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Weekly digest – 03.06.20

3 June 2020

5 mins

Embracing the Digital

It’s looking increasingly likely that for the foreseeable future arts centres, like universities, are going to have to continue to utilise technology in order to be able to deliver their programmes. Many arts organisations have been quick to adapt, delivering interviews, performances and screenings of past events across a variety of digital platforms. However, this type of content  was never going to replace the live experience and it is now time to consider how we can deliver new and unique activity that is not just a substitute for the live but that is unique and engaging in its own right.

The Arts Institute at the University of Plymouth had been working on a digital arts project in advance of lockdown and were fortuitous in their timing that it was launched in the current period. They invited a host of well-known individuals including Hilary Mantel, Alan Bennett, Jeremy Irons and Iggy Pop to read sections from Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. Each reading was accompanied by a commissioned image by a range of artists including Cornelia Parker, Marina Abramovic and Gavin Turk and the poem serialised over 40 days. An amazing poem is brought to life by the readings and the project points us to how we can embrace the possibilities of the digital and deliver a rewarding arts experience.

Artists have always utilised the latest technology to try and deliver interesting and original artistic outputs. Since the birth of the internet artists have embraced its possibilities. British artists Thomson and Craighead have been using video and the web since 1998 to create pieces that reflect upon the digital age. They re-work material often found on the internet to create artworks that provoke us to consider our relationship to technology. Their work manifests itself in films, online works and in public art. The use of data or content that is held digitally is a consistent theme within their work. In 2018 they utilised data held within the Admissions Office of University College London to create a constantly changing public artwork called Here Not Here in which two large LED screens simultaneously show passers by the countries represented and not represented by the UCL student body at any given time. Both information streams update in real time in endless rotation, and are presented side by side in identical decorative grids; the left hand screen showing us who is “here” and the right hand screen showing us who is “not here.”

Anti-glacier by James Bridle. Part of the Radar project Nowcasting (2014)

Another artist-cum-writer who investigates the role of technology in our lives both through artworks and his writing is James Bridle. Radar previously commissioned James to make a new digital artwork in 2014.  Anti-Glacier was a live web-based visualisation of the rhythms of news, weather, and climate – and of the focus of our attention. He continued his interest in the weather in a commission for the Serpentine in 2016. Cloud Index involved the artist taking in all the available data he could find, from polling intentions to opinion polling to satellite images of weather and put them through a neural network to create a website that illustrates weather based on voting indications surrounding the EU Referendum.

Cécile B Evans was commissioned by Radar in 2014 to produce a new video work that was recently purchased by the Whitney Museum of American Art. However, my first encounter with her work was the web based commission AGNES who greets you with a little joke, asks you to click on the one of three videos that represents how you feel. The idea is that AGNES gets to know you based on the images you click and the questions you answer, guiding you towards ‘useful’ content. Cécile is also interested in our relationship to technology but in a different way to the other artists, focusing more on our emotions and vulnerabilities in an ever-changing digital world.

How Happy A Thing Can Be by Cecile B Evans commissioned by Radar

One of the most well-known artists working with ‘net’ art is Jon Rafman . Much of his work focuses on melancholy in modern social interactions, communities and virtual realities (primarily Google Earth, Google Street View and Second Life), while still bringing light to the beauty of them in a manner sometimes inspired by romanticism. Probably his best known project is 9 Eyes, an ongoing project begun in 2008  that considers the meaning of photography in an age of mass automated imaging. Rafman isolated specific images from Google Street View, publishing them on blogs, as PDFs, in books and as large photographs for gallery exhibition. The work is interested in the photographic image as taken by machine without any of the human considerations imposed on the image taking.

All these projects offer inspiration for how we might commission or produce new and interesting projects that don’t just use technology as a platform to present work, but engage with the digital in a more integrated and interesting way. Over the coming months LU Arts will be seeking to re-position our programme and seek to deliver innovative projects that directly engage with technology and embrace the ‘new normal’.

Nick Slater
Director, LU Arts

The Limit

The Limit showcases the creativity that exists within the student population, creating a sense of community.

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