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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
Since showing my work at ‘No Ordinary Disruption’ last month I have been working on ways to fully resolve how ‘POLITICALLY EMOTIONAL/EMOTIONALLY POLITICAL’ is presented to an audience, as I felt as though the presentation at this show was ineffective. To help me realise this I have been looking at established artists who have presented text works in the past, these include; Lawrence Weiner, Jenny Holzer, Trevor Paglen and then artists who have taken a very different approach to presenting similar ideas such as William Basinski, Emma Critchley and Ray Lee.
I was sent this picture of ‘Iron & Gold in the Air Dust & Smoke on the Ground’ (1995) by a friend visiting Antwerp, not only was I struck by the poetic resonance and simplicity of the words but also by their freedom from a gallery space. After some research I found out this was the work of Lawrence Weiner, often dubbed ‘The Father’ of Conceptual art. I have taken many things away from my readings about Lawrence and his work, in particular my faith in writings constructed ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS, and confidence in leaving a work just as simple text without any embellishments. I also admire Weiner’s process of rejecting commodification through the form of his work and the way in which he constructs work so that their impact continues outside the gallery or viewing space; “You are required to accept the logic in order to use the work and once you’ve accepted that logic it carries over into the rest of life.”  Finally, two other quotes that have helped validate my confidence with the content of my writing as previously I had thought that perhaps they would be perceived as quite naïve; “I spent a lot of my youth deciding whether I was going to try to change the culture as a whole, or whether I was going to continue to try and change each individual horrendous thing that was going on in the world.”  And; “Art, I think, always comes from an anger with the specific configuration that’s presented to you. It’s not terribly intellectual.”
I have also been looking Jenny Holzer’s work, specifically her series of ‘Inflammatory essays’ which she posted around Manhattan between 1979-82, a new one each week on a different piece of coloured paper. Holzer dotted these around the city in places where she hoped a diverse audience would get the chance to read them; “From the beginning, my work has been designed to be stumbled across in the course of a person’s daily life. I think it has most impact when someone is just walking along, not thinking about anything in particular, and then finds these unusual statements either on a poster or in a sign.”  This is a sentiment that is central to my own beliefs about how my own writing should be interacted with by the viewer. Holzer’s writing style, content and use of language, other than being much more sophisticated, is really quite similar to my own ramblings. This raises the question; what is the point of me making the work I feel like making if it has already been made? This is a question I do not yet have an answer to, but I shall continue to draw on my visual and contextual similarities to Holzer, as along with the ‘Inflammatory Essay’s’ series I have also drawn inspiration from looking at the projections of her writing that are well documented on her website.
One thing that does concern me about both Weiner and Holzers’ work is how much they may be affected, in terms of honesty and impact, when the writings are commissioned or shown in a gallery. As both artists works quite clearly echo the function of street graffiti yet have developed in a way that carries more authority due to their scale and presentation. I feel sure that once writings like this are commissioned or backed, they are no longer a rebellion against the state and especially when they are displayed in a gallery I feel that they loose any genuine dialogue with the global environment, instead the text feels as though it has been validated by what it is against, rendering it useless. For example, I felt a much more urgency of expression and passing information in this text I spotted scrawled in spray paint onto the The Royal Court of Justice (October 2016):
Possibly I should keep this as a reminder to avoid letting any of my writings and their presentation become ‘institutionalised’.
Trevor Paglen also uses projections to display text in his work ‘Code Names of the Surveillance State’ (2014). I have so far found four examples of how this work has been displayed previously. In his 2015 exhibition at Metro Picures Paglen displayed the work, which consists of a continuous loop of over “4,000 National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquaters (GCHQ) surveillance program code names” , on three synched horizontal TV monitors. In his 2014 exhibition at the same gallery Paglen presented the same work in a multi projection installation. Here, the Alphabetised list scrolled endlessly over all 4 of the gallery walls. I have also found an unspecified image of the names directly applied onto the gallery wall but in my opinion the most successful presentation of Paglen’s collection of absurd code names was when he projected them on political buildings around London in 2014. I think the contrast between the hilarity of the names featured on the list and the seriousness of its implications is a perfect balance for a society that regularly communicates world news and politics through Internet meme’s. It is this dry humour that I also think is important to include in my own writing as I feel it gives the text more realism, a kind of comic relief. In a way I quite like viewing this piece of work, in all of its forms, as a form of absurdist found poetry.
For me, the temporality and large scale nature of both Paglen and Holzers’ projections feels better suited to this piece of Paglens’ work as even in its documentation it stands as a powerful piece of evidence and protest. Both projections by Holzer and Paglen use white text with a black background, which is better suited to this idea of shining light on and exposing a subject. Paglens’ other works are usually quite pictorial and could easily be described as tranquil. For example the mystical imagery in his photography works such as “Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS-1) NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean” (2015) stands as a visual metaphor for the unnecessary disruption of serenity. The title of this work also presents the image as a piece of evidence, which it is, rather than an objective artwork. It is these subtler, poetic yet profound works that fuelled my interest in Emma Critchely.
Whilst attending a talk by Emma at the beginning of October after installing her work in UCA Farnham’s gallery space Black Box I learnt that she too has been inspired by David Abram’s text ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’. It has since become very important for me to study her work and see how the ideas from Abrams’ text translate into visual art works. One of the clearest links I can see so far is to Emma’s series ‘Figures of Speech series 2’ (2012). Here Emma asked free divers to say a word underwater and then captured the form of the air bubble released from their mouths in front of their faces. For me the air bubble distorting the facial expression of the free diver talks about the decrease in non-verbal communication between all living things. This echoes Abram’s ideas about the importance and faith we place on language to understand people and the natural world, and how this limits us from reading more truthful signals that they/it is sending out. The musical scores that accompany many of Emma’s film works is something that I found affected me in a very physical way, and music is a form that I have been keen to experiment with since seeing the ‘THIS IS A VOICE’ exhibition at the Wellcome collection.
This directly reflects my interest in musicians such as Brian Eno and William Basinski. As always, I really appreciate the way in which music can function outside a gallery space and can affect people in daily life, it carries a purpose and one that can heighten and explore the human senses. It is this ambition and function that I want to be making myself, and the more I listen to the transient rhythm of Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’ series the less I feel that this can be done with the aggressive, feeling sorry for myself, ‘poetry’ that I have been working on.
I have also very recently come across the work of Ray Lee. What excites me about Lee’s work is the way in which he uses installation to bring sound into public spaces and explores the way in which it can transform the way we interact with space. It is this idea of giving an audience a direct experience that I have always been interested in, but I have ever seen it done in such a way that allows viewers to explore the possibilities of their minds and relationship to the world. Although it was presented in a gallery space and not in the public domain, it is Lee’s project ‘Cold Storage’ (2011) and all its sci-fi implications that I am most keen to let infiltrate my own practice and future works. On Lee’s website the experience created is described as so;
“In a room modelled on the regency bedroom from the end of 2001: a space odyssey, the one-on-one audience member is invited to lie down in a cryogenic sleeping pod, a sleek metal casket-like box familiar from any number of sci-fi films (Alien, 2001, Dark Star etc). A calm, white clothed technician assists as you climb into the cryogenic tank. The lid is closed on you. Inside it is cold, noticeably cold, freezing. Your hands and face feel the cold.
There is not much room inside. You are lying down on your back. The casket is lit from the inside and you see your reflected image on a mirror above you. You cannot see outside the tank. It is a bit like being in a coffin, or in a medical procedure, or… There is an uncomfortable sense of nothing happening except that you are beginning to feel the cold penetrate the outer layers of clothing that you wear. You wonder how long this will go on or if you will get too cold for comfort. Wearing headphones you listen to a calm, authoritative voice explaining what will happen to you. You will be deep frozen and put to sleep for a thousand years. The voice continues to gently talk to you and you are invited to consider the finite nature of our life span and as you do so the light dims inside the tank until you become aware that you can see through the glass window above you.
As you see through the glass and your mirror image fades you can see that above you are an endless sea of stars. You are now in complete darkness, in the cold of the cryogenic tank, looking out into space, as if set adrift, lost in an ocean of nothingness.” 
Similar to the experience of a floatation tank that has so informed Emma Critchley’s work, it is this speculation of and separation from everyday life that I would like my work to evoke in viewers, an experience that can take people out of the ordinary and return to it more grounded in the fragility of reality.
Although I have received relatively positive feedback on my recent writing I do not feel that shouting horrible things through text is a successful way of creating the emotional experience that I wish too, in fact I think it is more of a therapy for myself rather than for an audience. In the next weeks I plan to experiment and finalise my text works, hopefully using multiple projections in a space as a starting point, but in the future I hope I will find a way for my works to develop into something much more ambitious, subtle and reflective.
Having found myself consistently writing during the summer months I started to disregard images and objects and found it increasingly difficult to think about the possibilities of making. This led me to my recent experiment ‘POLITICALLY EMOTIONAL/EMOTIONALLY POLITICAL’, which was born out of anxiety about making work for a show I was in from 26 -29 September; ‘No Ordinary Disruption’. The making of this work was spontaneous and my only aim was to get across my dissatisfaction with the art world, but the writing took on a life of its own as I kept adding more and more thoughts to the word document. I left the text mainly unedited as I feel that it is within this honesty that the strength of the work manifests itself. I did re-structure the ‘stanzas’ in a way that makes the first half politically engaged and the second half is focused on the emotions and the body. To present this work to an audience I screen recorded myself scrolling down the word document with the down arrow key and a metronome to guide me.
This was displayed on a small screen at the exhibition, and I made the decision to place it half way up an unused stairway within the gallery space. My aim was to create an intimate space between the viewer and the work and this stairwell was completely without light and narrow, meaning only one person could go up to view the screen at once. I felt really nervous about this piece before showing it as I know that a lot of the writing is very naïve and quite pathetic, but it was this sort of ‘teenage rant’ that I felt everyone could relate to. It was good to get this work out into the world quickly, but I think the screen was much too small and the format possibly difficult to access. In feedback from my peers and tutors I was told that the simplicity of black text on a white background was successful because it did not let the mind get distracted from the imagery in the writing. I personally think that the scroll through the text works because it conceals how long the text might be, something that would put a potential viewer off, but a screen of capital letters seems to be easy for most to digest for a couple of minutes. Ultimately I have been told I need to aim much bigger, in the next week I plan to create a multi projection installation to immerse the viewers in my writing and I also plan to work with vinyl and graffiti.
With a lot of reflection over the summer months I have started to identify what it is that I want to create and be apart of. During this period I have found more joy in reading and writing than in looking and making, potentially highlighting my area of interest to pursue after this BA course. Several books which have been particularly influential on my current thought have been; David Abrams’ The Spell of the Sensuous (1996),Franco Bifo Beradi’s After the Future (2011) , Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), Richard Dawkin’s The Blind Watchmaker (1986), Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama (1973), Kurt Vonneguts’ The sirens of Titan and Alex Garlands’ The Beach (1996).
Abram’s recollection of his experiences with natural phenomena penned alongside analysis of Western cultures relationship with nature, and our reliance on understanding it through science, echoes my own thoughts exactly. It is this emotional way of receiving the world that I want to explore in my own work whilst also reflecting on how the current climate of sophisticated civilization makes this difficult, if not impossible.
On the other hand the Marxist theorist Bifo’s collection of essays focuses on the Western economic climate of labour and capitalism. Although rather difficult to digest due to the complicated sentence structure and use of language, Bifo’s writing has been influential on my thoughts on how labour, cyber culture and capitalism function after 9/11, how these things historically came to be and the (negative) cognitive effect of this environment in which the sole focus is progress and technology on the Western world’s population, myself included.
I plan to read more of Dawkins works in particular I think it is of importance for me to read the Selfish Gene, the book where Dawkins coins the term ‘Meme’. The Blind Watchmaker gave me the opportunity to marvel at the diversity of the natural world and learn more theories about how everything came to be. I also think it is important to think not only about physical evolution but also cultural evolution as anthropology is something I often think about in my own work. Although visually the natural world is usually exempt from my practice it is ultimately my curiosity and awe at it that is the backbone to everything I do, so I feel it is important for me to absorb all the ways of seeing it as possible.
Wolfe’s gonzo journalism style has led me to experiment with a new stream of consciousness way of writing that has directly influenced my way of making work. It is this organisation of events along with the emotional style of Wolfe’s writing that I want to pursue within my own work, whether it be through writing, staging happenings or performances I am now more aware that I want to make work that focuses on emotions and experiences. It is also the backdrop of revolution on which the text plays out that made me fall in love page after page as I could feel the energy of exploration and community of that time flooding my senses, something that I have never experienced in my own culture.
Then onto Non-fiction, I have always loved sci-fi and recently this has begun making more and more sense to my practice as they present the dystopian futures of humanity that I often imagine myself. Clarkes’ Rendezvous with Rama and Vonneguts’ The Sirens of Titan both explore the way in which AI would receive and interact with our planet earth. It is this distancing from our way of life that I think is really important to my work, to try and see our civilization from new perspectives is possibly the only way we can assess, as a community, if we are making the right decisions, not only for ourselves but for the planet as a whole.
Quite opposed to these dystopian reads is Garlands’ modern depiction of Utopia; The Beach. In this novel Garland explores the contradictions of tourism, paradise, self-sufficient communities and Utopia. It is the blind faith and necessity of escape that the young people present that really spoke to me in this book that thrilled and shook me before bringing me back into a disappointing reality where all my hopes and dreams for a simplistic future disappeared. It is ultimately this frustration at my futile dream of an impossible Utopia that I feel has effected into my work.
My current reading practice is relatively diverse, but this is something that I am not looking to change as I feel my interests lie in many places, and this only helps to fuel my writing and understanding of the world in which I am apart of. In the next months I plan to begin reading Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, texts by Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf, Manuel De Landas’ A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, James Lovelocks’ Gaia Hypothesis, Slavoj Zizeks’ Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours and W. G. Sebalds’ Rings of Saturn (along with any other books I pick up along the way).
‘Technoforma’ takes visitors on an engaging interrogation of the relationship between technology and the body. For myself it was a beautiful and poetic retrospective introduction to an artist in his 5th decade of activism, generally unknown outside of Portugal. Consisting of a dynamic and diverse practice with works ranging from collages, film to installation and sculpture, I feel a little out of my depths attempting to talk about an artist as intelligent as Pestana, so please forgive me if this writing does not do his work justice.
With most of the works having been made 30-50 years ago it is astounding how relevant their ideas remain in the Internet age of today. The political and social focus of the changing relationship between the body and technology echoes ideas presented in works and writings by internationally acclaimed artist Nam June Paik, which leaves Pestana’s worldwide anonymity a bit of a mystery.
This focus on the relationship between technology and the body was showcased quite brilliantly in the recently realised kinetic work: ‘The invisible worker’ (2016). This consisted of several small, circular robots whirring around the gallery, moving at a speed much faster than the average human pace. These domestic robots chased and tripped the audience, creating a tension between annoyance and humour, but most importantly they reminded us of the precarious nature of contemporary work.
Earlier works focused predominantly on Pestana’s ‘Biovirtual’ (1981-1987) series made in the 80’s, with black and white images of the artist contrasted with white neon lights dominating the last room of the exhibition. These works present a very literal contrast between the organic organism of the body and the industrial materials of technology.
‘Necro Eco Pietá’, (1979) a photographic series of 10 images near the end of the exhibition also uses the form of contrast to interrogate the modern human’s relationship with death. This is one of the most striking works of photography I have ever seen and living in a world of over abundant imagery this is quite a triumph. Beautifully composed, the artist holds a skeleton against his body along with the props of a gas mask and a cigarette. The symbolism in this series for me represents the ridiculous-ness of the life we have made for ourselves; the protection we will one day need from the environment that created us and the self inflicting damage caused by addiction, bringing us closer to our death whilst bringing others into a monetary profit…but only in this life.
The most interesting thing I found in this exhibition was the emphasis on the body, the performative side of the art and the presence of the artist himself in many of the works. It started making me think about how the body is the one thing that we don’t have to pay for, but it is the only thing that we truly own, and our physical organism is a constant reminder of how unnatural trade is as this process of ownership does not involve a single transaction.