Absurdity, Absurdity, and Absurdity

Dave Ball, currently pursuing a practice-based PhD at Winchester School of Art, presented ‘Absurdity, Absurdity, and Absurdity‘ as part of Conversas series at Schillerpalais, Berlin, 29 Nov 2017. The following are his reflections on the event.

Conversas
 is a regular series of thematically diverse talks held with the aim of creating discussion and dialogue, where audience members are encouraged to interrupt and ask questions, and presenters are warned against preparing “too tightly”. I decided, therefore, not to give a conventionally coherent presentation of my work or my PhD research, but instead treat the event as a public testing-ground for some of the more speculative elements emerging out of my research into absurdity.

The plan was to present a series of examples of what I’d identified as eight variants of absurdity observable in works of contemporary art. Since those categorisations were, to a degree, based on my own intuitive assertions about what would or wouldn’t constitute “absurdity”, I was very keen to test them out publicly.

The talk began with a short screening of one of my own video works, which was greeted appreciatively, followed by a brief introduction to my research. As soon as the presentation turned to the work of other artists, however, the atmosphere in the room became unexpectedly heated. In fact, the very first slide shown (a photo by Thomas Ruff of a man inelegantly attempting a handstand on a leather chair, legs flailing in the air) received an immediate rebuttal that “Why shouldn’t we do handstands on chairs? Why is that absurd? That’s so conservative!”


In fact, almost every slide I showed initiated some tirade or other on what various audience members seemed to consider an affront to their intelligence, their outlook on life, or at least their conception of art. My gentle conceptual enquiry into whether or not the works could be considered absurd was frequently met with an impassioned and resounding “no!” Whist some of these protestations could easily be dealt with through reasoned argumentation or clarification of concepts, others unearthed genuinely fertile grounds for further investigation. But what took me completely by surprise was the level of passion, conviction, and emotion with which the audience responded to the topic. Absurdity, as was repeatedly made clear, really matters – and not just to this particular PhD researcher…

AMT Reading Group

Archaeologies of Media and Technology (AMT) research group has started organizing a reading group on media theory. The reading group had its first meeting in October with the aim of initiating a lively forum for discussion amongst students and faculty whose interests overlap with AMT. The research group itself—an office for theoretical and practice-based work in media, design and art, in relation to both contemporary culture and cultural heritage—had its inaugural conference, Future Past Tense, earlier the same month.

We meet at the PhD room in Winchester campus fortnightly to discuss selected texts that relate to themes and topics, concepts and issues in contemporary media theory. The work range from German media theory to new materialism, from issues of power and politics to the role technologies play informing what is produced as material reality.

Some of the first sessions had a particular emphasis on the theorisation of ‘cultural techniques,’ with a couple meetings dedicated to explore the writings of some of the key theorists of the area: Bernhard Siegert, Cornelia Vismann and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. The discussions revolved around the limits of such conceptualisation in analysing the emergence of objects and processes in contemporary media culture.

We also convened a seminar in collaboration with the PhD studio week to address “critical technical practice” and discuss current approaches to media and art research from a practice-based perspective. It involved issues around making and unmaking and the questions of media technologies as epistemological and aesthetic frameworks. A range of relevant art practices and projects (such as art group YoHa and Critical Engineers) were discussed, as well as the work of the participants. Michael Dieter’s ‘The Virtues of Critical Technical Practice’ was the key text for this workshop.

Recently, we have been increasingly occupied with the problems surrounding life and politics in the present: thinking, writing and making about/with media and technology in the midst of ecological catastrophe. The first port of call in this journey was Donna J. Haraway’s recent book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, which will inform coming meetings.

AMT directors Jussi Parikka and Ryan Bishop have been collaborating closely with Berlin based digital media arts festival transmediale. A product of this dialogue is the reader, across & beyond, which has been published to mark the 30th anniversary of the festival. The books is edited by the directors of AMT with transmediale’s Kristoffer Gansing and Elvia Wilk. We will engage with the articles, as well as artworks, that reside in this book in the coming sessions.

 

If you are interested in the reading group, please contact us:

Jussi Parikka / j.parikka@soton.ac.uk

Yiğit Soncul / yigit.soncul@soton.ac.uk

Webpage: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/amt

PhD Studio Intensive

The PhD Studio Intensive ran for a whole week, between 14-18 November 2016. Situated in a large shared space (just off of the main sculpture studio), participants were encouraged to work intensively to explore their own areas of practice, but within the context of a collective environ.

Led by Ian Dawson and Sunil Manghani, who themselves were collaborating in making sculptural works, the intensive week brought together a number of our practice-based researchers: Cheng-Chu Weng, Lucy Woollett, Tessa Atton, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco, Eria Nsubuga, Rebeca Font, Elham Soleimani Bavani, Sarvenaz Sohrabi, Yang Mei, Jane Birkin, Abelardo Gil-Fournier and Jonty Lees. The areas of practice spanned widely, including graphics, installation, photography, painting, drawing sculpture, mixed media and social art practices. The studio was also visited by Gordon Hon, Victor Burgin, Daniel Cid, Jussi Parikka and Ryan Bishop over the course of the week, adding to the discursive and makerly dialogues that ran throughout.

The underlying approach to the workshop and the aim of bringing fellow practitioners together for a full week was to echo the Triangle Workshops set up by Anthony Caro and Robert Loder back in the early 1980s, which led to projects and partnerships in over 40 countries worldwide. It all began with an artists’ workshop in Upstate New York, in 1982, which brought together around 25 emerging and mid-career artists from the US, Canada and UK. They spent two weeks making work. In placing emphasis on the process of making work, rather than the product, the workshop provided time and space to explore new, independent work informed by the exchange of ideas and the sharing of knowledge and skills.

 

Comments from members of the group:

‘I enjoyed the Studio Intensive Week so much… I have returned full of enthusiasm, energy and a thousand ideas inside my head. […] I took with me, Eria’s feelings (the conversations I had with him about politics and his country), Yang’s brushwork (and her calm), Elham’s line, the shadows of Cheng-Chu, the invisible presence in Jane’s photos, Tess’s tenacity (and her immense kindness), and an unforgettable presentation and discussion of my work with everyone. I take all the comments and thoughts of that moment with me’ – Rebeca Font

‘I still keep thinking on the conversations and shared experiences that took place. It is very interesting to cohabit a space while being involved in practice-based work. Space becomes electrical somehow, with lots of interferences and thoughts sparking all around. Making practice public also exposes both bodies and ideas in a very different way, and in this sense I particularly enjoyed knowing you all in this non-seminar type of situation’ – Abelardo Gil-Fournier

‘…the Studio Week was very useful as it gave us the chance not only to create art but also to witness the creation of other art objects/projects by other artists. [It was a] week to learn/create art, explore new techniques and materials and have interesting and inspiring dialogues with other artists’ – Elham Soleimani Bavani

‘Working with different researchers from different cultures is really very interesting. We create our works with different themes. Because of our different cultures and backgrounds, we experience a fusion and collision of ideas’ – Yang Mei

‘Time, space and other artists – three luxuries that are rarely available concurrently – were offered to us freely for a week. I greedily optimised this opportunity by turning a photographic negative into an installation and by working with other artists on different aspects of my larger project, all the while building relationships with the interesting and diverse group I am fortunate enough to be part of. An excellent week’ – Tessa Atton

‘I was quite uncertain at first about how to go forward with this kind of space. I was greatly inspired by the space and how everybody went around ‘conquering it’. I think Rebeca literally did that! And the Rotunda wacky race was great. Thanks Lucy and Noriko, and for the wonderful portrait Lucy. I enjoyed the work of everyone in the workshop even if i have not mentioned names. A big thank-you to Ian for the great hand of support and for the space.  I hope to work in it again. Thanks Sunil for leading by example and being part of the whole experience. I was inspired by that’ – Eria Nsubuga

It was the first time to see people’s working process rather than seeing the result of work. While we might have been slightly nervous working with each other, through sharing the studio space any apprehension seemed to disappear. Moreover, through giving each other support and feedback, a sense of learning from each other could be seen in this context, similar to the spirit to the former accounts of Black Mountain College. – Cheng-Chu Weng

‘The studio week great opportunity to push things forward in the practice realm. Be it by creating work and projects through material, performative or dialogical processes. It was a great catalyst for discussion on socially engaged practice for Noriko using the context of the school’s very own Brutalist Rotunda. An inside, outside space which will become the focus of further enquiries. Both past and present PhDs, Bevis and Jonty joined in and contributed to the conversation. I also spent some time painting Practice Portraits of Artists in process either in the act of making, thinking or talking about work. Thanks,  It was great to work with everyone and get a dialogue going on about our practice’ – Lucy Woollett

Minimalism: Location Aspect Moment

Click for Exhibition Notes

Cheng-Chu Weng, currently pursing a practice-based PhD at Winchester School of Art, recently curated an exhibition that accompanied the conference ‘Minimalism: Location Aspect Moment‘, which was held at University of Southampton/ Winchester School of Art event (October 14th-15th 2016), and organised by Paul Hegarty, Sarah Hayden and Ryan Bishop, in conjunction with the John Hansard Gallery. 

One of the purposes of ‘Minimalism: Location Aspect Moment’ was to expand our conception of what minimalism was, where it happened, who was making it, why, and how it extends through time until now. It is clear that the minimalist impulse happened in cross-national encounters (such as the 1967 show Serielle Formationen in Frankfurt) and that Europe was fertile ground for explorations in serial works, in playing with the prospect of singular forms and systematic thinking. Admitting the significance of the naming of the idea of minimalism in the 1960s, the conference looked back to earlier versions of the reductionist, repetitive, singularising or multiplying intents of core minimalist endeavour. As a result, the event sought consider what an expanded field of minimalism looks like, sounds like.

The exhibition accompanying the conference brought together the work of nine staff, PhD researchers and alumni from Winchester School of Art. The works and wall texts can be viewed in a specially prepared PDF document.

 

 

#gamesUR: London

15/10/2016 by Chris Buckingham

This was an event focused, as the name suggests on the digital games user research community. A community made of international bodies all with an interest in the mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics of the digital products they help create.

In terms of speakers, this was billed as a varied and insightful event bringing together the practical and theoretical under one roof. The reality fell somewhat short as the focus tended to highlight the practical learning and (in Microsoft’s case) the possibility of extending market data. It was a useful day in terms of gaining input from practitioners about their needs and problems they are facing in this complex eco-system. The main insights gained were;

  • Vision is everything but not everywhere.
  • There’ no ‘I’ in team, oh, but there is ‘me’.
  • Diaries are cheap and meaningful, to some.
  • Reduced hearing? MICROSOFT LOVES YOU!
  • VR = Vortex Rides! Hold on folks it’s going to be rough.

 

Vision

The day started with Nicholas Mathieu from Ubisoft demonstrating some of the difficulties of using eye tracking in digital games. A particular problem Mathieu demonstrated was the use of menu and their location during the game dynamic. The processes at play are fast and the reaction time of each player and the games own run-time is of paramount importance. Position, time to mentally process information and luminosity are all relevant factors that Mathieu and his team face.

In fact, the essence of this is the dance between player cognition, controller in hand and the game mechanics. There are expectations that need to be met in terms of delivering a better experience for the player and making a return on the investment in the form better games with better player experiences. Ultimately, Mathieu and his team recognised and acknowledged that the framing of the game is important to each game and therefore, there are no off-the-shelf solutions to the problem.

 

Teams

Johan Dorell of EA Dice gave an insightful talk on the use of teams and the communication process that can lead to problems in the development and building of a digital game. Stakeholders are varied with wide expectations and with agendas of their own. The trick, for Dorell at least, seems to be getting them to see the holistic game as a product that will be marketable.

Dorell’s experience is wide, from indie game development with very little support through to major league games where games user research (GUR) was a readily accepted condition of the organisational culture. His most useful tip was to get the teams from the various departments together and ensure they can see the whole game. It may sound obvious to management students and practitioners, but when dealing with such diverse stakeholders with the potential for a disposition verging on the prima donna it may come as a bit of a shock to realise not everyone is singing from the same song book!

 

Free Time

Perhaps one of the most insightful talks of the day came from Jochen Peketz of Blue Bite (a Ubisoft studio). He introduced the topic of diaries and how users keeping these fundamental records can really add to the overall picture sought through games user research.

Not just this but they can also save the organisation money as these research tools can be used in the players own home/office/café and in their own time. No more the need for expensive labs filled with researchers in white labs and hipster beards furiously writing in pencil on their clip boards. OK, so I might have dreamt that last part, but you get the picture. This is a brilliant poster for the use of these (in effect) field notes taken by the users themselves.

An interesting point to this was the use of emotion the player felt when playing. A simple record of their state of happiness during play was recorded and later comparisons of this emotional state could be analysed against the technical background of the record of play. This means that a double set of data to be analysed with the potential to add much richer detail to the research of the game.

An issue that was not raised during the interesting discussion that followed the talk was that of bias. In part there may be bias from the player’s record of what they thought about the game with hindsight. Did they really like it that much? Did they really recall with accuracy the aesthetic and emotion it provided during play? These are questions that were left hanging as we ran out of time to discuss this further.

There is one other area of concern with this system, that of interpretation. Interpreting user’s words could be fraught with challenges. Not the least the ability to actually decipher the scribblings of players post-game.

Peketz was honest in that he addressed several issues that Blue Bite had faced in this exercise. But he peddled it well to an eager crowd and I for one am convinced there is value in this simple but rich technique.

 

Reduced Hearing

Tom Lorusso of Microsoft Xbox offered the audience a brilliant overview of the challenges players with reduced hearing have. A Lorusso expertly highlighted, this category of gamer is not one that most developers have considered. But the value in doing so is to reach out across the void and support not those with hearing issues, but much wider tribes that as development implications begin to have a much wider effect on groups beyond the initial target demographic.

For Lorusso and his team part of the problem lay in the lack of comfort that headsets offered those with reduced hearing. They often had their own small devices that fitted in, on or over their ear. To then add a veneer of cumbersome plastic over the top of this, often meant an uncomfortable user experience.

But then they had a light bulb moment, these devices the reduced hearing individuals often had were blue tooth enabled, what if they could use this to address the issues of comfort. But comfort, we then discovered, is actually only a small part of a much wider social issue. There are also barriers to these individuals being able to socially play with other users who are not as effected with hearing issues as they are.

From internal feelings of embarrassment to external social exclusion by other players with adequate hearing, this particular group faced some hard choices which in the extreme even resulted in their isolation from the play world they loved. Lorusso and their team are on something of a crusade to help support this minority group of players.

But the biggest insight for Xbox has been the value creation for others that this has yielded. This value extends well beyond the reduced hearing tribe and can even add to the business model itself. but, there is an issue here.

Xbox, owned by Microsoft, have much bigger reserves to use for this kind of research. For smaller independent studios the problems may well be applicable, but how can they, on a much reduced level of spending, get anywhere near the kinds of insights that Xbox were able to garner? It’s a question that wasn’t adequately addressed, however, the fundamental ideology of inclusivity was one that echoed well around the auditorium that day.

 

VR

With so much hype around virtual reality (VR) at the moment it was good to see first-hand some of the challenges industry experts are facing with implementation and adoption. Laura Glibert from Ubisoft was able to use insight from their new game Eagle Flight (Ubisoft, 2016) which uses VR to fly around the Paris skyline and in the process shoot and get shot at, by other eagles. Swooping over the Marais or the 14th looked stunning on the clips that were shown.

More insightful though were the video clips of the users trying to negotiate their way around the city skyline while avoiding/attacking other eagles! Seated, some players looked as though they were in some form of extreme yoga as they twisted their head so far over the back of their chair, or lent so far to one side in a turn, that they physically tipped the chair to a point where gravity proved it was boss that day.

Glibert was entertaining in her talk but also quite stern in her advice for researchers. Simple things like keep cables of the floor and never, ever tap a player on the shoulder while they are playing (cardiac arrest is sure to follow), through to training, set-up and post-game reflections were concisely delivered. The golden rule was to plan everything with meticulous detail, and, at all times, watch for signs of well-being in the player. Ease them into the game, ease them out of the game and allow them time to readjust once they are back to showing gravity who da boss!

 

More and Less than Conversation: Research Lab

More and less than conversation: 3 day research-lab, 1-3 Sept 2016

Noriko Suzuki-Bosco

The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group (PIRG) meets once a month in the WSA PhD study room to examine text through conversational methods. The group recognizes conversation as a ‘cooperative venture’ (to use Allan Feldman’s words), where reading together, enquiring, sharing and listening is understood as a collective act which leads to the production of new knowledge, understanding and thoughts. PIRG has been developing the idea of conversation as a collaborative research method and the three-day research lab in the Winchester Gallery was an opportunity for the group to extend their research approach to the wider audience to further explore ideas around conversation as a verbal and non-verbal inquiry process. The event encompassed activities of making and drawing as well as an exhibition of new works by the group members. PIRG has organized similar events at the 10 days Winchester Arts Festival in 2015 and more recently at University of Birmingham, where situations of material thinking and thinking through material as a way into phenomenological inquiry were offered to invited audiences.

In the article ‘Conversation as Methodology in Collaborative Action Research’, Feldman points out that the cooperative aspect of conversation is what makes the participants feel as if they are ‘partners in the endeavour’ that allows conversations to have ‘directions but not to be directed solely by one participant’ (Feldman, 1999). Typically at the monthly PIRG meetings, the selected text presents the group with the conversational framework. During the three-day event the gallery space became the ‘container’ to prompt and hold the conversations. Certainly during the installation of the exhibition, the gallery literally became the space for the group to engage in a collective endeavour to ensure individual and group requirements were met. The process involved exchanges amongst the group members and thoughtful engagement with the artworks. As the exhibition started to take shape, the works themselves also entered into a dialogue with one another bringing to light both commonalities and differences of their themes, materials and processes that created interesting connections and flows.

A workshop area, which consisted of a long table with various objects and drawing materials and a large expanse of wall covered in paper, was also created in the gallery space. During the workshops that took place over the second and third day, the group gathered around the table to converse on various topics, such as material imagination, creativity, and notions of aesthetics – areas of common research interest for the group and to draw, write and make in response to the exchanges that took place.

The collaborative process of conversation brings people together to speak, to listen, to question, to investigate, to reflect and to learn. As Professor Simon Keyes at University of Winchester’s Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peace describes, dialogue and conversation is a process of collaborative thinking. The three-day research lab gave the group an extended length of time to participate in conversational methods of exchange and to ‘think together’, which was pleasurable as a group experience but also helped to consolidate some of the ideas on conversation that the group have been examining.

Professor Keyes emphasized that conversation is a ‘non-rational’ process that must remain free from goals and conclusions. This is what makes conversation fundamentally different from discussion and debate where some form of end result is expected from the outset. The cooperative venture of conversation helps to formulate new understandings and knowledge that are vital for putting together future action plans and developing new theories. It brings about growth to the way we think about things and for this, conversation holds potential to be acknowledged as a vital form of research for critical inquiry.

Conversation certainly served as the ‘glue’ for the group during the three-day research lab and helped to ‘maintain the integrity of the group’ (Feldman, 1999). However, the group also recognized that the open nature of the event failed to attract sufficient public interest. This brought to light the importance of legibility, accessibility and communicability of one’s work, be it apiece of academic writing or visual artwork. Following on from the three-day research lab, the group has started to examine these areas through series of collective drawing exercises supported by texts on embodiment of practice and knowledge creation.

 

Feldman, Allan. (1999) ‘Conversation as Methodology in Collaborative Action Research’, School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA. http://people.umass.edu/~afeldman/ActionResearchPapers/Feldman1999.PDF – accessed 17 September 2016)

Professor Simon Keyes’ quotes were taken from notes made by myself at the ‘Understanding Dialogue – From Theory to Practice’ seminar at University of Winchester on 24th May 2016.

Re: Making

Re: Making
L4 Gallery, Southampton
13 February to 8 March, 2016

‘…what of the artists, the makers, how do they make decisions? …now an artist is as likely to atomise or extrude or draw, print, wear or perform with objects as part of an adaptable practice. And since art has been transformed into aesthetic communication it is no longer traditions but messages that count…’ – Ian Dawson, Making Contemporary Sculpture, 2012, p.9

‘I don’t think it makes sense to untangle the picture (as material) from the image (as immaterial). […] Somehow we get snagged by a desire, an objet petit ‘an’, to theorise the image as a singularity, rather than reimagining and enacting theory around its multiplicity.’ – Sunil Manghani, ‘Images: An Imaginary Problem’, 2011, p.228.

This exhibition documents three PhD seminars that each ran between 2-3 days at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. Underlying Re:Making is a consideration of what it means to make and re-make ideas, objects and processes. Each seminar centred around key prompts or challenges for collaborative engagement, but without necessarily stipulating required outcomes. Instead the sessions were intended as a open spaces to explore and experiment. Working together we can observe and draw upon the range of decisions we each seem to make intuitively as we approach the ‘research’ in hand. In part a response to Ian Dawson’s suggestion from a previous seminar, the aim was to work together, and intensively, to question what it is we do and think when making, writing and researching. Taken as a whole, Re: Making asserts we might need to make before we think as much as we think before we make.

Prompts were provided to explore different modalities of making as follows:

  • Reading Room was the re-creation of an exhibition of artists’ books that had originally shown in India. The artworks were brought into dialogue with the School’s own collection so reframing and re-tracing thoughts, beliefs and emotions within the boundaries of a book and the cultures in which they circulate. In this case a 3-day seminar ran between Wednesday 28 and Friday 30 October 2015, with the Private View of the exhibition held in the evening of the final day. See more…
  • Plastic Surgery (held on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 November 2015) took two icons of ‘plastic pop’, Michael Jackson and Kylie Minogue, as ‘models’ to explore simultaneously both physical 3D rendering processes and conceptual understandings of plasticity as evoked by the fine arts and cultural critique. Taken together, Re: Making asserts we might need to make before we think as much as we think before we make. See more…
  • Writing as Making was a study retreat for dedicated time to write, to share in the act of writing, and to reflect critically on various strategies. The seminar was held on Wednesday 9 and Thursday 10 December 2015. One outcome was a re-making of Walter Benajmin’s ‘The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses’, which quickly reveals writing as practice, as a working and re-working of texts in pursuit of new thoughts, images and confluences. See more…

Of related interest, see also:

  • Drawing Together  – a participatory outdoor drawing event, co-orangised by Cheng-Chu Weng and Sunil Manghani. The event was held on Saturday 17 October 2015, 11am – 1pm at the Discovery Centre, in Winchester and was part of the wider programming for 10 Days, Winchester’s  biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival. Through the medium of chalk and shadows Drawing Together sought to bring people together in a shared act of drawing. Visitors to the Discovery Centre were invited to draw together as a means to draw each other together if only fleetingly, just as our shadows are mere fleeting images of ourselves. See More…
  • Practices of Research – as a precursor to the Re: Making seminars, a collaborative exhibition, Image-Text-Object: Practices of Research, was held at the L4 Gallery in early 2014. The exhibition presented the work of 16 PhD students and two members of staff from Winchester School of Art (WSA). Taken together the works offered a series of images, texts and objects, helping to think about different ways of seeing, thinking, writing and making. See More…

Analogue Audience/Digital Interfaces

Shwetal A. Patel is a PhD student at Winchester School of Art and a founding member of Kochi-Muziris Biennale. As a founding member of KMB, Patel took a wide ranging role, which involved  research and national and international advocacy duties, including a key initiative between Google Art Project and KMB to bring the biennial experience to internet audiences globally. In this post, Shwetal provides an overview of ‘Analogue Audiences / Digital Interfaces’, a symposium he organised for WSA examining contemporary audiences in the context of galleries and museums. The symposium was held on the 24th November 2015, at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London.

*
On an overcast drizzly Tuesday afternoon, high up in the Wren Room of the RIBA building in central London, a group of scholars, artists and experts gathered to participate in a symposium titled ‘Analogue Audience / Digital Interfaces‘ in an attempt to better understand our current digitally driven age. Our world today is increasingly one of hyper digital interaction in every conceivable sphere of society. We use our phones, our computers, our tablets, for almost all activities, and technology has become an intractable part of our daily lives. Projections for the numbers of people online are set to grow almost exponentially in the coming decade and there are even plans afoot to provide internet access to the most rural and improvised parts of the globe.
 
The effect that this might have on art, its production and its appreciation, is something we are only beginning to understand. In order to examine these issue more closely, faculty from Winchester School of Art (WSA) and I gathered some of the most accomplished thinkers and practitioners in this area. Participating WSA faculty included Head of Research, Professor Ryan Bishop, Head of School, Dr. Robert D’Souza, Reader in Critical and Cultural Theory, Dr. Sunil Manghani and the school’s Winchester Gallery curator, August Davis. Invited participants included curator, Hannah Redler, Head of Programmes and Operations at Sedition, Ashley Wong, Programme Manager at Google Cultural Institute, James Davis, artist and poet Robert Montgomery and Tate Modern Director, Chris Dercon.

‘Analogue Audience/Digital Interfaces’ was an attempt by us to discover something of the nature of the consumption, appreciation and understanding of artworks and how this is changed when a digital interface is interposed between artwork and viewer. Our collective intention was to explore the notion of the ever increasing digitisation and dissemination of art in the internet era, and also to explore philosophical and ideological issues and use this as the beginning for a larger discussion of our age. The selection of the speakers and moderators was made so as not to distil pre conceived notions or provide neat  ‘take aways’, but rather to gather a diverse range of voices that could set up important questions and examples of what was going on in the field. Following a brief introduction by myself, Ryan Bishop lay some of the theoretical groundwork for the symposium including the notion that interfaces can be simultaneously productive, alienating and liberating and that machines were increasingly speaking directly to other machines in the current phase of technological advancement. 

The first speaker in the symposium was Hannah Redler, an independent curator talked about a recent project curated by Lucy Dusgate for which Hannah selected key works as one of 5 guest curators. The show, titled Right Here Right Now, is an exhibition of contemporary art engaged in digital culture (Right Here Right Now is open at the Lowry until February 2016). Hannah is also the Open Data Institute Associate Curator, and a consultant art curator for the Institute of Physics where she recently co-curated an events series for Tate Modern titled ‘Light and Dark Matters’, with Tate and IOP programming teams Hannah brought a wealth of experience of working with artists who are using technology and digital strategies in interesting and unique ways.
 
Ashley Wong, Head of Programmes and Operations at Sedition – a leading online platform for artists to distribute work as digital limited editions for digital TV’s, smartphones, screens & tablets – discussed Sedition as a commercial platform for emerging and established artists. Artists Sedition currently offer on their platform include blue chip figures Bill Viola, Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst, Elmgreen & Dragset, Jake & Dinos Chapman and filmmaker Wim Wenders amongst nearly 100 others. During her presentation she explored several examples of artist practices who are engaging audiences in different ways with technology in their work whilst also discussing the interdependent relationship between the digital and physical in the post-digital age.
 
Robert Montgomery is a London-based, Scottish artist. He occupies a precarious space between street art and academia. His simple, graphic poems have been plastered, often illegally, over advertisements and billboards internationally, as well as being available (copyright free) over the internet. Montgomery was initially inspired by the graffiti artists of East London, the poetry of Philip Larkin, the philosophy of Guy Debord, and the French student protesters of May 1968. Montgomery became interested in the Situationist tradition while following the writing of Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard during his time at Edinburgh College of Art in the early 1990’s.
 
During his presentation Montgomery gave an example of a 22-year-old from Culver City who tattooed one of his poems on her arms and later emailed him the image through social media. His studio has since followed how the poems he writes get posted by people on Twitter /Facebook/ Pintrest/ Instagram etc and how his poem ‘The People You Love Become Ghosts Inside Of You And Like This You Keep Them Alive’ travels out into various communities of people beyond the contemporary art audience and gets used in sometimes unusual and expected ways. Montgomery also challenged the Benjaminian notion that the aura of an art work is diminished upon reproduction. Rather the artist felt that the internet was liberating his poetry and allowed him to disseminate his work to previously inaccessible audiences and engage in a dialogue with the public, suggesting that the internet was ‘like a democratic postcard’.
 
James Davis, Programme Manager at Google Cultural Institute presented Google’s ground breaking non-profit initiative, Google Art Project, as an online platform through which the public can access high-resolution images of artworks housed in partner museums and institutions, which currently number over 900 internationally. The fast expanding platform enables users to virtually tour partner museums’ galleries, explore physical space and monuments and research contextual information about artworks, and compile their own virtual collections as well as visit historical and archaeological wonders of the world. By using an internet connected webpage, he showed the audience the “walk-through” feature of the project which uses Google’s Street View and Gigapixel technology. Davis largely repeated the stated Google’s position/s and heralded the technology and platform as one that essentially provides “access to art and culture to anyone with an internet connection”. Google is one of the worlds most sophisticated and influential technology companies whose primary mission is to “organise the worlds information” though Google strongly believes in the potential of universal access to cultural production. 
 
To close the symposium, Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern was in conversation with Ryan Bishop and their free-form discussion expanded on some of the Tate’s Digital initiatives as well as personal insights into running a museum the size of Tate Modern in the digital age. Tate believes that digital media is an important channel for inspiring, challenging and engaging with local, national and international audiences. A useful insight garnered from Tate’s own research showed that 42% of visitors stated that they came to Tate to experience ‘encounters’, this was an interesting learning which illustrated how people are seemingly desirous of experiences and encounters which public spaces can provide in the digital age. Interestingly, 47% of visitors to the Tate website sited ‘research’ purposes as a reason for visiting the site. Dercon also mentioned that although their current Alexander Calder exhibition had received rave reviews from the art and mainstream press and that social media activity had been extremely high, the opening week attendance had been unusually low. This went against the idea that popularity on the web leads to greater footfall at exhibitions and he stated that Tate were currently analysing this phenomenon further to understand why. Despite substantial digital investment Dercon felt that it was still not possible to effectively translate theatre and museum experiences online.
 
As a result of the symposium there is now a platform of views and ideas to build upon, and a chance to open the discussion to audiences and scholars through the internet. The entire event is being transcribed from 3hrs and 42 mins of audio (links to be provided soon). This, it is hoped, will lead to new questions and possibly some conclusions emerging in the future. After the event, I said, ‘I feel this area is very fast moving and we are kind of guinea pigs of the digital revolution. Tech companies, artists, institutions and audiences are still feeling their way through the many changes and opportunities and it will take some time for the ground to settle and for concrete conclusions to be drawn. The lens of time and history will help.’ I hope many more people can join this discussion over the coming months as the topic broadens.
 
 
See also: Analogue Audience / Digital Interfaces [Programme Notes]

Image:
The Portrait of Sakıp Sabancı (2014) by Kütlag Ataman at the Sabanci Museum. Photo: Shwetal A. Patel.


While in Tokyo…

Stephen Cornford is a PhD candidate at Winchester School of Art. His fine art practice-based research explores the materialities of residual media. In this blog post he reports on a recent commission for the Ftarri Festival in Tokyo, along with a further installation, Migration, and a CD, Kinetic Sculptures.

For the 2015 Ftarri Festival in Tokyo I was commissioned to make a new work to be performed by myself, long-term collaborator Patrick Farmer and a Japanese musician Madoka Kuono. My response to the commission was to produce a three-screen 16mm performance titled Digital Audio Film. The central concept of the work was the exposure of analogue film to the laser of a CD player – film emulsion being sensitive to radiation wavelengths far beyond the abilities of human sight. The work brings a technology for the reproduction of digital audio into dialogue with a moving image technology, allowing them to re-interpret one another. A machine intended to reproduce sound becomes a producer of images. This work was performed at SuperDeluxe on Sunday November 22nd with the help of Japanese filmmaker Shinkan Tamaki who leant me his projectors and provided technical support throughout the day.


After receiving the invitation I also managed to arrange an exhibition at a small independent art space, Gallery 20202 run by Yukari Fujimoto ex-promoter of Off Site, a performance space for experimental music now considered instrumental in the emergence of Onkyô. The work exhibited here titled Migration, is an installation for numerous factory-second dictaphones which modifies their mechanics and electronics to produce an audio-visual effect reminiscent of the massed migrations of birds or insects. In doing so the work draws a parallel between this organic seasonal process and the global shipping of electronics as they move through our economy from production to their inevitable end as pollutants.

Coinciding with this exhibition was the release of a new CD titled Kinetic Sculptures on the vlzprodukt label. This CD collects together works from 2006 to 2010 the majority of which were made during my MA at Dartington College of Arts.

While in Tokyo I also performed twice in collaboration with other musicians invited to the festival. On Saturday 21st I played a trio with Makoto Oshiro and Matija Schellander which took and saw us placing sound objects all over the venue in a performance which deliberately dispersed the traditional focus of attention on the stage space. I worked with 10 modified Dictaphones and a turntable placing these chirruping devices among the audience, at the bar and on the PA, while Matija walked in circles around his double bass, plucking a rod inserted between its strings and Makoto placed home-made vibrating devices and alarm clocks throughout the space and then preceded to set off firecrackers in the toilets. Finally on the Monday after the festival I performed a duo with British harpist Rhodri Davies at a local record store.

Throughout the week I was taken aback by the generosity and hospitality of the Japanese. During the installation of the exhibition and following the opening I was treated to several traditional Japanese meals at local restaurants, including one evening meal of almost a dozen small courses, each served on its own specific crockery. A wonderful week and I very much look forward to returning to Tokyo in the not-too-distant future.

 

To see more of Stephen Cornford’s work visit: http://www.scrawn.co.uk

Drawing Together

Cheng-Chu Weng is a PhD candidate at Winchester School of Art, undertaking studio-based research concerned with shadows, the body and space. In this post she recounts her undertaking of an outdoor participatory drawing event, Drawing Together, which was part of 10 Days 2015 CHALK, Winchester’s biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival.

Drawing Together was devised as a participatory outdoor drawing event. Co-orangised by Cheng-Chu Weng and Sunil Manghani, the event was held on Saturday 17 October 2015, 11am – 1pm at the Discovery Centre, in Winchester. The event was part of the wider programming for 10 Days, Winchester’s  biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival. The event was advertised as follows:

Through the medium of chalk and shadows Drawing Together brings people together in a shared act of drawing. Visitors to the Discovery Centre are invited to draw together as a means to draw ourselves together if only fleetingly, just as our shadows are mere fleeting images of ourselves. This act of drawing upon the ground of the city in which we live and work is intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community.

The theme of the biennale was ‘chalk’. Thus, Drawing Together sought to make explicit use of chalk as its medium, along with shadows. The drawing of shadows, which are fleeting, ephemeral phenomena also relate to the ethereal mists of Winchester, borne of its chalk geology.

As an artist living in Winchester city, my aim was to engage with local people, beyond my studio at the School. My fine art practice begins in painting, but has now developed through installation works. I explore phenomenological readings of vision as embodied space: How people look, feel, and experience not just things, but emotions and memories. The phenomenon of the shadow is central to my practice, as it evokes questions about how we define the boundaries of our bodies and identities. What, for example, do we claim to be inside and outside of an outline? In Drawing Together, my aim was to  invite, demonstrate and direct people to mark out their shadows with chalk. This act of drawing upon the ‘ground’ of the city itself in which we live was intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community. (The plan was hold the event on the paved area immediately in front of the Centre’s entrance, but the weather was in fact quite poor, particularly the light levels on the day, which hampered the aim to draw shadows from natural light. We managed a short period outside, but in the main we had to move inside the Discovery Centre and work with artificial lighting).

Photograph: Ruby Chan

The process of engaging with local people through using chalks, lights and shadows prompted the action of tracing shadows. The following rubric was provided:

  1. Use chalk provided to trace the outline of the shadows of people around you as they form on the paved area outside of the Discovery Centre. Feel free to trace as many shadows as you like and do not worry about lines overlapping.
  2. Provide your name and address to the event organizers if you wish to receive a postcard of the finished work.
  3. Please feel free to post your own photos and videos of the drawing as it develops. Use hashtag #chalkshadows for Twitter and Instagram and/or post comments to the Facebook

Projects and artworks with a social dimension at their core have become increasingly common. However, any social artwork reveals not just collaborative efforts, but also what it means to be individual within a group. Drawing Together similarly played with the boundary between individual and collective. However, as a convenor of the project, what was particularly revealing was how the process of persuading visitors to draw shadow and make marks is not an easy job. It requires a good deal of skill in communication. This was a challenge for me. I am used to producing works individually, working in the studio environment which is tailored to making. In this environment there is a form of internal dialogue. It is a matter of experiencing objects as a form of non-verbal communication. Thus, aside from the event happening on the day, the underlying challenge to running a social community-orientated project – even one that on the surface seems very simple – is the lengthy process of organising and communicating with collaborators and the festival organisers. As a maker, I realise this is equally a part of making the ‘work’. However, it is really the participants on the day who bring the work into being. Once people have been invited to act, the situation changes; everyone can become an artist, as befits Joseph Beuys’ concept of Social sculpture. In this case, it was interesting to note, when comparing the two drawing surfaces, the pavement (outside of the Discovery Centre) and the boards (inside of the Discovery Centre), people found it much easier to be persuaded to draw on the pavement. There is a practical reason perhaps, since they do not need to take off shoes and need not worry about making a mess. To mark a person’s shadow on the pavement is more straightforward, and may even draw upon the participant’s memories of playing on the pavement, such as marking out hopscotch in a school playground etc.

The use of social media was suggested to participants, to allow the project to engage not just materially but also virtually. Images circulated on the day, and the final collaborative ‘drawing’ from the day was photographed and printed in a limited set of postcards (and sent out to all those who participated). However, the relationship between the participants, object (chalk) and surface or support (the ground, drawing boards) was the real ‘event’ of the project. Here we might think of Martin Heidegger’s concept of intentionality, the idea of the object within the subject intention, as Joel Smith explains: ‘Equipment is ready-to-hand, and this means that it is ready to usehandy, or available. The readiness-to-hand of equipment is its manipulability in our dealings with it’ (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Drawing Together, in the end, was about the experience of the body – and indeed bodies – in using chalk as a means to trace our shadows. Ultimately this is an impossible task, but one we feel is nonetheless ‘ready to hand’. It was heartening to see people spent time to engage with the project. I am grateful to my collaborator, Sunil Manghani, and the Biennale organisers, Sophie and Jane, for helping to make Drawing Together happen. A big thanks also to Elham, Sarvenaz, Ruby and James for helping out on the day.

See also Re: Making