has allowed me to see that there is already a group of artists that are dealing with similar topic to me, but in a much more refined and ambitious manner.

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Joey Holder – ‘Ophiux’ installation in Sonic Acts ‘The Noise of Being’ exhibition

In reflection, I feel that the development of this work has been generally successful. My biggest struggle throughout the development of this project has been narrowing down its focus. I started this project with ideas about wildlife conservation, the cultural effects of cinema, the Internet and scientific understandings of animals, the proliferation of portable music devices and the representation of global ecology in nature documentaries. Although all of these topics are intimately linked I feel that it has been a struggle to fully address any of them coherently, and instead all of these critiques and ideas exist in the work. This overwhelming theoretical context to my practice has often stunted development and made it difficult to make deliberate decisions, which I fear may have resulted in a work that could be seen as confusing. In hindsight, I would have narrowed down the focus of the work as early as possible to avoid confusion and prioritise the ideas that I believe to be the most important.

Within this project I have been able to develop techniques of digital audio manipulation that I started working with in previous works such as ‘ALERT TONES’. Focusing purely on audio has allowed me to reflect more significantly on the manipulative qualities of sound and it’s sensory importance in our navigation of the world. This has also allowed me to utilise the influence of works by musicians such as Brian Eno, William Basinski and John Cage to create a sound scape that allows an audience to reflect on time and space.

I believe that the audio is the strongest element to this work as it depicts the ridiculousness and artificiality of our relationship to global ecology concisely. After listening for only a little while the composition of repetitive animal calls can be immediately recognised as a construct, and thus this soundscape lies on the illusory line between fact and fiction. I wanted the soundscape to provoke mixed feelings in the viewer in order to demonstrate the manipulative capabilities of sound and I feel that this has been achieved as the work is at times humorous, soothing and harrowing.

Speaking practically, I would have liked the green house to be bigger in scale and to have more control of lighting in the works installation (I think it would work best in a lowly lit room). This was something that was not possible due to expenses, risk assessments and time, but if I were able to realise this project again on a larger scale I think that this work has the potential to be much larger in its ambition. I also regret not having more experience with sculptural assemblage before the construction of this work as I often struggled to consider what was best for the work contextually and practically and was not able to make critical decisions until the last minute.

Ultimately I believe that this has been a successful work which incorporates and reflects many of the ideas around the causes and effects of the Anthropocene. In particular, the work provides a space which encourages an audience to reflect on artificiality and our perspective of non-human animals.

Reflections on Planet Earth II and development of degree show ideas

My initial proposal for the degree show was the full realisation of ‘ALERT TONES’. Materially this plan entailed creating a dark space for the audience to enter, triggering the beginning of my ‘ALERT TONES’ composition. This track has been composed using ringtones from smart phones that have been digitally manipulated to sound like the soundscape of a densely populated natural environment. At the height of tension in the composition, which builds up over 5 minutes, large floodlights would illuminate the darkness, revealing the interior of an empty greenhouse to the audience. By orchestrating this experience I aimed to reveal artificiality to the audience, using the greenhouse as a symbol of mans domesticated relationship to local ecology.

Since then, my ideas have developed. After the success of ‘ALERT TONES’ at the Barge house I feel it is important to move on from this specific work. What I learnt from ‘ALERT TONES’ was that its strengths lay in the balance between ecological and technological concerns. I feel that the downfall of previous works, in particular those shown in ‘TARMAC’ ,was that they were far too focused on my critique of digital technologies which made them contextually one-dimensional.

The symbol of the greenhouse led me to consider its connotations of the western middle-class lifestyle and its relationship to nature. I started seeing the greenhouse as a lens in which to view this demographic, as I began to think about other ways in which it interacts with nature. Mainly this is through the TV set. Through the TV middle class families are exposed to an array of nature documentaries, most popularly those broadcast by the BBC narrated by David Attenborough. Since the release of the most recent series ‘Planet Earth II’ I have increasingly found these franchised documentary programmes’ presentation of the natural world problematic.

My problem initially began with the use of music within the programme. The score implements many techniques of cinema, using a highly energetic orchestra to dramatize natural phenomena. I found that often the tempo of the score would reflect fanatical myths about the animals being depicted. For example the music accompanying the narrative of the sloth would be comical, the snake – seductive, the lion – courageous and the baby bear – cute. This use of music greatly dominates these depictions of, and therefore our relationship to, these animals. Ultimately I believe that this use of music suffocates genuine understandings of these animals, and re interprets their instinctual habits as entertainment. This particular scene from the recent series I find to be the most patronizing and undermining representation of animal life that I have seen in these programmes so far;

The second element I find problematic within this style of documentary making is their utilisation of cinematic camera techniques. With expensive, top of the range camera equipment, these programmes allow us to view animals from the perspectives of the macro lens, the wide-angle lens and the drone. Because of this, these depictions of animals come not from the perspective of the human, but from the perspective of the machine. As this is often our only exposure to the majority of these species, our perspective of these animals is therefore dominated by the limitations and exaggerations of the untrustworthy lens.

Just as in cinema these programmes have a complicated editing process. Very rarely is a sequence explaining a particular animals habitual narrative taken in one shot. Instead, it is often a succession of disparately captured shots bought together into a linear story through the trustworthy tone of David Attenborough. It is well known, and unsurprising, that these narratives are slightly falsified for the sake of fluidity, but this compromise still has a knock on effect to our perception of the lives of these animals.

Whilst forming these thoughts I came across a version of the recent planet earth series that had audio descriptions for the blind. I found these particularly interesting, as the voices used are often robotic and unemotional, even when describing such cinematic events. Also of interest was that often these scripted voices would refer to the perspective of the camera angle; “The camera pans left to reveal a monkey sitting in a tree.” Of most interest to me were the descriptions of the animals themselves. One comparing the formulations of a flock of birds to the forms found in ‘retro lava lamps’ took me by surprise, along with another that described the shape of a blue whales mouth as a ‘lopsided smile’. I feel that these bizarre comparisons sum up the subconscious perspective we have of animals as somehow less conscious than or emotional than ourselves.

Yuval Noah Harari reflects on the modern meat industry in his book ‘Sapiens’: “Around the time that Homo sapiens was elevated to divine status by humanist religions, farm animals stopped being viewed as living creatures that could feel pain and distress, and instead came to be treated as machines.” This effect of the agricultural revolution has been multiplied by the Industrial revolution and I feel that it has been multiplied yet again with the recent digital revolution.

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In order to present these ideas within the setting of the green house I have considered several different approaches. Firstly I planned to stage the greenhouse as in use, making it look as realistic as possible but with hidden speakers and screens. Within this environment I wanted to create an immersive space that worked with disparate audio-visual material taken from these nature documentaries. Using the voice-overs and snippets of the scores I wanted to create a surreal and confusing narrative. On TV screens hidden amongst the greenhouse paraphernalia I also planned to show clips that would contrast and compliment these samples of audio. Inspired by Laure Prouvost’s recent show ‘wet wet wanderer’ I wanted these electronic elements to whisper to the audience, creating a dynamic experience that they discover for themselves.

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Laure Prouvost – the wet wet wanderer

In this idea I also saw the green house as a character, in which I wanted to place objects that described the middle class man that often resided in this space. In my mind this was a dissatisfied man who had little connection left with his children, all of whom had left home, or his wife. I imagined him going to an expensive dinner with his wife in which neither of them talked to the other, but when they got home both agree ‘that was nice’. This man is retired and bored, he spent many years in a highly stressful managerial role and since suffers from high blood pressure. Many of the friends he made when working in the industry he rarely sees. He never really liked them anyway. He has no hobbies or favourite music. He will watch whatever is on TV, but has a particular obsession with watching the news. He donates to charity to feel good. In the golden hour that dapples his Surrey garden, he sits in his greenhouse and basks in his artificial accomplishments that reside there.

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Although I think it is important for me to think very specifically about the lifestyle that I am critiquing I felt that this concept was rather out of my reach and was distracting me from the real reason for this work; the modern relationship dictated by the digital, to the ecological. Therefore I started focusing on the cinematic parts of my critique, thinking about how to stage the greenhouse as a frame to show my own reinterpretation of footage from these documentaries. This has developed from removing one wall of the greenhouse to create a stage like set with seats facing toward a screen residing in there, to a screen sitting at the entrance to a greenhouse surrounded by artificial and real plants. Both of these ideas incorporate a red carpet to visualise highlight the cinematic techniques that are deployed by these programmes.

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Working with After Effects, I began experimenting with footage from Crufts, as I felt that even more so than Planet Earth, this programme reflects an absurd middle class relationship to animals. Using the green turf to my advantage I chroma keyed some of the footage to create a surreal montage of the most ridiculous pooches. I had been keen to experiment with this technique and aesthetic after seeing Borna Sammack’s video work at Sadie Coles. In this experiment I wanted to explore the domestication of dogs from wolves, using footage from crufts to highlight the ridiculous evolution that man has forced upon this species. On reflection I felt that this experiment was relatively weak, I was hoping for it to be a singular element included in the green house installation but as it stands I do not think it is strong enough. I also think it is important for me to focus on a singular programme/specific topic other wise I fear the work will be over complicated and confusing.

I then experimented with footage from David Attenborough-narrated ‘Africa’ in After Effects. I utilised tools such as the chroma key and colorama to deconstruct the imagery, transforming it into a vibrant acidic mess. Aesthetically this use of techniques is engaging and overwhelming, making it impossible for the viewer to comprehend what is going on in the imagery. I think this is effective in the way in which it subverts the commercial use of these clips, but I do not think it critiques the problematic relationship between man, screen and nature, instead it one-dimensionally decorates these clips.

Since these experiments I have been working on another approach to this piece. I decided to focus on an episode of BBC’s ‘The Hunt’ that is dedicated to the practice of conservation worldwide. When watching this for the first time I realised that the practice and concept of animal conservation is the area between man and nature that I am most interested in. This space describes the responsibility that man faces due to our historical destruction of global habitats. These programmes often create uncomfortable viewing experience, with wild animals being tranquilised and transported in cages. This viewing experience is often very confusing, at once the viewer feels appalled by the violence and comforted by the knowledge it is ‘for the good of the animals’.

Despite being emotionally distressing the musical scores that accompany these scenes translate these images into the narrative of human heroism; we are saving the animals. This is a tricky subject, and one I am not yet sure I can comfortably talk about, which is why I am so compelled to explore it within my work. It seems we must act as violently as we did to endanger these species in order to provide them with the possibility of a future. At the same time the whole ordeal feels terribly patronizing towards fellow animals, man cannot stop playing god and let nature heal itself.

One example of this depicted in ‘The Hunt’ is the current predicament facing Cheetahs in South Africa. Because so much of the landscape has been taken over by human populations, most of the wildlife is restricted to nature reserves that are bordered by fencing. Because of these geographical restrictions, some Cheetahs have had no choice but to breed within the family, as there are simply no non-relatives on their side of the fence. Park conservationists have therefore had to step into the Cheetahs mating process. In the episode they find two male Cheetahs who are being protected by their mother, they tranquilise the males and take DNA samples in order to match them with a non-family member female, they jokingly refer to this as ‘Cheetah speed dating’. They then confiscate these young Cheetahs from their mother, transporting them in cages to another nature reserve. In an interview with a park conservationist he says that 1 in 5 of the Cheetahs die during this process because of chronic stress. He also talks about how they wish this process could be done naturally, but of course, if they were to leave the Cheetahs as they are, this would have drastically negative implications for the future evolution of this species.

This is where I find this subject most interesting. It is easy to condemn these practices as cruel and patronizing, but it is evident that due to our historical negligence of other species we have significantly altered their habitats for our own gains. Therefore it is our responsibility to orchestrate such strange scenarios in order to redeem what we can of the non-human world before it is too late. It is the violence of these conservational practices that particularly intrigues me, and I found that often the aesthetic of these documentaries does not look dissimilar from imagery of poaching or hunting.

The use of chemical tranquilisers is something I have considered in great depth. Not only does the image of man shooting endangered species seem out of place within the context of a BBC documentary, but I am also concerned about the drugs used within the tranquilisers themselves. After some research I found that the most commonly used drugs to sedate large mammals have names such as Cyclohexamine, Zoletil and Tiletamine. There is something terribly uncomfortable to me about the idea of these synthetic chemical cocktails being inserted into unsuspecting animals in order to sedate them for scientific measurements. In another scene in ‘The Hunt’ a polar bear is tracked down, shot with a tranquiliser and then man handled into different positions so that scientists can take physical measurements. During this process, the unconscious bear often resembles the rug of an 18th century explorer, echoing the aforementioned aesthetic of poaching. I find this interesting because both the poacher and the scientist value the materiality of animals over emotionality. Through technology the scientists objectify the polar bear into a scientific artefact. They take swabs and measurements that transform the beyond human beast into quantifiable data. This reflects our current position to natural phenomena. If the birds are late in their migration, or the daffodils early in their bloom, we notice these things not because we are emotionally in tune with the rhythms of nature, but because science tells us that they are happening and prove it in the form of statistics. If our approach to nature is this far removed from emotional understanding, our application of this knowledge will be just as clinical.

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After measuring the bear the scientists express their concerns that this bear’s size is 10% lower than what they would expect of a polar bear of this age. They then speak about how the bears hunting season has been dramatically reduced due to the change in weather conditions in the Arctic because of global warming. Although I do not doubt that there is a correlation between these two facts and it does alarm me to really consider these implications, there is another narrative going on here that also concerns me. The scientists reveal that this is the 10th time that this particular bear has be tracked and measured for scientific data. I found this very uncomfortable information as I began to think about how this scientific research has affected this particular bears life. Annually this bear is sedated with these powerful drugs that forcefully enter his/her blood stream. Not only must this have long-term effects on the biological welfare of the bear, but these chemicals then pass through the body of the bear into the surrounding environment. Although this is a comparably small sacrifice when looking at the possible extinction of the polar bear as a species, this narrative depicts the application of biological violence that we are utilising in order to save species. For me this is a bleak and desperate approach, but I am not suggesting that there is any other way, which makes ethics of this sacrificial dynamic all the more urgent.

In Zambia the documentary focuses on a group of school children being shown around a wild life reserve. Here the music used creates an inspirational atmosphere, in which we are encouraged to place hope in the smiling faces of the next generation. Here Attenborough, above a score of light piano keys literally says: “But as always, the greatest weapon in the war against poaching, is the next generation.” Of course this is true, the better educated children in this area are, the less likely they will have to turn to poaching for income and the more exposure they have to the habits of these animals, the less likely they will be comfortable in exploiting them illegally. But I feel that in this section, the documentary not only passes on the responsibility of these specific wild dogs to one specific group of children, but it also passes on the entirety of our ecological responsibilities from the shoulders of the middle aged, middle class viewers to the next generation who are currently young, powerless and unborn. This is a dangerous conclusion on which to end the documentary. It is historical fact that we have been acting in this way for millennia, why would we assume that the upcoming generation will suddenly transform and save us?

In the last moments of the documentary the voice of one of the worlds leading environmental scientist states; “These animals belong to all of us, we must protect them into the future.” This climactic and emotional ending orchestrated by the musical score evokes a visceral experience in the viewer, where Attenborough pleads with us to consider our impact upon the environment whilst stood a top the London skyline, allowing us to reflect on the artificiality of glass and metal. This music then subsides whilst the credits role and a polite voice informs us “Next up a team are confident they can win a golden gabble, but uh, better not hold your breath. It’s Bargain Hunt.” This announcement puts a full stop to the emotional plead that happens at the very conclusion of the programme, and ironically contextualises the programme within the landscape of commercial entertainment in which it resides.

Ultimately I believe that the cinematic techniques that are employed within the programme create emotional entertainment that does not transcend beyond the momentary concern that is inflicted upon the comfortable viewer. As theorists have reflected since its proliferation in the middle of the 20th century, the cognitive effects of TV culture has changed our reception and utilisation of information. The viewer of this particular episode is demographically likely to be middle class and comfortable, like myself, and once these programmes ends our experience of comfort quickly subside our feelings of anxiety about the condition of the natural world. These franchised Attenborough documentaries are not so popular because they tech us valuable information about the current climate that we can then apply to our navigation of everyday life, but because they provide us emotional entertainment with authentic narratives. We only have the ability to care so long as the TV is turned on, and even then, the next programme will wipe away any previous anxieties whether they were formed in the real world or in the previous programme.

For my first edit I combined footage from ‘The Hunt’ in which animals had been tranquilised and were being unnaturally handled by scientists with similar footage of conservational processes found on YouTube. I then overlaid this with audio samples I had taken of the audio descriptions used in several BBC documentaries narrated by David Attenborough. I then came across a series of documentaries made and produced by Disney called ‘True-life adventures’. My work in the past has often dealt with concerns around the ethics of Disney’s prolific story telling, so I was particularly interested to see how natural narratives would be depicted by a company known and loved for its service of fanatical escapism. Unsurprisingly, I found the score used in many of these documentaries, dating back to the 60’s, to be highly cinematic and emotionally evocative. I decided to digitally manipulate samples of this score to create a divide between the audio and visual elements of this piece.

On initial reflection I am not pleased with how this work is turning out. I feel that the visual element looks just like a PETA advert pathetically pleading ‘look at what we are doing to the animals…oh noooo’. This is the exact standpoint I want to reject. The do-good attitude towards environmental conservation that ignores the other implications of this process needs to be developed and presented here. I think that the power of this imagery lies in the fact that it has been taken from an Attenborough endorsed BBC documentary about environmental conservation. But just like with the smartphone ringtones used in ‘ALERT TONES’ I am not yet sure how to make this evident. I also do not think that the balance between digital and nature that I feel is important for the success of my work is evident here. Instead of being too focused on the digital as ‘INTERNET SEARCH HISTORY’ was, this work is currently too focused on the natural.

With this reflection I am now reconsidering both the presentation and content of this work. I think that the inclusion of visual depictions of animals needs to be digitally abstracted and minimalized. I also feel there is a lot more that needs to be done with the audio. I have since recorded synthetic voices reading out Disney Introductions to their ‘True Life adventure’ programmes which state;

“This is an authentic story of nature’s secret world… of her strange and intricate designs for survival… and her many methods of perpetuating life. These intimate and unusual scenes were made possible through the development of new photographic techniques… and through the skill and patience of many scientist- photographers.”

alongside scientific descriptions of the chemical qualities that most tranquiliser darts possess.

To help me progress successfully with this work I am going to reflect in more depth on my research of several artists that deal with similar subject matters and practical techniques such as; Rachel Pimm, Rowena Harris, Joey Holder, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Bruce Conner, Edward Kienholz and Alvin Lucier.

 

 

‘ALERT TONES’ – Thoughts on the way in which we use sound and sight to navigate the physical world, a reflection on artists and theorists influencing my practice and analysis of recent work shown in ‘IRIS TURNS’ an emerging artists group show at the Barge house, OXO Tower, London.

 

Reflecting on the failure of the work I presented in ‘TARMAC’ I decided to focus my attention on my sound work as it had been the most successful element in my previous works ‘WE FEEL’ and ‘MEMELTSCREN.mov’. Over the past year I have developed a new appreciation and understanding of the powerful influences of sound on affecting experience and space. This encompasses everything from the emotions evoked from the roaring sea, to the effect of pop music being played in the shopping centre.

This contrasted my recent observation of how dominant our sense of sight is in our collective perception of the world. In particular I find this currently problematic because of the proliferation of personal images shared on the Internet. Social media outlets such as Instagram and snapchat encourage users to crop and filter their lives into attractive advertisements of the self. The deception of the lens is a theoretical discourse that has been discussed from thinkers such as Roland Barthes to artists such as John Hilliard since the birth of the commercial camera. Although these discussions have traditionally focused on images used in film and journalism, I believe that they are now more relevant than ever, as every smart phone user has the ability to create untrustworthy presentations of the world and human experience.

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John Hilliard – ‘Cause of Death’ (1970)

Sight allows us to see what is immediately in front of us. If we stand on a precipice, we will see for miles in the direction our body faces. If we stand inside a cave we will be able to closely inspect any part of the cave wall in as much detail as our eyes can account for. Looking is a constant act of choice; by choosing to look in one direction, or at one section of cave wall, we are immediately choosing not to look at all other directions or all other sections of cave wall. In this sense our access to visual information is limited by the position of our bodies and the physical environment that surrounds us. This is the best example I can relay here to describe the limitations of sight that are not possessed by sound.

Standing on the precipice, or inside the cave, one will have access to audio information that is not limited to the bodies’ position or the physical environment. We are able to hear sounds that are happening all around us, whether our eyes are closed or we are facing the opposite direction to the sounds source. This allows us access to information that extends beyond the physical limitations of our bodies and the space they inhabit. Sat in my bedroom with the curtains closed I can hear birdsong, then the siren of an ambulance. Through sound I have access to information about the wider world outside, whilst being physically inside. Sight only gives us access to the immediate environment and is very much dependant on the physical position of the human seer, sound on the other hand is dependant on its physical range and frequency. The difference here is that as sensory beings we do not possess the natural ability to choose not to hear sounds in the same way we can choose not to see. The artificial exception to this rule is headphones.

This new understanding of the neglected importance of sound dramatically effected my relationship with music. I realised that by wearing headphones whilst walking through the park or in the street, I was cutting myself off from audio information that is crucial for navigating the natural and urban landscape. Headphones allowed me to ignore a vast part of physical reality, to shut my ears to the local environment, obliterating my relationship to the rhythms of the world, whether organic or artificial.

The first problem with portable music devices and sound cancelling headphones is that it prevents us from being present. Sound and sight go together to create a narrative; I am walking down a path, I can see trees, I can hear bird song, I am in the park. As I have discussed, sound is not limited in the same way that sight is, so by limiting our sense of sound we dramatically reduce our understanding of our surrounding environment.

The second problem is that we exchange this valuable information about our environment for music that has the ability to radicalise our experience. I find this to be a side effect of cinemas alluring depiction of reality. This new ability to walk around plugged into our own soundtracks completely unrelated to our surroundings ultimately effects our perception of reality and therefore our behaviour. What is most concerning about this is that due to the popularity of headphones and portable music devices, a large percentage of people inhabiting the same physical location are able to have very different experiences of the exact same time and place. This creates an emotional social divide and thus makes it more difficult for people to interact with one another. Just like the structure of cinema and the Internet, this cultural phenomenon forces us to focus on the narrative of the individual experience rather than on the collective, polarising our common social and political abilities.

Ultimately, this preference of the virtual cinematic experience over the ‘organic’ experience gestures toward a much larger issue that has possessed humanity since the first agricultural revolution in 10,000 BC. Since this technological revolution, humans have manipulated natural resources for their own benefits, effecting global ecology. This dominance over the natural environment has had profound effects on the way that we think about the non-human environment; we see fauna and flora as natural resources that exist only to serve us. Today, many millennia later, human arrogance and self obsession can be seen in the abundance of cities, portable music devices, noise cancelling headphones and digital screens. We have slowly but surely cancelled out the natural landscape, replacing it with human invention and imagination. We live in a human-only world built on a practice of decision-making that benefits human kind only.

In his book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ (2011) Yuval Noah Harari describes how this dynamic between man and nature has accelerated dramatically in the past 200 years; “The Industrial revolution opened up new ways to convert energy and to produce goods, largely liberating humankind from its dependence on the surrounding ecosystem…As the world was moulded to fit the needs of Homo sapiens, habitats were destroyed and species went extinct. Our once green and blue planet is becoming a concrete and plastic shopping centre.” I must reflect here that Harari’s text has been greatly valuable to my practice in terms of thinking about the relationship between history and biology in specific subjects such as the economy, gender and agriculture.

This removal from the organic world of which we originated creates a self-fulfilling cycle of destruction. Once we developed a cognitively superior perception of our neighbours, in this case; the tree, the deer, the rock, our respect for these entities diminished. This then allowed us to exploit these entities for our own needs, thus reinforcing our biological superiority. Our lack of respect for other species and biota has resulted in our disinterest in them. We can no longer hear the birds over the roar of the car engine or the sound-cancelling headphone, so we will not notice if…when they disappear. Our cognitive superiority has blinded us to our moral ecological responsibilities and we have drowned out the rest of the natural world. The effects of a diminishing ecosystem will not be felt by us until it is too late.

During the development of these thoughts I came to admire the work and ideas of Bernie Krause. In his TED talk ‘The voice of the natural world’ (2013) Krause talks about the importance of studying soundscapes to ‘evaluate the health of a habitat across the entire spectrum of life.’ He demonstrates this with the example of Lincoln Meadow in the US where the process of selective logging (removing trees sporadically rather than in one selected area) was implemented under the assurance that it would not have any environmental impact. Krause recorded multiple dawn choruses before and after the selective logging. Although there is little visual difference between the Lincoln Meadow before and after the logging process, the decline of birdsong is drastic. This demonstrates the valuable information that we miss out on when trusting so dependently on our sense of sight.

Another example Krause uses is how Mono Lake’s Great Basin Spadefoot Toad was affected by the flight path of US navy jet pilots which drowned out and disoriented its chorus. This is a literal and very poignant example of how human progress and arrogance has the ability to drown out the natural world. So long as it is benefiting us, any negative effect of our actions on any other specie is unlikely to affect our behaviour. Krause has also put together a selection of his ambient recordings under the title; ‘The Great Animal Orchestra’ which combines Krause’s intimate field recordings with a human orchestra. This is a beautiful and important project that poignantly places man back into the Animal Kingdom rather than above it.

Pinar Yoldas’ work ‘The Very Loud Chamber Orchestra of Endangered Species’ (2013) is very closely related to the practice and ecological ideas of Krause. In this work Yoldas uses recordings of endangered species to create a rare orchestra that is conducted by input from environmental datasets. The installation of this work presents skulls of each endangered animal, and when the animals cry is triggered by the input of live data, its jaws artificially open and close in the rhythm of mechanisation. This collaboration between data and biology creates a profound emotional experience that confronts the audience with the urgency of human’s continuous ecological impact. Yoldas describes herself as a ‘Post-humanist’, which since has become a line of theory and philosophy that I am often finding my own thoughts align to.

The very loud chamber orchestra of endangered species _ abridged documentation of CO2ncert may 15-17 2013 from pinar yoldas on Vimeo.

In ‘The Great Silence’ (2012) Allora and Calzadilla utilize the techniques of documentary storytelling to reflect on our prioritisation of technological progress over the welfare of other species. The multi-projection installation combines footage and soundscapes of the critically endangered Amozona Vittata Parrott with imagery of Arecibo, the world’s largest radio telescope. Using a script written, by science-fiction author Ted Chiang, from the perspective of a parrot, the film unfolds the alternative narrative of human progress. This script poetically highlights the absurdity of humans fascination with finding intelligent life in outer space whilst destroying the habitats of and ignoring the potential of species we have co existed with for millennia. The dramatic irony that inhabits the centre of the piece is the fact that the Amozona Vittata Parrott and the Arecibo telescope both reside in Puerto Rico. Both the subject matter and style of this work is something that I greatly admire. This documentary style method of making art, which deals with particular narratives in order to talk about much wider global issues is far more effective, in my opinion, than the more commonly used abstract approach. Not only does this work respect the perspective of non-human experience but it also echoes my own belief that man’s interaction with advanced technology is a spiritual and sacred experience that goes beyond scientific understanding or classification;

“According to Hindu mythology, the universe was created with a sound: “Om.” It’s a syllable that contains within it everything that ever was and everything that will be.

When the Arecibo telescope is pointed at the space between the starts, it hears a faint hum. Astronomers call that the “cosmic microwave background.” It’s the residual radiation of the Big Bang, the explosion that created the universe fourteen billion years ago.

But you can also think of it as a barely audible reverberation of that original “Om.” That syllable was so resonant that the night sky will keep vibrating for as long as the universe exists.

When Arecibo is not listening to anything else, it hears the voice of creation.”

I came across this work at the Wellcome Collections current show ‘Making Nature’ which has been detrimental to my recent modes of thinking due to its display of other artworks and artefacts that deal with this subject matter in a similar style.

Allora & Calzadilla (in collaboration with Ted Chiang), The Great Silence from Artribune Tv on Vimeo.

Evan Roth’s recent video work ‘Total Internal Reflection’ (2015) follows the same mode of thinking about the development of digital technologies as sacred and spiritual. In this this work Roth combines the deceptive invisibility of the Internet with sounds and visions that are beyond the human spectrum and locates them in the physical landscape. This video work depicts snapshots from Roth’s global mission tracing the physical locations of fiber optic cable landing sites. Alongside this, Roth has utilised techniques used by so-called ‘ghost hunters’ to collect infa-red footage and radio frequencies that cannot ordinarily be detected by the human spectrums of sight and sound. Not only does this reflect my interest in physicalizing the Internet, but Roth also uses technology in a quasi-spiritual manner to highlight the breadth of audio/visual information that humans as a species do not have access to. This collection of audio-visual material is combined to produce a work that is both visually alluring audibly repellent.

Despite what I previously said about the realisation of sounds impact on space and experience to my relationship with music, there have been several musicians that have also been integral to the developments of this understanding. In particular the works of Brain Eno, William Basinkski and Steve Reich have enriched my understanding of the possibilities of sound as an artistic medium. Through Eno’s work I have realised composed music’s ability to open up and reveal moments, as opposed to the way in which I believe lyric heavy pop music conceals and masks real time and moments. I believe there is a time and a place for rock music, where it can harvest unbelievable emotional and political power. But I personally feel that this power is exploited and lessened when it is removed from its historical context and location and listened to in privacy, on headphones or in the car, it becomes a commodity. The power of ambient music on the other hand, lies in moments of solitude where it has the ability to amplify the transience of time and space.

Through both Reich and Basinkski’s works I have been exposed to the discourse of process music and musical minimalism. Manipulation through controlled encouragements of chance has always been a strong element of my work making process. This was encouraged several years ago when I can across the print work of John Cage. It seems that Reich in particular has also been heavily influenced by the same line of thinking. Both Reich and Basinkski have used the material limits of sound equipment to create melancholic works that reflect on the technological capabilities of man. In particular here I am referring to Basinkski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’ (1982) and Reich’s ‘Pendulum Music’ (1968).

This exploitation of sound technologies limitations was also used by Alvin Lucier in the work ‘I Am Sitting in a Room’ (1981) which has recently come to my attention. This work traces the disintegration of the human voice that occurs when it is captured using recording devices. Lucier re-records this recording of his voice multiple times in the same location causing the technological qualities of the recording device to combine with the resonant frequencies of the room, creating a soundscape of unrecognisable, free flowing organic noise. This work reflects the ideas around language that I was working on in earlier works after reading the David Abram’s ‘Spell of the Sensuous’ as I believe that this work also focuses on the limitations of languages and Lucier uses these flawed technologies to liberate speech back into sound. This work also reflects what I was attempting to do in ‘MEMELTSCREN.mov’ with the translation of organic matter into artificial man made structures. Here Lucier proves this to be a self fulfilling cycle – when these recording technologies are used in accelerated manner, manipulating their intended use, the unpredictable output reflects an organic sensibility.

‘ALERT TONES’ originated with the idea of creating a soundscape out of smartphone ringtones that could be mistaken for the soundscape of a rainforest. I felt this was vital to demonstrate my reflection on how we have drowned out the rest of the natural world with our own self-obsessions. In this sense I wanted to make a comparison between the calls of animals to the replacement call of humanity, a noise that is identified by artificial sounds radiate from electronic devices. The deception of digital sounds as natural phenomena was something I have been interested after hearing multiple stories of people confusing bird-song alarm tones for actual birdsong outside. The part of these stories that I find so compelling is that at some point the person deceives reflects; ‘what beautiful birdsong!’ only to find that it is a pre recording of a healthy sounding bird community. This highlights the lack of such bird communities in areas where smart phone users generally reside.

After seeing Laure Prouvost’s work ‘Hard Drive’ at the British Art show 8 (which I wrote about previously, here)  I was keen to experiment with this use of interactive synchronisation with disparate electronic elements. My initial idea was that the viewer would enter a dark space, on their arrival a motion sensor would trigger the start of my composition. I knew from the beginning that I wanted the composition to begin quietly and slowly build up. At the pinnacle of tension in the composition I wanted the faux animal noises to cease at the same time a bright light flooded the space, revealing to the audience that the space they have been inhabiting is in fact a greenhouse. As the audience became accustomed to their surreal surroundings I wanted the voice of Siri to speak, slurringly and incomprehensibly. This shift in the soundscape was meant to create a sense of technological malfunction reminiscent of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when Dave unplugs Hal. Ultimately, I wanted this moment to be physically and emotionally revealing, just like the power of ambient music.

Due to many technological difficulties this idea could not be executed to quite this standard. Fortunately, the sound work was very close to my original idea but the physicality of the lights and greenhouse had to be abandoned. My first test of this work used a projector to light up a wall with white light when the composition shifted. This was effective in that it transformed the room radically, but the rigid rectangle of the projection was a problem along with the impossibility of hiding the projector itself.

For the presentation of this work at the Bargehouse show ‘IRIS TURNS’ I swapped the modern projector for a CRT monitor. I originally intended to have this facing the wall so the wall was lit up ambiguously in the shifting moment but during the set up I found it much more effective to have the monitor facing the audience. This monitor was not as bright as the power of the projector, but I believe that it lit up the room with a more sinister light. I also feel that the use of this out-dated tech was more appropriate for the context of the work as it develops what I attempted to do with the digital photo frames in the work ‘UPDATE/OUTDATE’. Alongside the clear ecological focus demonstrated by the manipulation of digital sound into animal calls, I feel that the disintegration of the screen in the second half of the piece demonstrates my ideas about our wasteful relationship to digital technologies.

To attempt reclaim the atmosphere I wanted to create with the implication of the greenhouse, I used black PVC strips to black out the space and separate it from other works in the exhibit. I felt it important to use this material as it has connotations with many human-animal environments such as the butterfly house and the butchers. An unexpected addition to the piece was small green and red lights that flickered in time with the composition from PA system that the audio played through. I felt that this was a subtle visual supplement to the piece that was welcomed in this space that aimed to reflect on technologies ability to be poetic.

I feel that the most successful element of this work was the sound itself. At first I attempted to create the sounds by rerecording one ringtone at a time, until it became unrecognisable, much like Lucier’s process. This did not create the deceptive soundscape that I desired so I experimented with manipulating the audio digitally. Firstly I tried reversing and slowing the audio, then playing the same audio still reversed but slightly faster. I repeated this process until the audio was playing at normal speed. This experiment still did not have the desired affect. Finally I collected many more alert, alarm and ring tones from multiple different mobile phones. Instead of listening to the sound and then deciding if I would use it or not I reversed and slowed all of the ringtones, using these sounds to create my faux natural soundscape. During the composition the soundscape gradually transforms from rainforest environment to unforgiving digital racket. A sound byte of Siri then interrupts the eventual silence, admitting; ‘I’m not sure I understand’. I layered this audio to create a second build up in the composition that then gives way to a slow droning noise and the sound of a chime. This technique of non-musical audio sampling to create ambient music can be seen reflected in the works of Reich such as his piece ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ alongside many other examples often seen in popular music.

When listening to the variation of ring, alarm and alert tones all reversed and slowed down there were many ambient tracks that arose without any manipulation on my behalf. I selected and cropped these minimal tracks, which often were not appropriate to use in the ‘ALERT TONES’ composition and uploaded them to soundcloud as the start of a new project. I hope I will collect more such tracks that I have unintentionally come across, as I feel these ‘songs’ reflect the process and work of musicians such as Baskinski.

Ultimately, I am satisfied with the presentation of my ideas and with the eventual presentation of this work. I do believe though that this works power lies in the knowledge that the soundscape is composed entirely from ringtones and alert tones from mobile devices, and it was difficult to present this information clearly to viewers. The inclusion of Siri may have indicated this slightly but I feel that it needs to be much more specific for the implications of the work to be truly realised by its audience. I also believe that it is a great shame that my more ambitious plans for the work, including floodlighting and a greenhouse, were not possible but I hope that these elements may come into play more sophisticated roles in my degree show work.

In terms of the success of the work at ‘IRIS TURNS’, it was interesting to find that a few minutes walk away from the Barge house, at the Tate the work ‘South Tank’ by Wolfgang Tillmans was being shown. This artwork presented an immersive experience in which the audience walk into a space dotted with very ordinary chairs that sprawl across the space. It is not clear for a long time what the audience is being exposed to. The installation shifts from lightshows in time to bombastic music, to the grumbling of field recordings. The installation stays mainly dark throughout the 90 minute duration of the piece, with the occasional use of projectors to display an array of seemingly disconnected imagery.

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Wolfgang Tillmans installation ‘South Tank’ (2017)

The current work of Philippe Parreno being shown in the Turbine Hall; ‘Anywhen’ I also feel reflects my current interests. The installation of Parreno’s work is physically kinetic, with speakers, lights and screens all mechanically setting into motion at the dictation of information triggered by micro-organisms. Not only do I find this ambition awe-inspiring but Parreno also utilises an array of soundscapes to challenge the audience’s perception of time and space. The provision of blankets encourages visitors to lie on the floor, physically stopping all other distractions that the gallery environment might initiate. On the other side of the Turbine Hall huge speakers have been installed. These speakers sporadically play the sound of rain, a large carpeted space is provided for visitors to sit and listen to this sedative soundscape, which drastically transforms the commonly hectic environments found in central London.

The unnerving atmosphere caused by the constant and unexpected shift of audio and lights in both of these works, along with the manipulation of soundscapes, is something that I had tried to attempt with ‘ALERT TONES’. The fact that the timing of these exhibits at the Tate coincided with my own work being shown in London has given me a boost of confidence in terms of the mediums I am approaching to demonstrate my ideas.

‘TARMAC’ Emerging Artists group show at Lewisham Art House, London

During the making of ‘memeltscren.mov’ I was thinking about other ways in which I could manifest the immaterial aspects of digital technology into physicality. This resulted in two pieces that were shown in the group show ‘TARMAC’ at Lewisham Art House, London. Both these works were developed alongside the writing of my dissertation titled; ‘The Internet: An online utopia or an extension of a dystopian world?’ so are therefore very focused on the ways in which we navigate this new virtual landscape.

Last year I visited the White Chapel Gallery’s exhibition ‘Electronic Super Highway’, which was heavily influenced by the ideas and work of Nam June Paik. Paik’s vision of the Internet in the 70’s as a ‘spring board for new and surprising endeavours’ that would ‘enrich the quality of life itself’ is something I have found highly problematic. Along with many other thinkers during the period before the public release of the Internet, Paik heralded the Internet as a virtual saviour for us all. I believe that this point of view has allowed us to produce and consume the developing digital technologies with little moral consideration or ethical hesitation. I believe that the Internet is currently a utopia for the ego, allowing us to indulge in our own desires like never before. This obsession of the self and obtaining untapped emotional pleasure has, and will continue to, butcher our ties with our physical surroundings, turning us into staring, thumb swiping, commercially mouldable lumps of flesh.

‘INTERNET SEARCH HISTORY’ was an attempt to physically address online indulgence. Firstly, I was asked by the group I was exhibiting with to do a text piece for the entrance for the gallery after the work that was shown at ‘No Ordinary Disruption’ at the Flying Dutchman. I started off by thinking about vinyl lettering on the wall after doing much research into the work of Lawrence Weiner. This quickly transcended into an interest in how the audience would interact with the work. Through my dissertation research and previous work with screens I knew it was important for me to somehow mimic the interaction we have with screens but on a much larger scale, without using a screen.

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This is how the three blue banners heralding the large pixelated letters were developed. This shade of blue is recognisable as the digital screen-of-death blue, so in some ways I wanted to utilize it in a way that would symbolise personal loss, technological frustration and digital apocalypse. This also refers to recently out dated computing technology, acknowledging the pace of technological developments. I wanted the letters to be unreadable when close up, revealing only an array of randomly collected pixels, but readable from further away. This worked in the sense that the letters were blurred and could only be read easily when a photo was taken, but the banners were not big enough to create the exact effect that I wanted.

Initially I aimed to present my own writing, but this ended up being condensed into the three words ‘Internet Search History’. Putting these on separate banners I felt amplified the way in which these words all have their own very broad and separate meanings, but when bought together into this modern triptych they not only deal with the specificity of the personal, but also acknowledge the breadth of mans invention of the Internet to search and archive a seemingly infinite amount of data.

These ideas also stemmed from Boris Groys’ writings on the Internet and memory. In this sense I was eager to explore the idea of the Internet as collective memory, and the cataloguing of Internet searches as personal memory logs. Internet Search Histories are often seen as private places, logging personal interests and preferences, which is why advertising and marketing use html cookies to legally gain access to this intimate information in order to create more accurate statistical data. This is where I feel the liberal ideology of the 60’s vision of the Internet, where we are all free to pursue our own interests and pleasures and the capitalist dogma collide, and therefore why I felt it was important to present this very specific artefact.

Evan Roth’s work ‘Internet Cache self portrait’ series that was shown at the Electronic Superhighway exhibition influenced the materiality of this works conception. Initially I also wanted to print this work onto vinyl as I felt it was important that it existed on something heavy and tactile, but due to costs and practicality I opted for the PVC banners. Roth’s work has been hugely influential on my own practice, as I feel that he sophistically deals with the very ideas and questions that fuel my own practice. In reflection I can now see that my banners and Roth’s ‘Internet Cache self-portrait’ are suspiciously similar. In Roth’s work he revealed his browsing habits through algorithmically displayed images into physicality by printing them on vinyl. It seems that my piece of work was just unproductively condensing these ideas. At the time I did not notice that I was not simply being influenced by Roth but was actually going through the motions of the exact same idea and executing it to a much lower standard. I do feel though that I developed these ideas independently of Roth’s work, which demonstrates to me that my ideas and opinions are apart of an on-going and relevant discussion.

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Evan Roth ‘Internet Cache self portrait’ at the White Chapel’s 2016 exhibition ‘Electronic Superhighway’ 

There are notable differences between the works though. I chose to print the work over three rectangular banners in an attempt to physicalize Internet tabs, making it possible for them to be overlaid, separated and re combined. I feel that the materiality of the banners also provide connotations of both protest and advertising, which I believe to be an interesting collision of opposing interests. This represents the way in which the Internet can be used for political liberation and open discussion, whilst being primarily fuelled and influenced by the dogma of capitalism.

The idea of protest that I wanted to inhabit the work I believe to be a very important part of the discussion about how we use the Internet. As our actions are being monitored more than ever before, along side the careful catering to our personal likes and dislikes, the most effective form of protest is passivity. Instead of taking to the streets with banners and signs, the most effective way of showing dissatisfaction with the current abilities of the online is to not use these mediums just as if we are not impressed by the ethics of a company or service the most effective way to harm it is by collective and individual avoidance. This is an idea that is not completely formed or researched at this stage but I believe it can be recognised somewhere within this work, and that is what sets it apart from being a shitty replica of Roth’s portraits.

The second piece of work was titled ‘UPDATE/OUTDATE’. Originally I acquired multiple photo frames to show a collection of short screen recordings such as ‘the lovers’. The aim of this work was to show how online advertising interacts with online content on creative sharing platforms such as Tumblr. In this example I felt that the anonymous image on the left which stages a romantic setting between two lovers and the condom advert on the right created an interesting dialogue. The static image on the left, which could be any thing from a still from a pornographic film to the work of a professional artist, depicts a romantic fantasy like intimacy between two lovers, whereas the advert on the right uses domesticity and banality alongside humour to promote its product. I think I found this interesting because the similarity of the images highlights how anonymous images on the Internet are liberated from their original purpose when shared just for their aesthetic qualities and value, creating and evolving new meanings and understandings.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/193978467″>the lovers</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/amberclausner”>Amber Clausner</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Unfortunately this didn’t work as the photo frames I bought did not support the files that I wanted to show on them. During this technical frustration, I entered a SD card into one of the photo frames that had been left in another of the photo frames that I had purchased second hand. The 1GB SD card contained hundreds of images of a white, middle-class family. By chance, when I entered the SD card into this photo frame, all of these accidentally acquired images glitched unexpectedly. I then became obsessed with this as a looping slideshow as I found that each image glitched differently every time it appeared on the slideshow. This was just a coincidence between two opposing technologies and I would have no idea how to re create or force it but I felt it was important to show this at Lewisham in order to comment on the rapid development of technology which annually renders many working pieces of tech useless, contributing to vast rates of waste and consumption in the ‘developed’ world.

The photo frame I felt was an especially important tool in regards to this discussion. The research for my dissertation was focused primarily on how the past predicted the future, which inevitably included William Cameron Menzies 1936 film adaptation of H. G. Wells’ 1933 story ‘Things to Come’. In the 2036 that they both imagine, screens have replaced windows. Anne Friedberg discusses this prediction in ‘The Virtual Window’; “As flat-screen technology improves and screens replace real windows with a kind of “inhabited TV,” a “windows environment” may give was to virtual “window-walls,” an image not far from the shape of H. G. Wells’s Things to Come.” The reason I found the photo frames so interesting in this context is that they are this prediction come to fruition but in a low quality, kitsch, out-dated way.

Digital photo frames are rarely come across in use, they are the classically dis-regarded Christmas present, used once on boxing day then left to gather dust in the loft. They herald the idea of unlimited digital benefits – ‘Show off your holiday photos all year round’ – but the reality is that not many people are organised to archive and edit their banal photographs for constant public display. They also symbolize the cross over from analogue to digital photography. As physical photo albums gave way to Facebook photo sharing, there has been a loss of physical photo collecting. The digital camera allows us to take (seemingly) unlimited amounts of photos, which causes us to take more photos then we would ever need. These photos then lay dormant in files on our computers, taking up unnecessary digital space that we have become sentimentally attached to. After the initial hype of digital photography’s benefits consumers began missing the physicality of the photo album and I see the digital photo frame as a domestic and commercial object that attempted to reclaim that.

Ultimately I do not think that either of these works are particularly successful. Although they manifest many of the ideas and research that I was working with for my dissertation I do not think that they were engaging or informative to an audience. I also believe that the failure of these works shows that I am much more comfortable and successful when working with film. I realised after setting up the exhibition that the lack of audio was why I felt so dissatisfied with the work. Recently I have been considering how problematic it is that our culture is so dependant on the sense of sight, and therefore have realised how important it is to engage with the other senses. In this regard I have learnt that I want to develop my use of sound in my practice and move away from sculptural and pictorial content.

Development of memeltscren.mov

Reflecting on my collage work where I had been printing off physical copies of my computer screen shots I decided to experiment with smaller scale collages on a lightbox, about the size of a computer screen. This was an attempt to create static screens, using ink jet prints physically cut and stuck onto one another to juxtapose the imageries origins. In doing this I focused on a screen shot of my desktop to give the collage a sense of being located within the architecture of a digital user interface (UI). For me this image displays the outcome of primal human processes being translated into man-made digital technologies. In this specific case; the incalculable workings of the brain being standardised into visual digital form.

When reflecting on the development of the alphabet and its historical cultural influence Yuval Noah Harari notes: “The most important impact of script on human history is precisely this: it has gradually changed the way humans think and view the world. Free association and holistic thought have given way to compartmentalisation and bureaucracy.” As chronological development of human technology, the UI can, I feel, be seen as an extension of this and thus be analysed in the same way. In this screen shot, within the perfected architecture of the UI my folders, screenshots and documents cluster organically, blooming into the top right corner. Despite the UI’s rigid man made structure, the organic substance of myself and my brain seeps through the metal and glass, presenting a mess of disparate images and texts, refusing systematic categorisation.

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Desktop screenshot

On his website artist Joey Holder provides a link to a downloadable torrent of the entirety of his hard drive, 1.7TB of data. Through its scale, this mundane project raises questions not only about digital privacy but also about hard ware capabilities and emotional data. Holder gives all Internet users the opportunity to delve through incongruent corridors of his brain. Stored within the folders and the sub folders and the sub sub sub folders are traces of computer activity and physical reality. Here ideas come to fruition. Application forms have been filled. Word documents have been abandoned. Photos from a friend sit in a zip folder. PDF train tickets. Digital receipts. The lot. No more interesting than our own digital data sitting in the crevices of our hard drives and memory sticks, taking up all that emotional room. In ‘Grosse Fatigue’ Camille Henrot expands on these ideas on a colossal scale. Using a desktop, hard drive and screen recording software, Henrot attempts to describe the entire existence of the universe using multiple windows that open, play, pause, close, skip, turn, accompanied by a spoken word narrative, in 13 minutes. The scale of this project is far beyond my own comprehension, but this is the quality and breadth of subject that I aim to work with in the future.

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Still from Camille Henrot ‘Grosse Fatigue’

To describe this universal relationship to the desktop and personal data I took the ink jet print and scanned it back onto my desktop screen using a photo scanner. Here I then uploaded the image to the Internet, downloaded it and printed it off again. This print I then photo scanned back to the desktop. I repeated this until the image became so distorted it dissolved into the page. It was important for me to include a physical element to the process of destroying the image in order to think about the development of technology from physical tools as an extension of our physical capabilities, to digital technologies as an extension of our mental capabilities.

In Hito Steyrl’s introduction to her essay ‘In Defense of the Poor Image’ she defines the poor image as; “a copy in montion. Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard. As it accelerates, it deteriorates. It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.” My aim with the repetitive process of printing, scanning, uploading and downloading was to manufacture my own poor image, using the image of the desktop as a digital representation of the brain.

Alongside making an animation of the final outcome of all of these images, I screen recorded the process of uploading and downloading the images that came into the computer. I learnt how to Chroma key footage in Premiere Pro in order to overlap and manipulate imagery in the way I had seen Borna Sammack do in his recent solo show with Sadie Coles.

I had simultaneously been working on a project where I was recording myself having a conversation with Siri in order to test the limits of the ‘Intelligent personal assistant’ computer program’s design. This process was inspired by works such as Alicja Wade’s ‘Medium Median’ and Steve Cottingham’s ‘Conversation with Eliza’. What I found here was that I went round in conversational circles when attempting to question Siri. With the lack of long term memory, I could ask Siri only one question at a time before it would forget the previous answer, making a back and forth conversation impossible. This confusion often led Siri to direct me to Google Search, which would then prompt me to ask it why it would do a google search for my previously asked question. This process would continue until Siri would silently reveal the google search results. These I would then read out, url and all. Through this process I found that the computer program controlled me rather than the other way round. Not only was I unable to move the conversation around in the way I wanted, my voice began to pick up the same monotomous rhythm as Siris as I relayed the google search results and repeated questions. I then heightened certain aspects of this audio in premiere pro, to reflect this banal digital rhythm that was created within our interaction, alongside audio of me typing at the computer and heavy breathing.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/194341221″>ME MELT SCREN .MOV</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/amberclausner”>Amber Clausner</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

This audio I felt complimented the content of the video work with the melting screen, as it gave another example of the organic, bio-matter of the human, compared to the external, alien systems we have created to process data. To make this explicit, I purposefully chose a part in the ‘interview’ where I ask Siri about its opinion of perfection.

Finally, I had the opportunity to display this work in a show in the Linear Gallery, UCA Farnham. Having intended this work to be viewed on a computer screen, (as there is this illusion of invasion or mimicry when the video is put to full screen on a computer screen), this was a great opportunity to let the work occupy physical space again. I decided to emphasise this, using two monitors, vinyl stickers and loud audio in order to dominate the space.

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Installation view of memeltscren.mov in Linear Gallery

Although this changed the intimate dynamic of the video, this opportunity gave me a new opportunity to re-contextualise these ideas of the digital being translated into physical space. I feel that the work utilised this spaces limitations. As a corridor, the interaction between work and audience in this space is usually very brief, with little time or room to stop and consider the work. Despite this I was able to still effect audience members with the level and intensity of the audio and with the overabundance of imagery. At just a glance audience members where introduced to the main focus of the work, the disintegration of the screen, and the audio then followed them through the rest of the corridor.

I would like the opportunity to project this work on a large scale, in a room filled with other objects, or in some way to use it as a background. I feel that it works much better in this way, as to sit down with the work directly is not as fulfilling. It is more of an exploration of a subject rather than a strict documentary style narrative and I think it is most effective if snippets are seen at intervals rather than all at once. I believe this work creates an experience rather than a direct chronological narrative, and this can be successfully executed depending on its presentation.

A reflection on the development of my ideas and work since September

Since my presentation of ‘POLITICALLY EMOTIONAL/EMOTIONALLY POLITICAL’ at the Flying Dutchman at the end of September my work has evolved greatly. Since finishing David Abram’s book ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ I had to re consider the function of using written language in my work. This is because in this text Abram looks at the way in which the phonetic alphabet has developed from symbols within the landscape (the foot prints of animals, the sun and moon) into the symbols which I write with now that bare little resemblance to the natural world. Abram also speaks of the ways in which written language is problematic because when we are reading we are less aware of our surroundings. This concern stems from the fact that stories from that oral cultures that Abram has studied are so deeply tied to the land, the setting is an active participant in the story rather than a back drop on which human intervention plays out, that once it is written and distributed it looses all meaning, and the narrative can no longer adapt and evolve as it has been doing for its entire existence. Upon understanding this I felt it was important to abandon the presentation of written work and make work that was the total opposite, as it is the frustration of our disconnection from the natural landscape that I know is sitting at the core of my work and Abram describes the phonetic alphabet as one of the reasons for the breakdown of this relationship to be possible.

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POLITICALLY EMOTIONAL/EMOTIONALLY POLITICAL’ installation at The Flying Dutchman’

This is how I developed the soundtrack for ‘WE FEEL’, I took the words from ‘POLITICALLY EMOTIONAL/EMOTIONALLY POLITICAL’ and I read each letter out phonetically. I chose to speed this up a little before it came into the work in order to make sure that it sounded as un human as possible, this also changed the pitch so that the voice sounded like a child’s, which added a dimension of innocence and fragility to the work. The video aspect of this work was developed from a video that I came across a while ago, it is the first clip included in the final version, and now I feel that the lightening strike serves also as a kind of light bulb moment of realisation for the work. The other clips included were found by searching for specific things like ‘flock of birds’ etc. But what I was looking for in each video was not necessarily an ‘epic’ unfolding of nature but most importantly it was about how the human cameraman reacted to this phenomena. This was important to demonstrate my view that we have become so distanced from the natural world.

All of these natural phenomena that happen we previously had a spiritual connection to, through the experience of unusual phenomena we would feel that the earth is communicating with us. But, we can’t comprehend these things through quiet contemplation or even visceral, tangible experience anymore; instead we take out our smart phones (which are so incredibly unlike anything from the natural world one can easily forget that their components ever came from the ground at all) and record these phenomena, creating a barrier between the event and ourselves. I find this problematic because I think that this act of recording such things makes it impossible for us to be ‘in’ the event, we become only passive spectators. I think these recordings of natural spectacles also make us feel like we are able to control them in some ways too. Online I often see posts/videos/images that make a mockery out of nature, which for me demonstrates this disconnection to the highest degree. There are so many things that our ancestors had to learn about this earth for us to be where we are today, but because of the diminishing amount of time we spend in contact with the non man made world daily, we see unusual or incomprehensible natural occurrences as irrelevant, useless or even a source of comedy.

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Screen shot example

This all stems from man’s feeling of dominance over the natural world, and I believe that this comes from scientific knowledge. This is something that I have been discussing for a long time, as I believe that we rely so heavily on the way of scientifically looking at nature that we forget and reject to experience it emotionally. We trust science as a complete truth, exactly as religious faiths treat their scriptures as the absolute truth, but in my opinion science is only one means of looking at the world. For example, in September I went up into the rolling landscape of Farnham Park in the middle of the night because there was a very dramatic thunderstorm playing out without any rain. I stood vulnerably in the flat landscape until the adrenaline became too much and I had to retreat to the shelter of the trees. With every crack of thunder my heart leapt into my mouth and with every flash of lightning the landscape around me was exposed in such intricate detail. My senses were running wild, I felt so much fear and freedom simultaneously, there was no guarantee that I was safe, there was no height or medical restrictions to this experience, I was experiencing the forces of this wild and beautiful planet completely. Although before this experience I was scientifically aware of what causes a lightening storm, the molecules rubbing together, the combination between cool and warm air etc. none of that mattered when I was stood in that field with my senses ignited by the world. I couldn’t help thinking about what relationship our ancestors would have had with such an overwhelming event, because when we lived closely with the land and didn’t have our concrete homes to protect us, a storm like this would have been impossible to ignore as we can now. Of course I think it is incredible that we can find out such incredibly detailed information, but I believe that the analytical and calculable ways that we present these studies devalues all of the mystery and magic of these sensuous events.

It is this removal of mystery that is perhaps my biggest concern with our faith in science. Because we feel that there is already a proven and exact answer for everything, we no longer question things in any other form. I guess what this is coming down to is the perspective that science is a new form of religion, which paralyses us to understand or think about the world emotionally, or in any other way. These ideas are all heavily rooted in Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous, near the end of the book Abram notes

‘A civilisation that relentlessly destroys the living land it inhabits is not well acquainted with truth, regardless of how many supposed facts it has amassed regarding the calculable properties of its world.’

This destruction of the world though our ill informed decisions is what really terrifies me about our relationship to nature. It is at this point where my work goes from personal observations and emotions to the global and political. I believe that this disembodiment from our place in nature has created a huge shift in our political values. Especially in recent global developments, like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, where we can see the effect of the screen on peoples inability to think rationally and emotionally about the planet as a whole. Here I believe it is important to think about the effect of memes on the American election, this is something that I aim to explore in my work before I am able to write about it. But what I can deduct from these events is that economics and comedy is at the centre to our beliefs and political passion, instead of our relationship to each other as natural evolutions of this earth.

I think it would actually be beneficial for me to start looking at the Gothic literature I have studied previously, because of its documentation of the shift in society from religion to science. From what I remember of reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is a lot of iconography of man turning into God with the birth of science, and the fear of the natural world presented again with the symbol of lightning. In Macbeth as well I remember the subversions of the natural order that effect fatal endings for the characters. This period of literature coincides with the scientific developments happening in England during and after the Industrial revolution, so I think it would be really beneficial for me to study these texts again in this context, to see how increased scientific knowledge and security effected societies relationship with the natural world. In my opinion the gothic is still explored in popular culture today, especially in films such as Ex-Machina (Alex Garland, 2015) and TV shows such as Black Mirror (Charlie Brooker, 2013-2016).

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Still from a film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’

I think it is important to note here that these ideas of human dominance over the natural world, and the way in which we have made ourselves ‘above’ nature with our tools and buildings etc. was considered in the presentation of ‘WE FEEL’. After seeing the Infinite Mix exhibition I was keen to attempt to create a similar space that would allow viewers to have this fully immersive experience. I then had this idea to install the screen so that the audience would have to look up, in order to change their relationship with viewing digital work. Because the work so closely mimics YouTube compilation videos I really felt that I needed the presentation of it to push it out of this binge watching material and raise it onto a more valuable level. The way in which the viewer has to lie underneath the screen, surrounded by the laughter, confusion and awe of the camera men and women from these samples of found footage and my hypnotic hum of phonetic language, also creates the impression that these natural phenomena are physically beyond us. Perhaps this is not so correct because I believe actually that they are apart and equal to us, but because of our current state of dominance over the entire natural landscape I think it is important to create experiences that remind an audience that we are inferior to these natural phenomena, but we have found ways to protect our inferiority through our social and physical architectures. In the critical feedback to this work I was told that this installation made it much more difficult to view the work and perhaps distracted from the content of the videos. So instead of focusing on creating installations I should let the videos do the work for me, but it was a beneficial experience to consider how the work was to be shown on such an ambitious level.

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‘WE FEEL’ Installation

I have maybe two or three more videos I am in the process of making that are similar in style and content. One is specifically of natural disasters, studying the way in which everything is filmed, even when we are in danger and how people go into these perilous situations just to acquire the footage for their YouTube channels. The second explores the relationship between humans and animals, looking at how animals interact with human built technologies and how the captivity of zoos turns animals into a spectacle for human consumption. Another video idea that I have been thinking about looks at children’s reality TV shows I watched whilst growing up such as Raven and Jungle Run, which show young children facing fictional dilemmas in fabricated surroundings. I think this is interesting to look at as it shows the diminishing amount of time we spend outside as kids (for me watching TV and for the children taking part in the TV shows themselves), and the way in which the natural world becomes only a backdrop or a set design for these false narratives to unfold. The education of children is also something that I think about a lot in the context of my work because I think it is hugely problematic how the school system of academic curriculum functions. I feel in many ways that this system of testing and grading is only a judgement of how suitable a child is for economically valuable industries, and does not actually challenge anything about a child’s emotional intelligence. This system often leaves many children feeling stupid and unable to contribute to society, causing them to grow up following a strict set of rules, get a job, get a mortgage, a home, marriage, children, pension that only aids the system that has repressed them. Education at primary level effects how we go on to view and experience the world, so this is something very fragile that I currently feel is problematic and poorly handled.

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Still from CITV show ‘Jungle Run’

I have also been finding ways to make my archive of screen shots exterior to my computer. This is an archive which I have naturally accumulated over the past year or so, where I screen shot anything I come across on the Internet that I find particularly weird or that demonstrates the beliefs I have about societies disembodiment from sensuous experience. An example of this is the screen shot included below. This is a still image from a compilation video I found of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. This is the way in which the maker of the compilation video decided to transition between the clips, which reflects the accessible technology of basic editing software’s such as iMovie, but more importantly presents a disconnection, lack of empathy and understanding of the events taking place in the footage. I have been printing these small and strange images off and have worked with finding compositions in the physical world. I found a teletubbies table cloth which I have been working with as it reflects my interest in children’s TV and it depicts a ‘natural landscape’ that has been cartoon-ised and made idyllic. I also include images that I have taken with an iPod and some of the shopping lists from my ‘lost lists’ archive as examples of things I have found out in the world to contrast against these digital symbols. It has also been important for me to include image of political figures that usually hide behind some of the more humorous images as a symbol of how we are distracted from the problems we should be focused on, the pleasurable abilities of the Internet immobilise us from productive political activism that was rife in the 60’s. I am now going to experiment with these compositions on a smaller scale that mimic the size of screens that we commonly interact with. I also want to experiment with finding ways to put finished compositions on light boxes, so they become illuminated in the same way that mimics the screen, but they are handmade, static and physical. This will resemble the format of illuminated advertising spaces that we see at bus stops and other public spaces, as I feel that as the Internet continues to develop it is becoming less useful for it’s users and more useful as an advertising space. This technique is used by Cedric Christie in his Icons series that explores the relationship between artists and branding.

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Still from ‘Nepal Earthquake 2015’ compilation video

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Recent experiments with tangible digital collage ideas

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Installation of Cedric Christie’s ‘Icons’ series 

I am also doing experiments with Siri where I speak to it in ways that allow me to uncover the algorithms that create it. This was inspired by Steve Cottingham’s ‘Conversations with Eliza’ (2011) as I am interested to perform the same sort of experiment but with an algorithm that we use for daily, mundane tasks. Siri is also not capable of holding lines of conversation so I am aware that I will not be able to have a conversation quite as long, but I do not intend to ask Siri about myself or about art instead I intent to ask Siri about Siri. This idea also came to me after seeing Alicja Kwade’s use of Siri to read out genesis in her resent commission at the Whitechapel. In particular I am interested in asking Siri existential questions, as the way that Siri is programmed to deal with these questions is often comedic, which I find as problematic as the way in which the Internet deals with actual problems through meme’s. I am not sure exactly where this work is going but I hope that it will be used as the soundtrack for a future video or perhaps this could be a sound piece all on it’s own.

After all of the documentary work that I have found of particular interest recently, in particular the work and style of Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Rachel Rose, I have thought about making experimenting myself with this form. In particular I am interested in looking more at the Voyager Golden Records, and possibly using the images and sounds that are included on them to analyse the way in which we have chosen to present civilisation and create a self portrait of the earth. In the style of Rachel Rose’s ‘Everything and more’ I also want to include interviews with Ann Druyan whose brainwaves were included on the disc, as this demonstrates the enormous responsibility of representing our entire civilisation:

“I entered a laboratory at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and was hooked up to a computer that turned all the data from my brain and heart into sound. I had a one-hour mental itinerary of the information I wished to convey. I began by thinking about the history of Earth and the life it sustains. To the best of my abilities I tried to think something of the history of ideas and human social organization. I thought about the predicament that our civilization finds itself in and about the violence and poverty that make this planet a hell for so many of its inhabitants. Toward the end I permitted myself a personal statement of what it was like to fall in love.”

This is a huge subject to tackle and I don’t want to rush into the idea so I will continue to research this subject with the aim to make the documentary only when I feel that I have enough recourses to do so.

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15 of the 116 images included on the Voyager Golden records

British Art Show 8 at Southampton

For me the most interesting work shown was all contained within Southampton Art Gallery. The first work that subdued me was Rachel Maclean’s ‘Feed Me’. Since seeing her video work ‘Germs’ screened at the Whitechapel gallery last year I have often found myself reflecting Maclean’s visual aesthetic in my drawings. As grotesque as ever this film explores the themes of commodification, social structures and childhood in a recognisable dystopia. This work in particular felt very close to the 2006 film ‘Idiocracy’ both stylistically and contextually. Idiocracy maintains a level of irony throughout due to the Hollywood-esque naivety of it all, whereas ‘Feed Me’ carries an honest edge of concern throughout, avoiding all comic outlets despite the exaggerated an intolerable characters it features. These imaginings of dystopia are crucial for my work as my own beliefs are rooted in the uncompromising change that is slowly creeping upon all civilisation, particularly the populations of first world countries.

 

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Still from Rachel Maclean’s ‘Feed Me’

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Installation view of Rachel Maclean’s ‘Feed Me’ 

 

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Still from ‘Idiocracy’ (2006)

Benedict Drew’s video installation work ‘Sequencer’ was unsettling and weird, but there were many elements of it that stopped my comprehension of it. The installation seemed more focussed on the weird materials, tin foil, conch shells, mud, than on the footage shown. Although I enjoyed the visual pleasures of this work I never felt completely immersed in the ‘landscape’ I was told to experience.

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Installation view of Benedict Drew’s ‘Sequencer’

In the adjoining room I came across Andrea Büttner’s ‘Images in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement’. Having read some of Büttner’s written work I somehow felt better equipped to understand the way in which she has merged theory with art on this occasion. Although usually I do not take to such precise artworks, there was something about this work that really resonated with my own ideas and choice of imagery. I think that with the Internet now it is very difficult to make choices when it comes to imagery, especially in terms of re appropriation etc. so there is something about the decisiveness of the work that has captured me. It is also the simplicity of the images presentation, spaced out precisely on large boards framed by this academic green that makes the work so effective. Unlike on the Internet the viewing space for these modest, every day images is not cluttered by advertisement and distraction. This is something I need to reconsider with my most recent collage works, as they function primarily on the clutter and disorganisation of the Internet.

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Detail from Andrea Büttner’s ‘Images In Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement’

There was on particular element of Mikhail Karikis’ ‘Children of Unquiet’ that I am eager to push into my own work. This documentary work explores the social impact of the world’s first geothermal power station in Italy. Due to redundancy many of the workers and their families were forced to abandon the villages they lived in nearby. Karikis explores this recent history through local children returning to one of these abandon villages where they perform eerie synchronisations of movement and sounds. Most interestingly Karakis’ has the children re create the industrial noises of the factory with their voices. It is this relationship between the voice and the surroundings that I am most interested in after reading David Abram’s ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ since reading this book I have thought a great deal about the way in which our voices mimic the industrial sounds of engines and robotic voices, sounds that we hear everyday, rather than the natural rhythms that our voices were born from.

The highlight of the show for me was Laure Prouvost’s sculptural installation work ‘Hard Drive’. At first this space seems relatively disappointing and dull but then suddenly the fans begin to whir, the lights dim and a spot light swings the work into action. A sleek black chair sits anxiously in the middle of the room between the wind of three industrial fans, a large houseplant, a large hard drive shelved onto the white wall opposite the spectating audience. A robotic voice attempts to seduce viewers into the chair, and it is easy to be seduced when no one is watching. The audio is loud and unforgiving, the sudden shifts in dynamic and tone create an unbearable tension where you are not quite sure if you are being watched and if you are, are you behaving correctly? The entire experience of this installation was exhilarating, ordinarily dull objects swung into life using modest forms of electricity and synchronisation, creating a vibrant exploration fabrication and reality.

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Detail from Laure Prouvst’s ‘Hard Drive’