Articles Tagged with: contemporary art

Gallery Spotlight: Dateagle

DATEAGLE ART is an independent London-based online platform, founded in 2017 by Vanessa Murrell and Martin Mayorga, that supports UK-based emerging artists in the form of interviews, studio visits, blog content and both online and offline exhibition curation. Their platform is about forging a community and this is why they personally visit every artist that they interview and feature. Their online content is equally gendered, ad-free, diverse in mediums and they don’t accept commission, as a means to keep their content as honest as they possibly can, through the lens of the artist.

dateagle

DATEAGLE STUDIO is the first creative art agency that offers both visual services and press and pr services within the contemporary art realm. Read more about their studio work here.

ONLINE, they operate as a journal in which they publish behind-the-scenes analogue photography of artist’s studios through their personal ‘Visits’, provide straightforward views from their contributor’s and guest artists in their ‘Journal’content, and allow in-depth discourse through their ‘Interviews’. They also undertake quick interviews through the ‘5×5’ series, in which they ask the same 5 questions to 5 artists in group shows as a means to giving an equal voice to a variety of artists, and through the ‘DM Interviews’ with international artists, revealing their first times. The website also hosts a series of music playlists from international artists, through the ‘Mix!’ section, allowing the audience to engage with emerging art through variety of forms. They are also involved in curating ‘Spread The Virus’, an on-going online exhibition evolving over 12 months which intends to chart the year through aesthetic as well as social and political lenses, co-organised with an invited guest curator. 

 

OFFLINE, they curate temporary shows in non-exhibition spaces throughout London, along with hosting regular panel discussions and public events throughout the UK.


Jordy Kerwick – Episode 10 of the Delphian Podcast is now live!

Jordy Kerwick – Episode 10 of the Delphian Podcast is NOW LIVE!

episode 10

In this episode of the Delphian Podcast we catch up with our friend Jordy Kerwick, who has previously exhibited with Delphian Gallery, in his hotel room in London. We chatted to the Australian born, French based artist about his work, the role of social media in the art world, outsider art, and the importance of artists thinking of themselves as a business.

You can also see our past exhibition, Diary of an Introvert, with Jordy here.

 

Listen now on our website HERE, or search DELPHIAN PODCAST in iTunes, Spotify, or Podbean.

 

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Hedley Roberts – Thinking about Professional Practice in Art Schools

Hedley Roberts – Thinking about Professional Practice in Art Schools

On my first day at art school we were told by the professor that the chances of becoming successful as an artist were infinitesimal. We should graduate, concentrate on the artwork, find a low level job that paid enough to keep a studio and hope that maybe we’d get recognition in our 40s or 50s. Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new generation changed the expectation of art school students forever. Inspired by their tutors, they organized their own exhibitions, made direct contact with the press, liaised with dealers, collectors. They became curators, gallerists, artists and academics. They became successful.
Hedley Roberts
As the art world changed, so did higher education. Art Schools grew and achieved University status or became embedded in Universities. Regulations, pedagogy, quality assurance, accountability and metric assessments became the dominant ideology, and curriculum design outlined course content for a prospective applicant.
Now, having spent 25 years working in Higher Education and Art Schools I can see that my Professor was speaking about his world, his time, his context, his experience. He wasn’t predicting ours. He wasn’t able to see that a broad set of socio-political economic forces would conspire, and that the art world would expand massively beyond his imagination. He couldn’t conceive a world where the idea of ‘contemporary art’ would explode into popular consciousness and the ‘emerging’ artist would become a commodity, or an aspiration.
When academics design curriculum, they are future gazing. My Professor didn’t imagine the art world of today, so he didn’t design the curriculum for it. With an increased focus on quality assurance, and the contextual influence of the UK fees systems, student loans and student debt, academic course design needs to focus on ‘graduate outcomes’, ‘career paths’ and the future. It no longer is wholly about the acquisition of knowledge and expertise in the ‘subject’ but about how that knowledge would be applied by the individual in their future career. This presents a problem for curriculum design; how do you plan for a future that you can’t imagine. After all, in the 1990s we didn’t imagine the impact that the internet or social media would have on everyday life, or the art world.
In reality, the process of properly designing curriculum is a long one. A 3 year degree course needs to be researched and developed, and then formally validated through a university system a full year before it will begin. Typically a graduate will take 2 to 3 years mature into some sort of subject related employment or entrepreneurial activity. Therefore, the lead time from when a course curriculum is conceived to when its first students might be in related employment is about 7 years. This means that a curriculum designer is trying to imagine what the world will be like 7-10 years from
now. So, the question for curriculum designers is how to mediate the long gap between the first stages of curriculum design at and the contemporary context that the student is going to graduate into?
The answer is staffing. No matter how much future planning or industry expertise is considered at the commencement of the project, we won’t be prepared for the unexpected changes the future holds. So, the pervasive strategy has been to employ staff that bridge both the contemporary professional world and the academic world. In art schools, they are the tutors. Traditionally part-time, or on temporary contracts, they bring the external context to the curriculum.
The importance and value of part-time ‘artist-teachers’ has been a long respected component of art school education. However, within the university system there are competing pressures that require a new kind of professionalisation that has had an impact on this tradition. University processes have become increasingly demanding, requiring greater accountability for both student and graduate achievement. This is as a result of pressures created by the advent of the fees and the ‘Office For Students’ consumerist agenda of ‘value for money’. Following on from this, there is also a change in the financial balance in universities as they need to sustain more complex administrative systems to satisfy these regulations. The net result of this over the past 10 years has been a gradual pressure to reduce the number of part-time ‘artist-teachers’ in art schools in favour of full time professional academics. These staff then take on the longitudinal creative, pastoral and professional development of the students, reporting against metrics. The professional context is commuted to guest speakers and short contract sessional staff.
A criticism of this scenario might be that access to the professional world provided by the ‘artist-teacher’ is diminished and exchanged for student performance monitoring against specific learning outcomes as described in the course document. It might be contested that an art student’s learning might be fundamentally disadvantaged by not having been taught by an artist that is routinely facing the challenges of keeping a creative practice financially viable, negotiating with a commercial gallery, sending work internationally, undertaking public relations, maintaining an Instagram presence, managing a studio, invoicing, tax etc. This perspective, whilst justifiable, is largely based on an idea that the education environment is a the place where everything you need to learn will be made available to you. Pre-internet, it was practically difficult to find out anything about the art world, trends, professional practices, to connect to galleries, speak to actual artists. Those you’d meet worked as tutors on your course, and they’d be at the same openings that you’d attend. They were the source of information about the art world. However, ‘post- internet’ and in the age of social media; it’s an arguably different context. A student can reach out to artists, galleries, dealers, collectors though any internet-ready device. They can access online listings for events, opportunities, and awards.. They can find advice on how to photograph their work, pack and send it, download templates for artists statements, consignments, contracts and invoices. They can

purchase materials online and have them delivered to their door next day. They can attend any of the artist talks held at galleries and ask questions directly. They can make connections with artists from across the globe.
Arguably, there has been a paradigm shift in the lessening of the artist-teacher tradition in art schools. As a result, we may need to reframe our understanding of what core academics do. We need to understand that they might ‘research’ ‘study’ and teach the subject, but may not necessarily be vocationally involved in the practice of it. They may instead be career academics, institutional researchers, or pedagogues involved in developing their about how students learn. To be good at what they do, they need to understand that they are mentors who can guide and direct students to where they can find the right information. They need to actively design opportunities for students to be exposed to opportunities, exhibitions, studio visits; and to signpost and advise on the myriad of external resources that are now available.
As a Head of School, thinking about art schools, universities and education, I’m involved in future gazing. The signs are that complex data systems are being used to inform decisions and understanding. Like social media, academic systems track data about students; how old they are, their race, religion, sexual orientation, what socio-economic background they come from, where their family lives, what books they take out of the library, how long they spend on university computers, how long they spend in a virtual learning environment, how many times they’ve sought advice from student services, whether they’ve had mental health referrals. Imagine the same consumer logic applied in universities as is being applied in Amazon or Facebook, the same predictive technologies as in Apple’s Siri or in Alexa or Fitbit. The future of education 25 years from now might be an artificially intelligent personal tutor who cross references the course curriculum with career ambitions and personal attributes to recommend artists to research, reading, projects to address skills weaknesses. It could provide basic mental health support and guidance, organize appointments and push professional development agendas like a life coach mentor. It could be with you throughout your education, remaining as a professional coach into your professional life,
So, how should art schools support students and graduates to develop professional practice? The reality is that knowledge is already ubiquitously available to anyone with a smartphone. From my perspective, what art schools need to provide is not more concrete knowledge about the professional world, but to redefine the educational space as one of ‘play’. We need to unpick the idea of grading performance against abstract definitions. Instead we need to prioritize opportunities for safe spaces in which students can ‘practice’ and learn at a pace that’s relevant to their need. We need to create test-bed environments where they can try out the theory in practice. This will mean making courses that have flexible timelines, that include simulations of both creative studio and the professional environment: play spaces for artist-dealer negotiations or artist- gallery relationship, regular test-projects in partnership with real-world organizations. Most

importantly, we need to continue provide the opportunity for students to make playful connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, materials and professional environments, to pursue tangents and fail without fear of underperforming or underachievement. This is where creativity happens, where new ideas and practices are formed – when knowledge and understanding is tested through play, and new scenarios are imagined. For me, ‘serious play’ was always the best attribute of art schools, and needs to be maintained over the current preoccupation with ‘skilling’ students with knowledge for some spuriously imagined future career path.

For more guest articles, see:

Rosalind Davis – Surviving after Art School

For more from Hedley Roberts, see:

His Website


Bas Jan Ader – Embracing The Tempest

Embracing The Tempest – Bas Jan Ader.

Words and images by Benjamin Murphy

 

On the ninth of July 1975, the 33 year old Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader set off from Chatam Mass on Cape Cod, in a 12.5 foot sailing boat entitled Ocean Wave. His plan was to catch the Gulf Stream, and take this tiny vessel across the harsh and unforgiving environment of the Atlantic ocean, landing in Falmouth, UK, around ten weeks later. This arduous journey was planned and undertaken as part of an artwork entitled In Search OF The Miraculous, which has now become his most well-known, and arresting work. The reason for this notoriety is that Ader never returned from this journey that became his magnum opus, and is presumed dead.

 

Some think that the journey simply hit disaster and failed, but some believe that Ader never planned to return, setting into motion an elaborate and irreversible chain of events that would ultimately lead to his own death. Suicide in the name of art.

 

Bas Jan Ader

Portrait of Bas Jan Ader

 

Ader’s artistic oeuvre is modest, and many of his photographic and video works were completed in a single weekend. Most of these feature Ader himself, in somewhat comical, often slapstick interactions with his environment. Aside from ISOTM, his most well-known works are theFall series of videos – all of which feature the artist himself in an everyday location, falling, or occasionally dropping, to the floor. InBroken Fall 1 (Los Angeles), he sits in a chair atop the roof of his house for a few moments, before he rolls off the chair and down the roof to the ground.

 Unlike Yves Klein’s 1960 Leap Into The Void, Ader actually fell from great heights – often with nothing to arrest his fall other than the ground beneath him.

He never allows us the opportunity to see him emerge from where he falls to, as the artworks are over as soon as the fall is done. They are works from which we shall never see him return, and in this way they are the natural precursor to ISOTM.

 

The long and difficult journey of ISOTM was one that had never been attempted in a vessel so small, and the environment was one that was at best dangerous, and at worst, murderous. Many solo sailors are troubled by loneliness as well as the fatiguing need to never truly sleep, remaining in a waking state most of the time so as to man the sails. The weather must have been hellish, and the tiny cruiser would have allowed salt water into every corner. Some go mad attempting a feat such as this, and others, like Ader, never return.

 

After six months, a Spanish fishing vessel found Ocean Waveoff the coast of Ireland, floating listlessly with all but it’s hull submerged in the sea, six months after he had set sail. They recovered the boat and took it back to Spain, where it was examined and found to be Ader’s, due to three forms of ID being found on board. They estimated it had been floating partially-submerged for three months, due to the barnacles attached as they were. This means that Ader had been at sea for three months, before the boat hit disaster. The washboards to which his lifeline were attached had been pulled up, and his lifejacket was never found. Both of these suggest some catastrophe that resulted in Ader falling into the water. Many other mysterious circumstances surround the discovery of the boat. The Spanish authorities claimed that an explosion had caused the capsizing of the vessel, but when pressed admitted that there were no scorch marks anywhere within the boat. When Erik Ader asked to examine the boat for himself he was informed that it had been stolen. It has perhaps been refurbished, and is now serving some unknowing family as a pleasure cruiser.

 

This journey was the second part of an intended triptych entitled In Search Of The Miraculous, the first part of which was an exhibition of photographs in Los Angeles. The photographs were accompanied by a choir singing sea shanties, the lyrics of which spoke of an insatiable longing to be out at sea, despite the risks, embracing the tempest.

 

ISOTM is an exploration of this harsh environment, experienced only by one man – the artist. The artwork then, exists for us not in the physical, quantifiable world, but somewhere in the abstract. It exists for us only in our imagination, having no experience of the actual event taking place, save for a few photographs of the launch of Ocean Wave, and a few tragic relics that were salvaged unknowingly by a Spanish fishing vessel after the fact. We are left to imagine the conditions out at sea, and cannot fathom the complexity and extremity of such an experience, let alone try to relate to one in such a scenario. The loneliness must have been deafening. This solitary journey was by far Ader’s most profound and affecting work, and yet it is essentially unexperiencable by anyone other than Ader himself. We can only theorise, knowing only small details with which to attempt (futilely) to construct a larger picture of the work. It is a piece that we know little about, and it is these gaps in our knowledge of the work that makes it so powerful. It’s power lies in the negative space, in assumption and myth, rather than objective experience. His work is never strictly performance, for it is seen by the majority in retrospect, via photographs or video. ISOTM is one-step further removed from performance, (although it still has a performative quality), for it is more ethereal, and exists not in the real world, but within the minds of the ‘viewer’ only.

 

Like Seedbedby Vito Acconci or White Light, White Heat by Chris Burden, the public knows that what they are encountering is the private moments of a solitary individual, but although they know roughly what occurred, they don’t know the specifics of each experience. As these private moments are both private and on display, what happens is very interesting. There are ultimately two experiences, that experienced by the solitary artist, whilst they are being experienced by the viewer; and the viewer’s experience of being aware of, but unable to see, this hidden, solitary artist, experiencing his solitude. The physical presence of these artists is diminished in one way, but by this diminution, is enlarged greatly.

 

This Sisyphean struggle attempted by Ader in the name of art is arresting, for Ader has burdened himself with this almost-impossible task. It is as if Icarus flew too close to the sun on purpose, just to see what would happen once his wax wings melted away to nothing – not out of hubris, but more-excitingly, out of curiosity. It is these existential questions that give his work a large part of its power.

 

bas jan ader

In Search Of The Miraculous

Ader explains his interaction with the environment as if gravity made itself master over him, but this assumes that Ader had no choice but to fall from the roof or branch, for gravity was in control. This ignores the fact that Ader himself decided to climb up to these places so as to allow gravity to do its job. Ader allowedgravity to make itself master over him, and through this subjugation, Ader displays his absolute mastery, and absolute control. Only through his relinquishing of power was the environment able to display its strength, and so through giving away of his power, he displays the true strength of that power. Gravity is not his master after all, for he only lets it out of its cage for a moment. Much of his work is seen as an abandonment of free will, an exercise in determinism that uses his body as its apparatus, but it is the strength of his resolve when making such bold and seemingly reckless choices, that displays his power, and his absolute control over fate.

 

It would be erroneous (and yet very common) to assume that any of Ader’s works are explorations of failure, as in all of the works he is enacting processes that have only one possible result. In the Fallvideos, it is the fall itself that is the salient component of the works, and these works couldn’t exist in the same way without this fall that is prognosticated in the title. The subject of these works is the falling, or occasionally dropping, of an object or body, due to: the finite strength of the human body, gravity, and most importantly, the artist’s intent.

Ader created these works knowing that his strength was finite, and thus would eventually give out, and it was this that he explored so expertly. The only possible effect of his hanging from a tree inBroken Fall (Organic)for example, is that his arms would give way, his grip would loosen, and he would fall into the water below. In fact, he climbed up into this tree to test his resolve, but ultimately, to fall into the water. This work had only two outcomes, either he falls, or he hoists himself back up and climbs down – the latter of which would have resulted in the actual failure of the work, for the Fall in the title would have been absent. The same could be said, albeit in a slightly reconfigured way, for anyof the Fall series of works. Even in works that didn’t test the strength of the human body in the same way as Broken Fall (Organic), such as Fall 1 (Los Angeles), and Fall 2 (Amsterdam), the fall was both the medium, and the subject matter. In these, it is a direct result of a seemingly-irrational movement made by Ader that initiates the fall, and it is an action that is made intentionally.

 

This work (and indeed much of his other work also) is often read as a failure, as if he failed to succeed. This lazy reading of course neglects a second option, that he succeededat failure. This failure is not a true failure though of course (for to succeed at failure is an oxymoron), but that the failure is not a frustration, but the natural, and intended outcome of the work. The work could not exist without this ‘failure’, and as such, the word failure is indeed a misleading misnomer. Failure is not at all present within his works, as events proceed exactly as he intends them.

 

ISOTM is similar, in that it is often read as an abandonment of oneself to nature, the wilful neglect of one’s responsibility towards themself to mitigate danger, removing themself from any scenario that could cause them harm. This work reads as if Ader is neglecting himself, allowing fate to take its course. This is a slightly remiss reading though however, as through his very decision to attempt this journey, knowing full well the hazards such a feat would present, Ader is taking control of his fate in a very direct way – similar to his acceptance of his fallibility in the Fall series. In fact, the sheer gravitas of his decision proves that it is one that requires much deliberation, and indeed Ader planned his trip for months ahead of time. By his ownership of his own destiny, however dangerous, he has wrest back control from the forces of nature and the environment.

 

The particular environment in which, and with which, he chose to create this work was more than just a setting for an event, it was in part at least, his collaborator. He allowed the environment in which he was journeying, a part of the creative power, and the sea enacted its will upon Ader. This creative act was performed by the sea, but allowed by Ader, as it was his vision that decided to relinquish some power to another force.

 

It is documented that before ISOTM Ader was concerned, if not worried, about the relevance and significance of his work. Friends and colleagues at UC Irvine reported how he seemed absent, and some spoke of their last conversations as if Ader was saying goodbye forever. Perhaps it was this that made him feel as if he had to make this bold statement in his work, and that the potential power of this work made it worth the risk. The show itself seemed like it was a lament, or a melancholic goodbye.

 

It is very tempting to romanticise this tragedy, ignoring the facts so as to paint a better legend. There are irresistible parallels between the cult of Ader and the cult of other, similar lost heroes who died tragically, much to young. It is tempting to claim ISOTM as a wilful act of suicide, but that is to slightly misrepresent the facts in order to write the better legend. In fact, Ader made plans for his life and work post-ISOTM, that would have been asinine if he never planned to return. There are a lot of conflicting elements that surround this story however, like the discovery of The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurstin his locker, which details the story of another solo sailor lost at sea in mysterious circumstances.

Ader did discuss (and dismiss) the possibility that this artwork was in fact an elaborate and extravagant suicide. If we take him at his word, then why did he bring it up ‘often’, and to multiple people including his wife Mary Sue, and Tony DeLap? Another artist represented by Claire Copley Gallery stated that the last time she spoke to Ader on the phone, it sounded like he was saying goodbye forever. All of these conflicting occurrences only serve to heighten the mystique surrounding the work, and perhaps, that was Ader’s intent.

 

 

It would be easy, and somewhat romantic, to ascribe destructive and tragic motives to his creation of this work, but it would be to intentionally disregard the other evidence that suggests he spent a lot of time trying to make sure that the journey was a success. He spent months having his boat modified for the journey by a shipyard, adding reinforced fiberglass in areas. He also wrote multiple times to his galleries to request that money he was owed was paid in time for his return, and he arranged for his classes at UC Irvine to be covered only until he was expected back. The dutch performers who were to sing the sea shanties at his exhibition in Amsterdam had already begun practicing. For all of these reasons, we must become content with never knowing the truth, which in its own beautiful ambiguity, seems fitting.

 

Despite all of this, he ultimately knew, and accepted the fact that he might never return, and he made his peace with it. It was a welcome risk for the sake of something bigger.

He left on a quest from which he may never return, but lost he is not.

 

 

 

 

The romance is not in the dying, but in the mastering of the elements by submitting to them, by relinquishing power and allowing one’s environment to take the reigns, come what may.

 

 

Originally published in AfterNyne Magazine

www.benjaminmurphy.info

 

For more by Benjamin Murphy, see his article about the exploitative works of Santiago Sierra here


Sunyoung Hwang – Episode 9 of the Delphian Podcast is now live!

Sunyoung Hwang – Episode 9 of the Delphian Podcast is NOW LIVE!

episode 9

South Korean, London based abstract artist Sunyoung Hwang is this weeks Delphian Podcast guest. We talk about her practice, the benefits of artist residencies and the transition from eduction to professional practice.

 

Listen now on our website HERE, or search DELPHIAN PODCAST in iTunes, Spotify, or Podbean.

 

Please don’t forget to Like, Share, and Subscribe!


Gallery Spotlight: Guts

Guts Gallery aims to provide financial support and exhibition opportunities for artists less platformed within today’s contemporary art scene. Their desire is to facilitate space and exposure for BAME artists, female artists, working-class artists, queer artists, and artists outside of London (bridging the North/South divide).

Through initiating relationships between established and emerging artists, they create an inclusive and diverse arts community, with a dynamic and interesting creative working environment to produce new structures that enable emerging artists to have the exposure they are often denied.

guts

The distribution of wealth within the arts operates on a model which mirrors that of wider social austerity; it disproportionately benefits people who do not experience racial oppression, gender or class discriminations. In order to facilitate the success of struggling artists, individuals in the art world and institutions who are financially and creatively influential need to recognise and discuss the lack of resources available to a large number of artists who are systematically disadvantaged and unheard.

Ellie Pennick is the founder of Guts Gallery. She is a queer, working-class artist from North Yorkshire. After leaving university in the Summer of 2017, she was accepted onto a Sculpture Masters course at the Royal College of Art. However, due to limited funds, she was unable to study there.

This spurred her on to think about how she could create a business venture that could benefit other struggling artists like herself. Many people are scared to speak out about inequality in the art world, often in fear of their own precarious positions being compromised. Pennick, through the creation of Guts Gallery, wanted a gallery that could speak out, a gallery with the guts to protest.

 

For more gallery spotlights, 
Collective Ending


Rowan Newton – Episode 8 of the Delphian Podcast is now live!

Rowan Newton – Episode 8 of the Delphian Podcast is NOW LIVE!

episode 8 - rowan newton

South London born painter Rowan Newton joins us for this episode of The Delphian Podcast where we talk about his debut solo exhibition, Fractured Integrity, with Jealous Gallery as well as surviving as an artist, the role and state of art fairs in London and his own podcast Art Proof.

 

Listen now on our website HERE, or search DELPHIAN PODCAST in iTunes, Spotify, or Podbean.

 

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Rhiannon Salisbury – Episode 7 of the Delphian Podcast is now live!

Rhiannon Salisbury – Episode 7 of the Delphian Podcast is NOW LIVE!

episode 7

London based artist and the winner of the Delphian Open Call 2019 Rhiannon Salisbury is our guest for this episode of the Delphian Podcast. We sit down in her East London studio to talk about her work, the role that advertising imagery plays in her paintings, whether or not artists have a responsibility to teach the world something through their work and many other things that feed into her practice.

 

Listen now on our website HERE, or search DELPHIAN PODCAST in iTunes, Spotify, or Podbean.

 

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David Shillinglaw – Episode 6 of the Delphian Podcast is now live!

David Shillinglaw – Episode 6 of the Delphian Podcast is NOW LIVE!

David Shillinglaw

We join artist David Shillinglaw in his studio in Margate for this edition of the Delphian Podcast to talk about his work, painting murals around the world and the importance of play in art. We also talk about his side project Dirty Paradise which he runs along with others which has been making appearances over the past few years, bringing artists together from all corners of the globe!

 

Listen now on our website HERE, or search DELPHIAN PODCAST in iTunes, Spotify, or Podbean.

 

Please don’t forget to Like, Share, and Subscribe!


Bitnik Interview

!Mediengruppe Bitnik is a two-person art collective comprised of Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo. Their Fluxus-inspired work is primarily concerned with digital technology and the way this is so prevalent in modern society – subverted in some way by their intervention.  Their work is a reflection upon the world we find ourselves in, and the hierarchical distributions of power that we are powerless to alter.

The technology with which they create their works is often so ubiquitous that we become blind to it, from physical objects such as security cameras, to digital media like the Internet. They hijack control of these technologies, and manipulate them to critique the systems themselves, highlighting the removal of freewill that these things rely upon to exist.

bitnik

In Surveillance Chess, they hijacked surveillance cameras in overly paranoid pre-Olympic London, and presented the unseen security guard with a chessboard upon the viewing screen. Text then appeared that informed the guard that the game was being offered by the person whom they could see on screen, sat on the floor with the yellow briefcase. The guard was then given the instructions over the loudspeaker that they were white (and thus had the first move), and that to make their move they must text the phone number provided.

In doing this, they turned the existing power dynamic on its head and took back control from the security guard, making them then the subject of the cameras gaze rather than the watcher of it. The dominance/ subjugation has switched polarity, and there is nothing that the security guard is able to do to regain control other than leave the digital system that has been hijacked and physically arrest the perpetrator. By way in which Bitnik identified themselves (placing themselves in front of the camera in question rather than in some hidden location), they presented the security guard with a way to stop the game. This is only possible however, by abandoning their post at the camera desk and the now corrupted digital system they inhabit.

This work is, at least in part, a critique upon the inferred permission we give to the owners of closed circuit video cameras when we enter a particular space. We are not consulted as to whether we give our consent to such an abuse of anonymity, and we must acquiesce to their infringements if we wish to lead normal lives. To avoid entirely the ever-present cameras we would have to burden ourselves with such a level of inconvenience that it would be completely devastating to our lives were we to forgo it. This is a reference to the way we are given a choice as to whether we are filmed or not; we can either go to a specific place and accept that we will be filmed, or avoid the camera by avoiding the place. We have physical ways to avoid being watched, but never digital ones. The only way we can avoid the intrusion of the faceless state and private landowners is to inconvenience ourselves, and never the despot. It is essentially an opt-out system that exists to favor the powerful.

In the current climate of Snowden, Manning, Wikileaks, and The Snoopers Charter, it is all the more poignant a topic for us to consider. Global governments are abusing the power afforded to them by the masses, via channels that they have convinced us are for our own protection. In this way, they succeed in removing much of the criticism that they could expect when violating such fundamental human rights. It is for our own good they claim, and therefore we must acquiesce. This sentiment is summed up perfectly by the following two quotes:

“I am disturbed by how states abuse laws on Internet access. I am concerned that surveillance programs are becoming too aggressive. I understand that national security and criminal activity may justify some exceptional and narrowly-tailored use of surveillance, but that is all the more reason to safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms”– Ban Ki-moon.

 

“Surveillance technologies now available – including the monitoring of virtually all digital information – have advanced to the point where much of the essential apparatus of a police state is already in place.”– Al Gore

 

What makes these two quotes all the more poignant is that they are both by incredibly high-ranking politicians who are very much a part of the ‘state’ that puts such systems in place. If they, with their advanced knowledge of such things, are critical of the governments snooping, as so should we be.

 

Not surprisingly, statistics on how helpful this level of interference with public privacy is are obscure, as brilliantly explained by Heather Brooke in the following quote about how CCTV is a tool for the powerful to control the weak. “CCTV is seen either as a symbol of Orwellian dystopia or a technology that will lead to crime-free streets and civil behaviour. While arguments continue, there is very little solid data in the public domain about the costs, quantity, and effectiveness of surveillance.”

bitnik

Surveillance Chess

In 2015 British public authorities made 1119 mistakes with communications data acquired by police, leading to 23 ‘serious’ errors (involving the arrests of innocent people). It is difficult to quantify how this intrusion is beneficial, but shocking statistics such as these cannot be ignored.

 

It would be hard to write an article of this kind without mentioning George Orwell, whose seminal work 1984 was incredibly prescient of the future we now find ourselves in. As well as the chilling similarities between his fictitious novel and the very real present, there is also something to be said for another post-war classic of modern literature, that of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

In 1984, an oppressive and totalitarian state controls its people by intrusive surveillance and repression of freedom. In Brave New World, the population is bombarded with stimuli in order to keep us captivated and therefore captive. Both of which seem to have come true.

 

As well as reluctantly acquiescing to the state-sanctioned intrusions into our privacy, we are also complicit in it. The use of convenient location-tracking apps, fingerprint scans, handy facial-recognition, and faster payment methods, we are providing those in power with metadata with which they can build up immensely detailed caches of information of our lives, and perhaps sell it to other, more malevolent parties.

As artist Richard Serra once suggested, if you are not paying for a service, you are the product being sold.

 

 

Although Bitnik may not offer us a way out of these systems of surveillance, their intelligent critique of it encourages us to not take this intrusion at face value. Surveillance is so ubiquitous that we often don’t notice it at all, and perhaps therein lays the greatest danger.

 

 

Bitnik

Random Darknet Shopper

 

 

Benjamin Murphy – Do you consider yourselves to be activists as well as artists?

Bitnik – We consider ourselves to be artists. Not that we are opposed in any way against the term activist. We just think that artist more precisely describes what we do. Artists have the freedom to ask questions without having to know the answers, whereas the world tends to expect answers and solutions from activists.

We concern ourselves with the aesthetic of creating situations that we do not have under control; of unleashing the powers of the found, the random, and the discarded. We confront our every-day and the craziness of the world by tickling and sometimes beating an aesthetic experience out of it.

 

 

BM – Do you think that more traditional mediums such as painting and sculpture will ever be replaced by more technologically advanced artistic mediums, or will they both continue alongside one another?

B – We don’t think painting and sculpture will be replaced. But like all artistic mediums, they will be influenced and updated by contemporary aesthetics and approaches. Art is art, whatever the medium. We don’t believe that any one medium can be technologically more advanced. In the sense that there is always technical, conceptual, and aesthetic skill involved in any artistic process – be that process mediated by a pencil, a computer, or any other type of device. In this regard, the medium or technology you work in is not decisive.

 

BM – Do you think virtual reality will ever become so ubiquitous that it comes close to replacing reality?

B – Well, that’s hard to predict to be honest, especially if you’re thinking of the immersive VR headsets. We’re sure that VR headsets will get better and better becoming more and more attractive and engaging.

Just recently we came across the account of someone describing “Post Virtual Reality Sadness”. He describes it as a kind of “hangover”, a “strange feeling of sadness & disappointment when participating in the real world” which he thinks is due to objective reality not being able to live up to intense experience that virtual reality can provide. Where the colours are brighter, the sound is better, and where you can be a kind of God and change anything you want in an instant. We are not so much worried about people preferring VR to the objective reality we share now. At least for the moment, virtual reality can still be positively ascribed to fiction. Whereas we are seeing our contemporary disintegrating into post-factual shards of parallel realities, where it is becoming hard to agree on the existence of even the most basic facts. This retreat of whole parts of society into detached realities with their own histories and facts and hardly any exchange with other realities seems worrying to us.

 

BM – With your Surveillance Chess work, was that a critique of the Orwellian state we find ourselves in, or was it simply an artistic creation inspired by its situation?

B – We regard the contemporary as our artistic material. Surveillance Chess is an intervention into the surveillance camera systems you typically find in urban areas. Like many of the systems today, they are a closed circuit system. Large parts of our surroundings today are actually closed circuit systems, elite systems, and surveillance systems. From an artistic point of view, if you want to work with what’s around you, you are bound to work within these types of systems. So for us, the question becomes ‘Where can we find potential for interesting narratives within these systems even though they’re closed, or, how can we misuse them?’ If you think of technology, a lot of technological systems you buy in shops are also very closed. You don’t have access to them. You can use them in a certain way. You buy a television, you can watch TV if you plug it in the right way, full stop. But there’s not a lot else you’re allowed to do with the thing. That’s probably where our curiosity starts, with the question: ‘Can’t I do something else with this?’ Why can’t I use surveillance cameras to talk to the people who run these cameras?’ There’s no way of reaching them. I don’t know where they are. They may be in some remote place. But if I take over their video feed and they cannot do what they’re meant to do, which is surveil a certain space, they will probably come and complain.

With Surveillance Chess we use the system in a way it wasn’t intended to be used, and we do this in a way that takes the hierarchy out of the system. We, as the surveilled, position ourselves at eye-level with the person watching us. We do this by enforcing a game, by enforcing our rules and by misunderstanding the closed circuit system as a communications system.

It’s this type of misusing very deterministic systems and making them into communication systems and sort of using or abusing them for that. For us, I think the aesthetic lies in finding ways to use systems in ways they were not meant for but doing that in a very precise way. We think there’s a certain narrative that you can then uncover within these systems, and that’s what we try to do.

With Surveillance Chess we definitely did start out from a curiosity for the situation we all find ourselves living in. In our view the work does have an element of critique, but it stays ambiguous in its readings. Between 2008 and 2014, we invited people on Dérives through their surveilled cities. We built CCTV video signal receivers and video recording devices and have given them out to people at events. Using the devices, they could wander through the city in search of hidden – and usually invisible – surveillance camera signals in public space. Surveillance becomes sousvellance: The self-built tools provide access to surveillance from above“ by capturing and displaying CCTV signals, thus making them visible and recordable.

These walks provide access to these images that usually you never get to see. You got to see surveillance camera images when something really bad happened and it was released on the news. In these walks, you get to see yourself walking through the city. It gives you access to a very different experience because it’s also interesting to watch surveillance camera images. A lot of people have participated in these walks and they have told us that, for them, the most horrifying thing about the walks was that they began to enjoy looking at these cameras, looking at other people. So, Surveillance Chess and the Walks especially have this element of ambiguity: Many people, even if they view surveillance critically, are still drawn to the images.

 

BM – When do you think that an artwork that had its genesis in political didacticism loses its status as art and becomes propaganda?

B – When it loses its plurivalence, the ambiguity of meaning.

 

For more about Bitnik – see their WEBSITE

For more interviews

Agony and Tenderness – The World of Daisy Parris