A few days ago, Chris Salter, along with his collaborators Sofian Audry, Marije Baalman, Adam Basanta, Elio Bidinost and Thomas Spier, premiered n-Polytope, Behaviors in Light and Sound after Iannis Xenakis at LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain.
The cutting-edge light and sound environment is an homage to Iannis Xenakis' Polytopes which at the time of their development (1960s-1970s) were regarded as pioneering and radical. Reading articles about the Polytopes, you realize that many of the concepts and structures used to describe them are part of today's new media art and interaction design language: large-scale "multimedia performances", "immersive architectural environments", etc. Xenakis' Polytopes were live performances that merged electronic sound, light shows, and temporary structures. They made the indeterminate and chaotic patterns and behavior of natural phenomena experiential through the temporal dynamics of light and the spatial dynamics of sound. But as ground-breaking as they sound, the polytopes are still relatively unknown.
Salter's n-Polytope re-imagines Xenakis' work as short performances as well as a continuously evolving installation, both steered through a sensor network utilizing machine learning algorithms. And i'm going to pretty much copy/paste the press release now:
"The 'learning' network studies the rhythmic and temporal patterns produced by the light and sound and helps in generating a totalizing, visceral composition that self organizes in time. LED's and tiny speakers are suspended through the space on a single ruled surface, creating a walk-through performance environment which continually swings between order and disorder, akin to Xenakis's original fascination with the behaviors of natural systems. Creating bursts of light as well as evolving patterns, the behavior of the LED's suggest cosmological events, like the explosion of stars and supernovas. While the LED's create a changing space of bursting points, colored lasers that bounce off the surface of fixed and changing mirrors generate fleeting architectures of lines and shapes that that appear, flicker and disappear before the visitors' eyes. Counter-pointing the intense visual scenography, multi-channel audio from the small speakers as well as the larger environment fills the space, shifting between sparse natural and dense electronic textures - noisy bursts, clangerous, gamelan-like lines and percussive explosions of sound. Across the architectural structure, the network of tiny speakers produce the behaviors of mass sonic structures made up of many small elements (sonic grains) creating swarms of tiny sounds that resemble a field of cicadas or masses of insects."
Check out this video on El Comercio : Chris Salter briefly explains the work and in the background you can get a sneak peak of the preparation of the installation at LABoral.
I haven't traveled to LABoral to see the installation/performance but i'm glad the new work gave me an opportunity to briefly interview Chris Salter. Salter is Associate Professor for Design + Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal and Director of the Hexagram Concordia Centre for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technology. The artist and researcher is currently working on Alien Agencies: Ethnographies of Nonhuman Performance. The little information i found about the book sounds as exciting as its title. The publication will explore questions such as What does it mean that nonhuman matter "performs"? How can contemporary techno-scientifically influenced and produced artworks be understood under the term "new materialism" - the increased interest in the acts of nonhuman objects, processes and matter itself promoted by such scholars as Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Karen Barad and Andrew Pickering? What can fields and practices fields such as Science, Technology and Society (STS), anthropology and sociology offer to current technologically molded practices in the area of "research-creation?"
Hi Chris! Unfortunately i couldn't come and see the work in Gijón but i've been wondering what visitors can experience exactly during the performance? And since the piece is using machine learning algorithms, does the performance evolve over time and how?
This is a complex question but in a nutshell, what audiences experience is a kind of visceral journey from tranquility to chaos and back again, made manifest through light and sound that is partially choreographed (that is, organized and scored) and partially open to what happens in the environment. The techniques we are using (designed by my collaborator/student Québec based artist and PhD researcher Sofian Audry) come from a branch of machine learning called reinforcement learning - which basically involves software learning agents that interact with their environment in order to achieve a goal. The agent seeks to achieve its goal despite the fact that there is a high degree of uncertainty about the environment - in other words, the agent doesn't know until it does something and is then "rewarded" in either a positive or negative manner. Hence the term "reinforcement." The agent's actions thus influence not only the state of the environment in the present but also can affect the environment's state in the future.
In n-Polytope, the agent receives sensor-actuator information from the environment (the brightness of an LED or the amplitude of a sound, for example) and can either turn the LED or the sound on or off, receiving a reward for it. However, the environment around the agent (and the sensor) is continually changing, so it's hard to determine what steps the agent will take and what they will result in. In this sense, the performance is evolutionary in that each "time step" the agent takes is going to be different from the last.
On the opening day, we already had visitors who saw a performance earlier in the day and then one later tell us that they felt the performance was qualitatively somehow different - that it "felt" different. At the same time we have to "tame the algorithms" by shaping how these behaviors and actions are revealed to the public, particularly given that some of these processes take many minutes to unfold and are not entirely interesting in the long run. Sure, they produce patterns but patterns or the formal processes that produce them are not always intrinsically interesting from an aesthetic or affective point of view in and of themselves. This gets us to your next question...
The composition "self organizes in time". Does that mean that the work is going to surprise you? To create light and sound compositions that you had not forecast?
The idea that something will surprise you is at the heart of the concept of "experiment." In science, of course, you want to somehow stabilize this over time and reduce the surprise so things can become consistent and deterministic (and thus, other people can repeat the experiment, achieve the same results and then eventually call this a scientific "fact"). In art, particularly art that utilizes these unstable computational systems, you hope to create the conditions to enable something surprising to happen and then hope it does! This is one reason why artists like Cage with his "chance operations," Xenakis with his "stochastic music" (i.e., music based on probability models) or us with these statistical procedures from machine learning (which are also similarly stochastic), are interested in using techniques in which the results can only partially be predicted.
The issue of relinquishing control is a really interesting question and I've found after working over many years with similar ideas that one is always in a moving target between something which is scripted/fixed and, at the same time, allows a certain degree of improvisation and self-organization in order to keep the sense of "liveness" - that is, something that is taking place right then and there in real time before you. This is the reason to explore these techniques - because ultimately you want to create an experience that renews itself and that maintains its "nowness" - its "life." Control in the real time context of performance is something that I think is vastly overrated! Despite using computational systems (which are at their heart, control systems) and techniques from probability, for example, Xenakis (or Cage, for that matter) was wholly in control of his work and we are too - in the sense that control involves plotting something out in time in some kind of purposive manner. But at the same time, you are never wholly in control because you are dependent on so many other factors, materials and things that have their own tendencies and predilections -- what my friend, the famous sociologist of science Andrew Pickering usefully terms, their "material agency" - their own way of producing material affects in the world.
n-Polytope is using sophisticated technologies that didn't exist at the time of Xenakis' experiments, but apart from the technology what does your work bring that sets it apart from his "Polytopes"?
I think there is more that unites our different approaches than separates them, although clearly our own histories are very, very different than Xenakis's World War II experience. First, the similarities. The original idea to revisit the Polytopes came from two different directions.
The first is my general interest in the history of performative, technologically augmented "total works of art" I wrote a whole book published by MIT Press called Entangled that came out in 2010 about these performative histories) of which the Polytopes are an essential but unfortunately, mostly forgotten part. Indeed, in describing them Xenakis used terms like "interactive," "self-organizing," temporal acts, etc. that are part of our cultural vocabulary now.
The second is more specific to Xenakis' and my own interest in using formal systems (such as those from mathematics or statistics) to generate visceral, perceptual experiences for audiences that continuously slide from order to disorder and in this process, somehow manage to transcend these formal, abstract structures. What is different is clearly the historical and techno-social context that has radically changed since the Polytope de Montreal in 1967. The kinds of media environments that Xenakis had imagined that the Polytopes represent have become, in some ways, common and part of our own technical-cultural moment. Even though we are using very sophisticated techniques culled from current research in computer science and engineering, I think we bring to this re-imagining perhaps a more sober, less utopian approach to technology. Our approach is far less "Platonic" than Xenakis's in that we are interested less in creating a kind of ideal, perfect experience that would be achieved by the "beauty of numbers" or formal principles of geometric thinking but rather creating something less perfect: more fragmented, disordered and messy and whose actions and influence are open to the world.
I'm also quite curious about the fact that n-Polytope is described as a "performance installation". Could you describe what makes the work performative? Why is it not a simple light show?
There are two scales of performance going on in the piece. First, there is, in the traditional sense of a performance, an event that takes place over a very specific window of time, that has a clear beginning, middle and end and has a specific dramaturgical or narrative shape - that takes the audience through a carefully shaped range of experiences - from a kind of meditative silence to absolute, almost apocalyptic chaos and then back to silence. We run five of these performances daily so people know what to expect - when you use the word performance, audiences understand that they should come in at a specific time and stay the duration and that if they wander in or out they will miss part of the experience. It is, of course, always difficult to create this kind of time in the context of museums or visual art exhibitions (think of works from James Turrell or Robert Irwin which, in one way or the other, force audiences into understanding/experiencing a different sense of time than one is used to in the shopping center/ browsing atmosphere of museums) so we are very clear that one should experience the work from beginning to end.
But there is also a second sense of performance. Indeed, why couldn't a light show be seen as performative? Why does a performance have to imply a human performer at all?
This is the core question underlying my current book project for MIT Press called Alien Agency: Ethnographies of Nonhuman Performance. There is now a huge interest in science studies, in sociology and clearly in art and design in moving away from understanding performance as something that is a strictly human act and instead, emphasizes material actions or behaviors of techno-scientifically orchestrated things, transient objects and processes. We already see this taking place in the early days of cybernetics and indeed, this is one reason why we subtitle n-Polytope "behaviors" in light and sound. What one should observe and experience is how light and sound acts and unfolds indeterminately over time, that is, performs - particularly given the fact that this performance is not completely under human control but instead, based on the environment.
Xenakis worked on several "polytopes". How about you? Do you think that this is the first of many n-Polytope?
I think so. The Polytope LABoral is site specific in the sense that it is built for that particular, difficult space, particularly the acoustic design. As soon as the piece opened, I already started thinking of how we can change it to make it better and to resolve things that aren't working yet to our satisfaction. There is already interest from other venues in Europe, in Asia and in North America and they will have their own cultural contexts. So, yes, I think there will be other Polytopes to follow!
n-Polytope, Behaviors in Light and Sound after Iannis Xenakis remains on view at LABoral until 10 September 2012.
This year's edition of the FutureEverything festival in Manchester brought a much discussed phenomenon to the fore: participatory culture. From Wikileaks to Iceland's crowd-sourced constitution, to the Arab Spring, participatory technologies have demonstrated their powerful political potential. The world of culture is harnessing the same connected energies with projects that involve citizen scientists cataloging celestial bodies in the Milky Way galaxy, crowd-curated photo exhibitions and of course the many projects created by artists and designers who either directly use collective action or bring it under a new light.
The festival is over but the exhibition, titled FutureEverybody, remains open till June 10. It is hosted in the spectacular 1830 warehouse, the world's first railway warehouse, part of the Museum of Science and Industry.
The show obviously focuses on the artistic dimension of new participatory technologies, giving a tangible and very approachable dimension to a phenomenon we tend to associate mostly with online practice. FutureEverybody opens with the work of an artist known for putting them spectacularly into practice: Aaron Koblin who, a few years ago, teamed up with Takashi Kawashima and thousands of online workers to create a $100 bill. But you all know Aaron's work so let me call your attention to some of the projects i discovered in the show:
Over 48 hours of user-created audio is uploaded to the internet every minute, a figure that is increasing exponentially. Maelstrom by Daniel Jones and James Bulley draws on these audio-fragments in real-time and broadcasts them through suspended speakers. By organising these fragments based on their tonal attributes, they collectively form a vast instrument, whose properties are affected by global internet activity.
Wikipedia articles, especially new ones, are reviewed by the community to determine whether or not they meet Wikipedia's notability guidelines. Articles nominated for deletion are discussed collectively by the editors before they decided in favor or against keeping them. An administrator then reviews the debate and makes the final decision.
Moritz Stefaner, Dario Taraborelli and Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia analyzed Article for Deletion (AfD) discussions in the English Wikipedia. The result of their research is Notabilia, a visualization of the 100 longest discussions that stemmed from the proposal to delete an article.
I was less interested in the data visualization (which is obviously clear and competently designed) than in learning about the articles questioned and the reason put for forward for their remotion from the online encyclopedia. The entries deleted ranged from the surprising (Islamophobiaphobia) to the downright absurd (List of songs about masturbation, List of Playboy Playmate with D-cups or larger breasts). I've also noticed the high number of articles exposing dubious political or religious agendas.
Jamie Allen's Refractive Index is an ongoing art-research project that uses the large scale public media displays as a kind of camera obscura; inverting typical uses of the screen, and showing us what our screens "see" when they peer into the night sky. I'm not sure i understand what makes it a project that deals with collective action but i loved the rigorous research behind it as well as the way it was documented.
Right in the middle of the exhibition space was a heap of miniature ceramic figures hand-made by Lawrence Epps. A few days before i visited the show, the Sykey Collective distributed 8,000 of these tiny workers in the streets of Manchester. Passersby were then invited to bring them to work, home, on business trips, holidays and document the figurines journey online, either on www.sykey.org and via twitter #littleclaymen.
I wanted to steal a figurine from the exhibition pile and take it with me on the train to London but being a stupidly well-behaved girl, i just looked sadly at them and walked away empty-handed.
Jeremy Hutchison's Extra! Extra! is a collection of newspaper advertising boards with headlines written by Facebook users on the project's Facebook wall. The messages are printed by the Manchester Evening News, and plastered on newspaper billboards around the Museum of Science and Industry site.
Blast Theory was premiering their new game I'd Hide You. As is often the case with the UK collective, I'd Hide You is an online/offline game. Only performers play in the streets while the public can log online, follow them and play. Rules are detailed in the trailer:
Who wouldn't want to be one of the three performers with the cool outfits and gadgets running in the streets of Manchester?
Previously: An Ant Ballet at FutureEverything.
Entrance to the FutureEverybody Art Exhibition is free. The show remains open at 1830 Warehouse, Museum of Science and Industry, in Manchester until 10th June 2012.
As the machines blow vapour rings that double as ephemeral scent zones, the public not only experiences a visual performance of smoke vortices travelling through space, but they also perceive scents that are temporally spatialised and visualised.
I read about the installation while clicking through Ollie Palmer's website, and contacted Heechan to ask him more details about his mysterious machines.
Hi Heechen! An Architectural Time Machine 'creates a series of vortex air and ephemeral scent zone.' It also looks like a canon to me. How did you build it and how does it work exactly?
AATM create an architectural time-based event as blowing vortex rings with scents to rhythm, they unfold tempo in space. These give observers not only an unfolding spectacular performance of rhythmic vortex rings travelling through space, but also vortex rings and scents from the machines are temporally spatialised and visualized. Observers also can smell different scents from different machines and trace moving vortex rings. When the machines stop their performance blowing vortexes, the formed space gradually vanishes as the space is ventilated.
There is a great and unique mechanism firing vortex rings. The mechanism is electronically auto-controlled. As a mechanism controls the interval of vortex firing time, it brings accurate manipulating a rhythmic beating. To achieve this, I employed an 'Alternate rectilinear motion' mechanism, which is given to the rack-rod by continuous revolution of the mutilated spur-gear. Bungee cord in the barrel forces the rod forward to its original position on the teeth of the gear as shown below. As controlling speed of rotation of spur gear, machines achieved rhythmic beating of series of smoke rings.
A stepper motor, which is mounted on main spur-gear, makes it possible to control the speed of rotation of the main spur-gear releasing the hammer-rod to blow air out. A stepper motor, which converts electrical pulses into discrete mechanical movements, is employed.
The results gathered in a series of experiments led the project to the next step of making the progressed version of the machine. Three different scales of machines were created. Each machine has different abilities of performance due to its scale and power of motor. For instance, each machine performs different travel distances of vortex rings and smoke capacity. These differences could be compared to different scale in musical instruments. The machines are named as Nolan, Van Eyck and Petit Manuel, who are cloud sculptors in J G Ballard's short science fiction 'Cloud sculptor of Coral D', who shape clouds with their strange glider having cloud-sculpting devices in the wing.
I used CAD/CAM technologies such as laser cutting, SLS, CNC milling etc. Particularly these technologies make it possible to process rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping by using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) has already been practiced through my toy project. Rapid prototyping built a 1:5 scale model in order to test and prove a part of the machine before full scale fabricating. Moving mechanisms, sculptural shapes and the body frames of the machine were tested. Then this has led the constructing of 1:1 scale machine.
The work sounds a bit sci-fi to me. Where did you get the idea for AATM?
You are right. I got an idea from 'Cloud sculptors in coral D', J.G. Ballard's science fiction, in which the three gliders shape clouds with strange machines. I got an idea regarding this project when I was in front of massive loudspeaker in a club. I felt energy of sound from the speaker crashing my body. I thought invisible energy could be translated visible dynamic performance.
But also, I have been very interested in Architectural time based event, looking at how observers can experience time moving in space as observing the performance of machines or devices in space.
Leonardo Da Vinci mentioned 'tempo', which referred to 'speed of time, 'musical' or 'harmonic' time. It might be easy explanation about AATM that it allows observers to experience 'tempo' in space with scents. A series of vortex air from machines construct ephemeral time based event. After travelling through space and time, it just vanishes as space is ventilated.
Here is the best quotation from Stephen Gage in order to help you to understand my inspiration from architectural time based event. "Once we consider architecture to be time based and enmeshed with the way that people perceive and use it, we find ourselves short of reliable conceptual tools that can be used to understand our craft. As an event or series of events in time, we can consider architecture as a performance containing both human and non-human changing protagonists"
The way the vortex rings remain perfectly circular as they rise in the air is impressive. How did you achieve that?
The vortex air generator is an old and traditional toy. It works with simple principles of physics.
But, on a windy day outside, the machines could not have successfully performed. Strong wind destroys smoke rings immediately when it comes out from a machine. It's similar to the cloud sculptors of J.G. Ballard who could not perform when dark clouds were coming, which presage rain. However, it could be acceptable as it is the nature of performance, which is temporally affected by weather and site specific conditions.
The machine creates scent zones. But what do they smell like? and how/why did you chose that scent?
Basically, my time machines cannot make scent itself, but you can put all the scents you want in it.
When I was developing these machines, I found there are some great potentials with various scents. I came across George William Septimus Piesse, an English chemist and perfumer, who offered a music-inspired taxonomy of scents. Following his music taxonomy of scents, I made scent music cord. For instance, C major cord could be made with Orange flower, Almond and Southernwood scent.
I thought that my 8 machines could play scent music with 8 scents.
Are you planning to develop the work further?
I hope to develop AATM and want to enjoy making various events. I have made six AATMs. It was my Masters project at the Bartlett school of architecture, UCL.
It was definitely an architecture project about architectural time based events and I believe I achieved my aim to set up a theoretical base on my interest through this project at Bartlett. I think it's time to apply my AATM to various artistic events over architectural theory. I am keen on involving in various events wherever there is a nice atmosphere and fun people to enjoy my machines.
Also I want to have performances in specific places and buildings, which have their own architectural proportions. As AATMs make a proportional rhythm that the building or
Any other project you'd like to mention?
At the moment, I have been making a small toy called 'Inigo', which is a part of architectural toy project. I have been devised a series of mechanical toys, Toys are printed in one piece by using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), which allows multiple moving parts to be operated in one piece.
Please visit the web site of Experimental Toy Factory, which I founded last year.
All images courtesy of Heechan Park.
Yesterday i was in Manchester for the FutureEverything festival. Mostly to see the art exhibition. The festival is up until Saturday but the exhibition remains open until June 10. It's a good show. Small but smart and with a sharp focus on artistic and political potential of new participatory technologies. I'll come back to it over the weekend.
Right now i wanted to have a look at Ollie Palmer's Ant Ballet.
Because of their decentralized organization (swarm intelligence), ants are a good model for the kind of participatory projects the exhibition is exploring this year. In the designer's work however, the behaviour and navigation of the insects are manipulated for artistic purposes. Palmer has spent 2 years observing the Argentine ant, aka Linepithema humile to build the Ant Ballet Machine, a system that enables him to direct ants and make them move in a choreographed fashion.
Using synthesised pheromones and computer vision system, a robotic arm sprays out pheromone powder trails that cause the ants to follow artificial trails in preference to the route they would normally take in search of food.
The project is separated into four phases referencing the 1974 scifi movie Phase IV. In the film, scientists are puzzled by the complex designs that ants have started building in the desert. The ant colony have in fact undergone rapid evolution as a result of a mysterious cosmic event.
Phase I of the Ant Ballet (2010-2012) is the one documented at the FutureEverything exhibition, it covers thorough research into ants and control systems, synthesis of ant pheromones and testing of systems with live ants in Barcelona. Phases II-IV (2012-2015) will develop further technologies, chemicals and mechanisms. In 2013 the first public ant ballet performance will be presented at Pestival Sao Paolo.
Check out the documentation of the Ant Ballet at the 1830 warehouse, the world's first railway warehouse, part of the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry), Liverpool Rd, Manchester. Entrance to FutureEverybody art exhibition is free. The show remains open until 10 June 2012.
There's only one week left to head to Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and Middlesbrough and visit AV Festival, a biennial of contemporary art, music and film which main theme this year is As Slow As Possible.
One of the works on show is the extremely long-term project that sees Agnes Meyer-Brandis training a flock of young geese to fly to the moon. The whole training started last Spring and according to her schedule, the birds will go on their first unmanned flight to the satellite in 2024. However, the artist plans to accompany them on a later flight, most probably in 2027.
Meyer-Brandis' scientific experiment is inspired by The Man in the Moone, a story written in the early 17th century by English bishop Francis Godwin, a believer in the Copernican heliocentric system and of the latest theories in magnetism and astronomy. The book tells how Domingo Gonsales flies to the moon and gets to meet an advanced lunar civilization. The adventurer managed to escape the 'magnetic attraction of the earth' by harnessing a flock of birds called gansas, specifically trained for the purpose. Some critics regard the story as the first work of science fiction in English.
Since it has become so difficult to locate moon geese, Meyer-Brandis breeds her own moon geese. She acquired the eggs last April, named each of them after an astronaut, placed them in an incubator, watched over them, witnessed the hatching and imprinted herself on to them as their stand-in mother, just like Konrad Lorenz did with greylag geese.
The surrogate mother had to spend the weeks following the hatching in close contact with the eleven geese. The astronaut training started almost immediately, the young birds were encouraged to walk in a V-shape --the formation used to tow Godwin's chariot-- taken on expeditions into the mountains for high altitude training, taught how to use morse code devices for improved interspecies communication, and given lectures about astronomy and navigation.
The birds are currently continuing their training at Pollinaria (Italy), in an analogue that simulates the conditions of the Moon. Visitors of the show The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility in Newcastle can see a scaled model of the remote analogue site, admire the portraits of the astronauts, watch a documentary of the experiment and follow the birds daily life through the screens in the control room at the back of the gallery.
Documentation of the project and installation The Moon Goose Analogue:
Agnes Meyer-Brandis: The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility is part of the AV Festival and you can see the film and installation at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle through 31 March, 2012.
Also on view at the AV Festival: Slow Motion Car Crash.
A wire brush spins around randomly, threatening your open-toe sandals. A motion-activated vacuum pump sucks out the air from a gallery space: the longer viewers remain inside, the less air for them to breathe. A cobble stone is rotating on a rope. The sole purpose of that kettle is to spread red acrylic paint on your shoes. An electric fence criss-crosses the path that leads to an art gallery or the bar. Elsewhere a randomly activated tripwire awaits visitors...
There is nothing even remotely safe in Ben Woodeson's works. In fact, they purposely run on hazard and liability waiver forms. Sometimes they even require safety helmets. Woodeson is from the United Kingdom, a state notorious for its stringent regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare. Almost every artists you'll meet in the UK have their own share of H&S-related misadventures to tell.
Woodeson's work uses everyday objects and materials to deride and confronts head-on these often absurd rules. The pieces in his Health & Safety Violation series entice visitors to be brave and come nearer as much as they repel and unnerve them. In the coming weeks, Woodeson will present new works at transmediale in Berlin and at The Florence Trust in London. The installation he will show at the TM festival is A seemingly innocent sculptural curtain bisects the foyer space obstructing the visitor's default routes. Avoiding the work requires a conscious detour while also engaging with it requires a willingness to take risk - an "interactive" piece that does not pretend to be harmless.
I've decided not to go to Transmediale this year (first time in 8 years) but i'll be in London to tell you about what he'll be showing at The Florence Trust. In the meantime, a short interview will have to do....
You've exhibited works that involve a very high degree of risk of injury or death to visitors in several art galleries in the UK. How did you avoid the Health and Safety hassle?
Ha! I don't really try to avoid it, it is part of my practice, I think the dialogue between the exhibiting institutions and myself forms a layer of implied meaning within the work. Most of what I do does entail some form of risk, but the Health & Safety Violation's are a specific group of works, where that risk is overtly presented. This is through a clear and obvious physical danger or sometimes via titles that the gallery is forced to acknowledge and negotiate how the works will be presented. Let's face it with titles like Spinning cobblestone (high speed crack your skull open bleed through your ears version) I'm not really hiding the risk, it's right there shouting; they're not coming to me thinking I'm going to show a nice, safe, comforting watercolour...
Masses! Seriously though, I'm expecting in fact I'd say I was requiring the galleries to compromise so, I'd be a real hypocrite if I wasn't prepared to be flexible. Besides as I mentioned, the dialogue forms a layer of implied meaning within the work. As with any negotiation, there are things that you can or can't compromise on. I'm not prepared to lessen the work by corrupting it or compromising it is such a way that alters the meaning and basic experience that the viewer has. However, within most works there is usually some room for give and take.
As artists I think we become adept at the dialogues with institutions, curators and other artists; the pragmatics about what goes where and all that sort of thing. I'm definitely not a foot stomper or a diva. Things usually come to some form of organic conclusion that fits all concerned. I'd rather pull a work from a show than compromise too far, but, the reality is that the artists, the curator and the gallery all want a show to be as good as possible, the rest is mostly details.
Do you observe visitors? Does it take long before they leave their role as a viewer and become an 'adventurer' of Health and Safety Violation?
Nice question! I certainly do observe, in fact I often film the openings of the shows. I need to answer in a sideways manner: Quite a lot of the recent works are different from the early Health & Safety Violations in that they have become eventful, previously the works such as Spiral Twist Hazard (featured recently on WMMNA) would randomly activate / deactivate / wait and repeat.
A lot of the newer works including ones from the new Causality series are still randomly activated but they only trigger once, their activation has become catastrophic. Examples include One Shot Pretty Sculpture where 2000 matches burn and spell out a text or Ball Droppingly Awesome Glass Sculpture where with no fanfare or warning a small mechanism drops a large steel ball into the middle of a sheet of glass. Both works are irrevocably altered by their activation; the resulting debris then forms a kind of sculptural performative afterlife. I used to hold a position that if my works were switched off they were as invalid as for example a switched off video monitor. However, these recent works are made to be experienced in several states and the exhibition(s) therefore evolves depending on the state of the works.
So, coming back to the question, the viewer is sometimes held in a kind of prolonged anticipation: What is it they are actually seeing? Quite often they've signed a liability waiver at the entrance, so they already have this sense of potential danger and heightened awareness, what they don't have is knowledge of what is or is not safe... The random timing on even the repetitive works means it's hard for them to pigeon hole works as safe, not safe etc. The works often function quite abruptly so rather than there being a sense of things about to happen, there is more a sense of things maybe about to happen but no one is quite sure. The abruptness with it's consequent shock is definitely a fundamental factor in many of the works.
I think there is also a big difference in the adventuresome experience of those present at the opening night and those who visit in quieter circumstances. I do tweak the timings a bit so that some stuff does happen at the openings, and a lot of those people present usually know some of what I do, so in a way as a group they've already crossed over into the adventurer role. By contrast a visitor to a comparatively empty gallery might have little or no prior knowledge of my practice, and there might not be other viewers whose behavior could give clues.
The works are visceral and demanding, their in-your-faceness forces both experienced and inexperienced viewers to physically engage and take the adventure.
Can you tell us about your new Causality series? What is it about?
The Causality series are a new group of works started when I was preparing for my recent show at Elevator Gallery; so far they tend to be less direct. Something happens which then has a result, whereas the Violations switch on and off, there is no direct sense of cause and effect. The Causality works are no less challenging and dangerous, but somehow as I mentioned earlier, becoming more of a specific event rather than a repeating one.
In A Perilous Environment Positively Oozing With Pain and Suffering twelve panes of glass are held angled by fishing twine, a computer randomly selects one of the twelve and ignites a wire wool fuse. The fuse burns the twine causing the glass to crash to the floor. I think the difference between the two groups of works is quite organic; they're all confrontational, challenging and possibly a wee bit dangerous, some just seem to intuitively belong to one or the other series.
I'm definitely still working on the Health & Safety Violations for example I'm just finishing a big new piece called Health & Safety Violation #36 - Bite you on your ass and kiss your socks goodbye for Transmediale in Berlin at the end of January. I'm also concurrently working on the Causality series some of which I hope will be ready to show at the Florence Trust open weekend.
You are a Florence Trust resident this year, what are you planning to work on during this residency?
The Florence Trust residencies are really pretty special, time is whizzing by, we're about half way through, in fact the Winter Open is the weekend of 3rd February (PV on the Friday night). For me it has been an interesting time in that I had planned to develop new works that while still clearly fitting within my interests would maybe be more versatile and flexible. However ironically 90% of the new works I've made have been just as difficult and confrontational as ever and so far I don't see any signs of that shifting. I work quite intuitively; balancing concept, material and activity, and maybe it's the church or whatever, but versatile and flexible suddenly seems far less interesting and engaging when compared to fear, fire, gravity, electricity, breaking glass and general sculptural carnage; in other words all the usual stuff that floats my boat.
Previously: Experimental Station - Part 1, In the Laboratory.