• "Here are ‘the obsolete industrial plants; the inadequacy of unchanged transport systems and overstrained power supplies … the shift of power from industrial capital to international finance capital’ and so on. Here is the self-consciously world-historical Lowry, showing us Britain mired in its past, and perhaps the future of China. But here and there is the old local Lowry, whose people cannot see beyond the foreground terraces to the dystopian prospect, and so seem to manage, to cope, even to enjoy themselves, on their own tight patch. People stop to chat or just to stand about; kids play; dogs and babies get taken for walks; women wear bright vermilion, the happy colour of the summer of 2013, and apparently of 1950 too. It’s hard to say this without sounding as folksy as Brian and Michael, and perhaps that’s exactly what it is, but right now what I most admire and enjoy about Lowry is the interest he shows, without any apparent agenda, in what people do. I have no idea why that should be so moving." Wonderful article from this fortnight's LRB about the Lowry retrospective at Tate Britain.
  • "Coming up with a word like neuromancer is something that would earn you a really fine vacation if you worked in an ad agency. It was a kind of booby-trapped portmanteau that contained considerable potential for cognitive dissonance, that pleasurable buzz of feeling slightly unsettled." There is so, so much in this interview, that quoting it feels somewhat futile. It's a really lovely thing piece, that goes far beyond cyberpunk, and delves deep into Gibson's writing and history. There are at least five meaty quotes I wanted to yank; it's worth reading and rereading.
  • "Distributed as a stripped down, customised GNU/Linux Operating System, the gallery merely needs to copy a single file onto a USB stick, plug it into a computer on site and boot it on the day of the opening. Remote Install then analyses its network context and the amount of space given to it – the free space on the USB stick. It then logs into the artist’s server and creates a file of random binary data to exactly fill this space and proceeds to download it over the course of the entire exhibition. An algorithm ensures the last byte is downloaded on the last second of the exhibition." Gosh. Still: that feels about as thorough as digital-art should be.
  • "Though I lost the original notebooks, I still have the journal. It stood in a complex relationship with, and served as a feeder for, the actual writing of Climbers, which went on concurrently elsewhere; also as a record of one of happiest and most productive times of my life. The pages were carefully numbered. The photographs, especially polaroids, have become faint and dark-looking at the same time, tinged with purples and greens not present in the lived scene." Beautiful documentation of work in progress.
  • "Truth be told, I’m a bit tired of pixel art, but work like this aspired to transcend mere pixels. And I think that’s why it still packs a punch for me today. It’s evidently not content with the paltry colour depth and resolution it’s forced to use. It’s not about celebrating its form, unlike today’s pixel art, which is all about the form and evoking aesthetics of the past without quite nailing their fundamental nature. Instead, these backgrounds are all about what they depict – little scenes, ripe with little stories and humour, and inflected with travel pornography." Great writing from Alex, and a lovely cherrypicking of the selection. I am not a huge SNK fan, systemswise, but I adore their background art – and have a particular fondness for the whole package of Garou: Mark of the Wolves. This post does a lovely job of explaining why.
  • "She is omnipotent. She can conjure up an army of parkour chimney sweep ninjas! But she also has to come and go with the weather, and where there is technology, if you like, it does not always do what it should. It plays up. The umbrella handle is a bit shitty with her. The toys don't always clean themselves up at her command." I always like Schulze on Mary Poppins, and whilst it's quotable, it's probably not the most representative quote of this marvellous article. The main reason I use it is this article, more than many I've read, explains what being in a room with Jack at work is like. It's also lovely to see all the threads, some of which I saw beginning, come together. Good photos, too, of what work looks like.
  • Charming. My favourite thing about this is that it's a picture of home, and, weirdly, it arouses the same emotions in me as it would if it were a poster of a real place.

Complexity

04 February 2013

Leo Villarreal’s Cylinder II is the opening work at the Hayward’s Light Show. It’s a very good exhibition, with a few high points; Villarreal’s piece was one of mine.

And yet.

The notes on the piece describes it as featuring “light and movement” composed by “complex computer programming.”

This particular word – complex – frequently annoys me when it comes to technologically manifested art. It annoys me because the craft of the piece is its assembly – both its manufacture, in light and metal, and its programming. But to make a virtue of its complexity… is much like describing Rembrandt as painting in “challenging oil paints”.

It’s one thing to describe the work as complex. But to describe the process the artist took as complex is something else; many artistic processes are complex, but few deserve that complexity highlighting. And in this case… the programming is intricate, and has been executed carefully, but it struck me as just another piece of electronically produced art.

Make no mistake: it’s entirely beautiful. But something about highlighting the complexity of the process when it’s fairly typical of that process rubs up against me; I wonder if it’s the surprise or alienness of technologically manifested work.

Of course, Villarreal’s piece isn’t really about how hard the programming is at all; it’s about how light interacts with a space, how patterns emerge, how we perceive. The programme notes go onto to discuss that, and they do so much better.

It’s a lovely show, though. Not much of it is bad, but the best parts – Villarreal, Eliasson, McCall, Flavin – are wonderful.

(On an entirely separate note: an exhibition in which the ability of the public to read “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” signs was worse than ever. The signs were particularly illegible in the darkened rooms, which rather spoiled my favourite piece of the exhibition – Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal; an exhibit that makes a virtue of carefully shaped light through darkness is somewhat impeded by camera flashes. Leave them at home, folks; it’s art, not a sideshow.)

New Work: Spirits Melted Into Air

22 November 2012

I’m excited to be able to share Spirits Melted Into Air with you: a two-week exploration I produced with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as part of their myShakespeare project.

The work is in parts a technology prototype, data visualisation, and artwork. Custom-built, open-source software is used to analyse performance video and generate plots of actors’ positions on stage from a perspective viewpoint. These plots are then used to generate new, secondary artworks: posters, and laser-cut wooden shapes.

Spirits headline

The project emerged from an initial workshop and commission by Caper, where we explored various potential ways for technologists to collaborate with the RSC on short projects. From there, I dealt with the RSC direct, meeting key members of their team and understanding a bit more about the various factors influencing performances and productions there.

It was great to be able to take such a fluid, interpretative approach to the work. With hindsight, this was unsurprising: the RSC’s business is interpretation – taking Shakespeare and producing entirely new productions each year, of plays they have often performed countless times. My work was similarly interpretative: initially, building software to explore the data, and then exploring that data as a material – before moving onto the further material exploration of output formats. It’s the sort of structure to work that I’m fond of.

It was also great to have a brief to shape, and ultimately push myself: not just exploring a single technical idea, but seeing it through, end-to-end, to output and display. It was important to me that whatever came out of it – however prototype-y – was both beautiful and accessible. I think the output – especially the lasercuts – has stood up to that internal demand.

Thanks to Rachel and Kat at Caper for setting up the initial commission and the workshops; to Sarah and Ida, for producing the work from the RSC so superbly; and to everyone I met at the RSC who offered insight, ideas, and knowledge.

You can find out more at the Spirits Melted Into Air website.

And, if you’d like to know more about it, or indeed, to work with me on similar work – be it investigative, creative, or artistic – do get in touch.

  • "Riders pass through openings in a waterfall created by precisely monitoring their path via axel-housed encoders, creating the thrill of narrowly escaping obstacles." Brilliant.
  • "This simple gesture was as touching as if the art school had put up a banner saying 'Welcome Back Tom'. I was moved. The project's title has now been reinstated. In some special sense I had arrived" Lovely.
    (tags: tomphillips art )