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.


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.

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).

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.

‘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.

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.

Still from ‘Nepal Earthquake 2015’ compilation video
Recent experiments with tangible digital collage ideas
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.

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.


Still from Rachel Maclean’s ‘Feed Me’
Installation view of Rachel Maclean’s ‘Feed Me’ 


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.

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.

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.

Detail from Laure Prouvst’s ‘Hard Drive’

Borna Sammak at Sadie Coles

It is the moving image work ‘Not yet titled’ shown in this intimate exhibition space that has stayed with me and often popped up in conversation as a reference since I saw it. Shown on a large, glossy, flat screen monitor, hung unconventionally portrait and framed by some intricately carved artificially yellow substance, this work uses a peculiar editing technique that allows multiple clips to play at once. Here Sammak has managed to edit out the static parts of found footage, the backgrounds mainly, and thus the video consists only of the moving elements of a series of clips. These clips focus on animals, some times in groups and other times on their own, there are many clips shown simultaneously and as they are all individually quite small in scale, this creates a vibrant and continuously morphing texture on the flat, shiny screen. I was unable to get too close to the monitor as the floor beneath it was lowered and there were other pieces of work in the way, this forced me to view the work from afar and perhaps prohibited me from seeing to closely the shortcomings of this editing technique. In most cases parts of the static imagery glitches into recognition, but from afar this only added to the diversity of movements and colour dominating the black surface of the screen. I think it is the transformation of the sleek digital screen into an organic texture that this work was aiming to effect, as below it there was another screen that had been severely damaged but was still able to turn on and minimally function. Behind the cracks in the glass a strip of white light moved across the screen making unique CYMK patterns with every stroke. The close proximity of these works and the similarity of the screens created a subtle yet irrevocable connection to one another, and to the relationship between the screen and the natural world.

‘Not Yet Titled’ – borna Sammak at Sadie Coles

I have also been considering ways of isolating certain parts of footage to focus on animals. For example in my work in progress; ‘Animals adapting to civilisation’ I would like to use a similar technique for each video clip in order to analyse the movements and behaviour of the animals without being able to see their surroundings. In many of the clips the animals are in a zoo or in a home so I think it’s important to look closely at the way in which we restrict animals from their natural habitats and perhaps a successful way of doing this would be by isolating them completely from any recognisable landscape. In this way the viewers are blinded by their sense of sight but I will still keep the full audio to create a frustrating experience for the senses, both of these techniques also mimic the way in which the wild animal would experience these forms of captivity.

To watch a clip of this work visit: http://royalgram.co.uk/borna-sammak-not-yet-titled-2016-television-steel-sign-power-strips-extension/

Björk Digital at Somerset House

As I imagine was the same for most of the attendees of this exhibition, after hearing that this show would include works shown on VR headsets I immediately booked my ticket. I have been somewhat surprised by the lack of virtual reality experimentation in the art world so far, but this exhibition demonstrated why. The headsets were bulky and uncomfortable and often broke, brutally piercing the illusion of another dimension that these technologies were trying to create. In no way was I deceived by this technology as a portal into another ‘reality’, I felt continually aware that I was just watching footage on small screens really close to my face as I was swivelling around on my funky chair to maybe see something worthwhile. Mainly the content of these videos was not hugely interesting either, one of the works simply consisted of Björk reproducing in a lurid yellow dress at different locations not far from my body on a miserable looking beach.

Still from ‘Stonemilker VR’

The well-celebrated highlight of the show was ‘Mouthmantra VR’ which was as entirely disturbing as I had imagined, still lacked a complete adoption of the technology. I could not understand why the footage had been so wildly tampered with, it was weird enough that you were digitally inside a model of Björk’s mouth without the footage being so drastically warped. This stylistic choice meant that half of the virtual space was left empty and grey with only a trace of some poorly disguised digital video stitching to stimulate the mind. For ‘Notget VR’ viewers were led to headsets that allowed you the ability to move in the space, this was viciously disrupted by the fact that the vive headsets were attached above by short amounts of metal wire, so every now and again you would be tugged back into reality by these restrictive shackles.

Still from ‘Mouthmantra VR’

After watching the 4 VR videos and a dual screen presentation of Björk’s ‘Black Lake’ music video, you are led into a final room that contains a show reel of all of Björk’s music videos. I sat in this room for over two hours hoping to find some compensation for the £12.50 that it cost me to endure the entirety of Björk’s visual discography, but unfortunately I found nothing but a fresh bout of annoyance with the start of each video. In comparison with The Infinite Mix, the audio-visual show on just a few doors down from Somerset house, Björk digital fell short. The rooms that the headsets were placed in felt weirdly run down and dystopian, much like the old vinyl factory setting of the Infinite Mix but unlike Björk digital the work in Infinite Mix was seamless in it’s content and presentation. So perhaps looking at this show we can conclude that VR is not quite at the stage where we can really experience new realities, instead we should focus on using well-developed processes to a more effective degree, such as the 3D video technologies used in Cyprien Gaillard’s ‘Nightlife’.

Installation view

The Infinite Mix

This show has heavily informed my consideration of how to display audio visual works. Even in a half derelict building, the curators were able to create sleek environments in which to view the works, allowing the audience to be transported from their locations into the unique time and space that each film explores. It was this creation of beautifully considered, dark, intimate spaces with permeating audio that led me to create the blacked out space for my most recent  work ‘WE FEEL’.

Installation view of ‘WE FEEL’

Although the show consisted of 10 brilliant audio/visual works, I have isolated the 4 that I feel are the most important for me to speak about here, starting with Ugo Rondinone’s ‘THANX 4 NOTHING’. Having stumbled across John Giorno’s found poetry work last year I was pleasantly surprised to find him towering over and around me in this multi projection and multi screen installation performing his autobiographical poem written on his 70th birthday. Having recently been working with my own poetry and thinking about its form of display, this performative example gave me many things to consider. When poetry is so personal and comes as a direct reaction to experience, it can be crucial that the writer is able to perform this. The weight of the words used comes mostly from the way that they are presented to a listener, the words them selves will remain quite empty if there is nothing there to ignite them. It was also Rondinone’s technical presentation of this performance that made it so powerful in the space. The tempo of the piece is a roller coaster ride of emotional range, from the peaceful one shot simplicity of Giorno barefoot on a stage, to a state of almost overwhelming tension caused by rapid cutting between shots of Giorno on the black stage and in a white studio. The overwhelming element of this work is also helped by the monitors placed on the floor, which show Giorno’s performance from a variety of angles, giving the viewer a fragmented 360 vision. All of the projections and monitors synced up perfectly in what must be a technical nightmare, but is executed to such a degree of brilliance and seamlessness that the experience of the work is able to evoke a sense of clarity in the audience.

Ugo Rondinone ‘THANX 4 NOTHING’ Installation

In room 6 I came across the work of Rachel Rose for the first time with her work ‘Everything and More’. The screen used here was semi transparent, allowing the exterior backdrop of the London skyline to permeate through the film at points of complete darkness or brightness. This added a very fitting element to the work, which explores the micro and macro through footage of a crowd at a music event contrasted with elegantly shifting imagery of milk, food colouring, oil and water, all accompanied by an interview with Astronaut David Wolf who describes his experience looking at the earth from space. The film also explores a neutral buoyancy lab, where an un-manned space suit stands eerily by the edge of a deep pool of clear water that the camera travels in and out of. The calming sound design along with these epic projections of humanity and the descriptions of earth as told by Wolf collaborate to create a head space that allows viewers to reflect on their own space in human reality, which is exaggerated by the view of the London skyline often seeping through this imagery. These clips flow together through purposely created glitches, which heightens the material understanding of the technology that mediates the work. I think Rose’s choice of footage of an electronic music event is interesting, as it contrasts with the subtle beauty of the other material used. I think Rose may have included this as an example of the only time in which we are connected as a physical body in Western society, and like every trace of anything genuine left in this society, it has been commodified and made grotesque. The sounds are harassing and disruptive, unlike that of the natural environment we have come from. People stand so far away from an event they have paid so much to see and be apart of, is this really what humanity has come so far to create?

‘Everything and more’ Installation shot
‘Everything and more’ Installation shot
‘Everything and more’ still
‘Everything and more’ still

Rose’s work left me with a great deal to consider and after returning to it many times I still cannot completely work it out, but I am complicit in the ways in which I am drawn to it’s seductive charm that I will never completely understand. After reading more into the Voyager Golden Record, a set of two disks carrying a large range of images and sounds that were sent into the solar system on both Voyager spacecraft’s in 1977, I am very interested in finding a way of making work about this. In the style of Rose I am thinking about a way of using interviews of Ann Druyan, the director of the project, whose brainwaves were recorded for an hour where she “thought about the predicament that our civilisation 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.” My only concern about this is that it is very heavy material and I would have to execute my ideas to a very high standard of sophistication.

In comparison to the other works on show I felt a little underwhelmed by Elizabeth Price’s work ‘K’. The strange industrial footage of the production of tights left me feeling a little confused and the format of the two screens made it easy to get distracted by the text and not focus on the imagery. But within this there was a certain element that did have me captivated, the animation of the sun. This is compromised of ‘thousands of glass plate slides taken between 1870 and 1948’ in the film the narrator explains that ‘we use an animation of the sun composed of images taken of it during the 20th century, so we are dancing under the same sun that shone on recent historical events.’ It is this idea of using modern technologies, that are made in ways that exploit the environment and workers rights in countries that cannot afford such technologies commercially, and are used mainly for ego and advertisement, as a means of connecting spiritually to our experience of historical time and our life giver, the sun that I have realised I am interested in exploring in my own work. In short, this work made me consider the ways in which we can use modern technologies, that dis embody us from our natural surroundings, in a way to connect hyper spiritually with the natural phenomena which have given us life that we have ignored for so long. Of course in Price’s work this is explored fictitiously, whereas I would like to make this kind of monumental gesture a reality.

Installation view of Elizabeth Price’s ‘K’

The final work in the show, located in the unusual setting of an underground car park was ‘Nightlife’ created by Cyprien Gaillard. Here Gaillard uses a range of impressive techniques including 3D and drone film technologies to create a visually stunning exploration of a landscapes relationship to its history. For me the most unbelievable sequence of the whole film was the drone footage of fireworks above the Berlin Olympia stadium. Like the rest of the film this segment was in slow motion and the sounds of the fireworks and drone have been muted and replaced by a re-imagined sample from Alton Ellis’s song ‘Black Man’s World.’ This creates an illusion of disembodiment, as we float through the obscure sight of firework explosions, the 3D technology creates a uniquely absorbing experience that both calms and invigorates the senses. I also think it is of importance that Gaillard chose this well developed technology rather than using the more advanced but under developed technology of Virtual Reality. This is a mistake Björk made in her recent show at Somerset house. This stands as a testament that it is much more effective to use older but well developed technologies than attempt to use technologies that have not yet been completely refined, as the latter creates a messy and undignified viewing experience that repels rather than absorbs the viewer. Similarly with Rachel Rose’s work I feel like I cannot completely comprehend this work enough to analyse it, but I am ultimately in awe of it’s technical achievements and the effects of this on the psyche and temperament of the works audience. I left in a trance, the lyrics ‘I was born a loooser’ ricocheted through my thoughts as I stepped out onto the cold London streets that suddenly seemed so much duller after the artificial 3 dimensional reality of colour, light and slow motion that I had just experienced.

Cyprien Gaillard ‘Nightlife’ Installation

Having this free admission show right on my front door step has been irrevocably beneficial to my practice as I have been able to visit multiple times to re visit works. Although each work has separately influenced me in a variety of ways, currently it is the curation of these works, in their separately blacked out spaces that allow the viewers to be swallowed up by their allures that has solved the problem I have often thought about; how would you curate a video/audio only exhibition? The answer is; just like this.

Selected works from the Whitechapel galleries – November 2016

Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s ‘The All-Hearing’ (2014) was the first work I saw in the Barjeel Art Foundation Collection: Mapping the Contemporary II exhibition shown in gallery 7. In this short documentary piece Hamdan uncovers issues around noise pollution in Cairo, and focuses predominantly on the relationship between electronic technologies causing this problem and religious practice. In the video a religious speaker is shown to be condemning these technologies and those who use their potential to be speak louder than others and to disrupt neighbours. But there is irony to his whole speech as in the shots leading up to seeing the speaker standing above his congregation with microphone in hand we see shots from outside the mosque, where his speech can be heard. Another speaker describes how these technologies are making it difficult to pray as prayers and sermons from another mosque down the road can be clearly heard because the speakers are so loud. Hamdan also includes footage of the local shops that sell these audio technologies, showing the mass scale of production (the stacks of speakers) and the garish signs used to promote them.

I think it is important for me to consider the specificity of Hamdan’s subject, as it refers to a much wider field of interest (the way that technologies are effecting our senses) but is able to reveal and explore this through an example rather than the opposite (backing up the whole with examples), which is what I feel I have been attempting to do. So perhaps it would be beneficial for me to start documenting the issues I see and experience happening around me in a straightforward narrative approach.

Also in this exhibit was Sophie Al-Maria’s ‘Class A’ which was somewhat hidden in the space in comparison to Hamdan’s video work. It was the use of sound and found footage used in this work that I felt was important to consider in sight of my own work, as well as the beautiful monitor it was displayed on. The work flicks between two sources, a TV interview and ambiguous footage of a figure whilst strange and eerie noises creep through the headphones.

Sophia Al-Maria – still from ‘Class A’ 2014

My main reason for visiting Whitechapel had been to see the Guerrilla Girls show ‘Is it even worse in Europe?’ Unfortunately I found this room full of statistics and capital letters to be quite disappointing. The huge book archiving the emails sent out to galleries and museums was interesting to flick through, but if anything it made these institutions seem reasonable and the Guerrilla Girls come across bitter and biased. For example one gallery calls them out on their questioning of the sexuality of the artists they represent, saying that they don’t gather that information because it is not the business of the institution. Surely it is this equality that we are fighting for? Although, as a female artist I obviously think it is important for there to be a fair representation of all artists, I often feel as though the Guerilla Girls go about this in the wrong way. I was interested to look at the ambitiousness of their work because of the ‘LIGHTS LEFT ON’ and ‘NO SHAVE NO SHAME’ projects that I am working on but I do not feel like the activism represented here is the route that I want to go down as it seems like another form of left wing propaganda.

Guerrilla Girls – Installation view at Whitechapel

Gallery 2 was occupied by Alicja Kwade’s installation ‘Medium Median’. In the centre of this space a delicate metal mobile revolves elegantly holding tens of touch screen phones, all showing a 360 GPS orientated display of the universe. The voice of Siri can be heard reading passages from genesis, this is unnerving in the dark space permeated only by the light of the screens and spot lights illuminating the abstract bronze sculptures lining the room. The direction and speed of the mobile changes frequently, so the sculpture itself is constantly in a state of flux, making it impossible to ever really comprehend the infinity of the space that the screens are showing us. This work explores the ability of technology and science to demonstrate the scale of the universe and existance, creating a spiritual and calming experience, but also one that you are constantly aware is fabricated and false. This was by far the most exciting work I saw at the Whitechapel and has left me with a lot to contemplate in terms of materials and process.

Alicja Kwade – ‘Median Medium’ Installation view


Richard Healy ‘Lubricants & Literature’ at Tenderpixel

I was underwhelmed by the precarious nature of Richard Healy’s sculptural work, I wanted to flick through the glossy magazines that levitated in the space as I felt the presentation of only their front and back covers simply neglected their ridiculous content that could have been opened and discussed. It is the video work ‘Lubricants & Literature’ shown in the basement that I feel is necessary for me to think about in more depth.

The digitally designed visuals have been expertly crafted, creating an unrealistically clean aesthetic. Using digital methods to create virtual spaces in which to make videos is something that I previously experimented with as a way to try and comprehend these super-new technologies. This virtual space allows streamlined camera movements that are not aligned to the limitations of the human body, the camera or ‘view point’, is able to float through space and defy normal rules of physics and the same can be applied to the objects recorded.

The slow paced narrative and sound design eased me into the video work, which explores themes of sexuality and cults, but I never felt overwhelmed or surprised by it. At times I felt a little confused and perhaps even a little annoyed (where is this going, why is he saying that?!), but the sleek visual dimension to this work kept me absorbed throughout.

Richard Healy – ‘Lubricants & Literature’ installation view

I found it also important for me to take note of how the video was presented in the space. The space was dark enough for the viewer to be immersed into the work, and the benches provided well-needed comfort to accompany the 8 minute video. Behind the large flat screen monitor was a neon pink strip light, which provided the monitor with an artificial halo that mimicked the videos digital aesthetics.

I have been attracted to experiment more with using 360 technologies to create landscapes and experiences, either through 2D video or 360 headsets. I think this could be a really important place for my work to go, as it is the exact opposite to what I want to focus on in a lot of ways. 360 technologies show our absolute disconnection from reality, we are so disconnected that we want to escape from this dimension solely into our own designs, leaving all traces of our animalism behind.

Laura Owens at Sadie Coles

Having originally seen Laura Owens work 2 dimensionally in the catalogue for the 2015 ‘Forever Now’ painting exhibition, I felt real confusion when I fist saw one of her works in the ‘Painting after technology’ room at Tate Modern. The combination between printed texture and excessive forms of paint force viewers to look closely at the canvas and then stand back to look from far away again in order to assess what is ‘real’.

This untitled exhibition simply shows a broad range of Owens works, which are not simple at all. The show is accompanied by the web page why11.com, which gives short ‘descriptions’ of a selection of the paintings. Not only was I visually grasped by Owens paintings but it is the relationship between the works, the Internet and the varying forms of description that has a total hold over my interest. These descriptions are sometimes conversations about the work which remember how they were made or their histories, sometimes samples of music that echo the tempo of a painting, an online review of a product used in the painting and some are even short bursts of poetry. Not only does this form of description free the viewer from the limitations of phonetic text, but using the Internet to archive very intimate realisations and reflections about the work creates a humble legacy in the way the work then travels around with you in your pocket. It has a life beyond the gallery.


Up close some of the compositions refuse to make ‘sense’, but after looking at another painting on the opposing wall you may turn around and find yourself looking at that unsure image again and suddenly it will make sense and you are drawn back towards it to find the point where you can see it and where you can’t and AH! It’s an image of two figures between a river and a tree in a tranquil green landscape.

Laura Owens at Sadie Coles Installation view

Owen’s practice seems rather far away from my own interests and I’m not completely sure why her work captures me so or how it relates to my own practice. What I think I find most compelling at this stage is her painting’s ability to create physical movement in the viewer. The spectator is forced to perform a choreographed dance in front of each canvas in order to take it in, moving closer to inspect the materials, the weight of the paint can be felt with your eyes and you can smell the oil with you tongue. You move side-to-side to see what is silk screen printed and what has been applied after, and you move back again to take in the whole image. Owens paintings force the act of looking to become a physical bodily performance. A dance of understanding. It is also the ambiguity between the real and the representation of the real that I feel echoes my own interests but with Owens works this is explored through materials rather than with the concept of experiences.

James Richards at the ICA: Requests and Antisongs

This exhibition was detrimental to the shift in my recent practice. Richard’s work at the ICA taught me pivotal lessons about editing, sound and found footage selection. Starting with the work on the ground floor ‘Crumb Mahogany’ I was confronted by a continuous onslaught of re-used and re-appropriated noises. I had never heard sound be used in such a material way before experiencing this work, it shifts from ambient tones of machinery to a sudden sample of folk music, to police sirens, to birdsong and then it will become so much louder and then quieter and there is no way of knowing or judging the duration of the experience because it is so queer and unsettling. These sound samples do not only trigger imagery but most importantly emotional reactions. It is this use of sound that I experimented with in my most recent work ‘I FEEL’, where I focused not only what was visually happening in the found YouTube videos but also the audio, what the film maker was saying, the tone of the voice and how the sounds of the environment were also captured. Of course sampling ‘unmusical’ sounds is something that has been commonly used by musical artists from Brian Eno (Appollo 1983) to Jamie T (Panic Prevention 2007), but Richards’ work is completely unmusical itself. It actually reverses this relationship by sampling short bursts of recognisable music scores into this textural body of familiar noise.

James Richards ‘Crumb Mahogany’

The only thing I could not enjoy about this work was the presentation; it felt very uncomfortable and forced to experience the work in this environment. The benches were unforgiving when all I wanted to do was lie down and close my eyes, I was bothered by other visitors entering the space and I felt very strongly that I wanted to be alone in the dark, to not be seen, whilst I was experiencing the work. This would also, in my opinion, heighten some of the dramatic shifts in the scale of the noises, because at times the sounds used could shock and startle, but being on edge already meant that the effect was not truly felt. This critique fed into my decision of how to present ‘I FEEL’, it became important to create a space of isolation where the viewer could be on their own to experience the work, so that moments of unexpected shift in volume were more unsettling, and the viewer was able to react freely, without the pressure of ego or anxiety whilst simultaneously being more vulnerable.

‘I FEEL’ – Installation view

Moving upstairs I was immediately drawn towards the main third of this solo show; ‘Radio at Night’. The use of found footage here fed directly into my own decision making with clips selected for ‘I FEEL’. For my work I had to find a way to get the separate clips to flow into one another, which I attempted to achieve with the continuous soundtrack and fading cuts. Richards’ on the other hand makes very direct cuts from one image into the next, but his sound track is also the way that these images are able to relate to one another, although this soundtrack is made up of mechanical noises and accompanies the video instead of being apart of it. One of the most striking things about this video work was the way in which Richards’ layers two clips, but instead of having them play simultaneously, one clip borders the other, or the clips move slowly and orderly across the screen creating visual narratives whilst never really letting any clip truly end. This makes for a really interesting moving collage and addresses the flatness of the screen whilst also playing with perception and movement which creates a disorientating vieweing experience.

James Richards – ‘Radio at Night’ Installation

Also worth noting is the repetition of clips and imagery, starting with a looping shot of woodland, then to a masquerade scene that are both repeated at the end, the film then moves on to imagery that is projected in the opposite room. This addresses a very important problem of using imagery in artwork, because psychologically images have much more importance to us if we see them multiple times. By repeating the content from the beginning at the end, Richards manages to create a work that feels circular, cyclical, that can continue indefinitely.


I think it is also important for me recognise the beautifully selected colour palette, which ranged from dark gold’s to ice blues, but mainly greys. This selection made often vulgar and repulsive images seductive and clinical. This is a quality that I shall hopefully be able to translate into my own work as currently my choice in footage and imagery is being led by its relationship to the ridiculous and viral which often means that the colours are crass and unconsidered. Although I have always preferred not having control over the aesthetic of my work, perhaps this is what is lacking to really create the subtle approach to my subject that I want in order to sophisticatedly effect my audience.

Serpentine’s 2016 Miracle Marathon

Whilst reading David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous, I thought it would be beneficial for me to attend the Serpentine’s annual marathon talks, this year the subject was miracles. After reading Abram’s analysis of the ‘super natural’ I assumed that these talks would follow a similar rhetoric, that we have become so sheltered and separate from nature that even the most ordinary of natural events will be labelled ‘super natural’ because of our inability to control or fully understand them. The Serpentine talks on the Saturday that I attended included speakers such as Gilbert and George, Sophie Al-Maria and Christo of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and involved talks that not only addressed ‘miraculous’ nature but also unravelled the entirety of civilisation and the world in relation to the miracle.

Carina Namih spoke around the ideas of the Oracle, how it is part of human nature to look for a leader to guide us, the way in which we are now so invested in science and technology that we stop thinking for ourselves but how these two developments mean that our lives are more miraculous than ever. Namih was followed by Riccardo Sabatini who spoke about how science attempts to perfect humanity and makes the borders of a miracle, or what we find to be miraculous, much smaller.

Sophia Al-Maria still from ‘The Litany’ from solo show Black Friday at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Sophia Al-Maria’s talk had very pessimistic undertones, of which I could completely relate to. Al-Maria started by announcing that miracles do not exist, because no miracle can get us out of this situation, she went on to describe her panic attacks when realising the vanishing future ending in the upcoming catastrophe but also maintained that we should continue to look into the face of fear and break out of all of these traps. All of these extremely personal, emotional responses echo my own pessimistic relationship with the future. I also found Al-Maria’s description of her most recent solo show in the U.S ‘Black Friday’ of interest as she spoke about her analysis of how the effect of shopping mall architecture of the shopping mall echoes that of the catherderal and other religious architectures, evoking feelings of both safety and inferiority. This has led me to think about how we worship science in a lot of ways, it is the truth that we believe and follow, and all of the products that we buy and treasure have come out of scientific research, experimentation etc. it is science that has totally infiltrated our lives.

Jussi Parikka showed the video work ‘White Mountain’ by Emma Charles in order to demonstrate and analyse how cold war architectures are being transformed to house data centres. Parikka highlighted the fact that these architectures were designed to withstand apocalyptic bombs and now house digital secrets. It is always interesting to consider how ‘the cloud’ takes up physical space, but Parikka also spoke about how data always requires energy and how wifi has a sound (I often think about all the digital, man made frequencies that are passing through my material body at any given moment). This talk ended thinking about the ‘cult’ of doing things beyond human powers and how corporate engineering has replaced the magic and miracles of the natural world.

Kumi Naidoo’s speech was politically and emotionally invigorating. Naidoo made it clear that we must find ways of speaking about the current situation in a way that does not scare people to the point of immobilisation where they will only pray for a miracle instead of being active and participatory in effecting global change. Naidoo referenced Martin Luther Kings speech on Maladjustment to demonstrate the way in which we should feel about current events taking place, remarking that ‘it is a miracle that Donald Trump is potentially going to be president…it is a miracle that banks and bankers committed mass fraud… these are all unnatural events.’ After recounting the experience of his politically active youth in South Africa and the loss of a friend to activism Naidoo stressed an important message about how we should retaliate against these structures of society: ‘Do not give your life, but give the rest of your life.’ He also went on to say ‘don’t worry about the planet, the planet will continue without us, what we need is to adapt a mutually beneficial relationship to the earth. The technology exists, the need exists but the political will is letting us down.’ He left the audience with a list of what we need to effect global and productive change: ‘moral courage, scientific re-design and a shit load of miracles’ and lastly reminded us all that ‘Struggles are not sprints, they are marathons.’

These talks were very much discussions of the theoretical whereas Christo’s segment was purely focussed on his own work, of which I found incredible in scale of the projects achieved but his stubbornness to look outward of his own practice left me feeling a little patronised. On the other hand Gilbert and George’s performance of ‘FUCKOSOPHY FOR ALL’ was a source of much needed comic relief, but I was not sure if it was entirely relevant to the setting of the marathon as a whole. It was a great experience to be in the presence of a performance that undermines whist simultaneously liberates language, but at some points it felt a little awkward and out of place.

This series of talks was really beneficial for the development of my theoretical relationship to my subject and has helped me identify the ways in which my different areas of interest merge together into an all-encompassing context; the natural world, science, technology and revolution. Not only did these talks reflect my interest in these subject but have also motivated me to be active in this field of interest and artistic discourse, in a lot of ways this has validated my belief in what I am doing and the work that I plan to make.