Degree Show One at Central Saint Martins took place in May 2014, with an array of remarkable pieces on display from the Art Programme. Sarah Kante takes a look at some work of students who questioned digital technologies and our digitally mediated lives. From the subject of time, to a sense of fragmented realities, via social media and identities and environments (physical and digital), the scope of this year’s graduating students’ experiments and perspectives raised a lot of questions. This article is the first of two blog posts.
The question of time in a digital environment is not an easy one. Alexandra Pace (MA Photography) is one graduating student who explores and is fascinated by the idea of trying to capture and contain time itself. Describing her work as “the installation, not the digitally manipulated films themselves”, she chose a digital medium because “it makes the work accessible, digital is everywhere in contemporary life. It is also a bit alive, it’s got the motion, the movement, the light.” It is, in some ways, very similar to films, the medium Alexandra has been working with for about a year now. “It is more satisfying than a print for example. The next step would probably be to make digital works that do not simply perform what I want it to perform, but react to the audience. The work and the viewer are different duration, different consciousness. It is not because I am trying to contain time that I believe in a “one” time. All of the work is done through Final Cut Pro. It is broadcasted on monitors fed by media player, I needed something physical, tangible, to symbolize the containment, or the quest to contain time. It is also different equipments from different eras. In the past, I did a film where I got all the subtitles and laid them out in a Word document. It was so beautifully poetic. I got it to be read through the digitalized voice of my Macbook. The movie was 1h30, compressed just as audio, it was 36 min, but it took my computer 3 seconds to do it! It was just processed data. I think people are becoming immune to digital technologies, even artists are not really questioning it because we are past that. We are not bothered by it anymore. The more something is part of everyday life, the harder it becomes to impress with a work of art that questions it.“ Whilst we might take digital technologies for granted in our everyday lives, artists are certainly still questioning it, maybe not in the sense of denouncing its intrusion in our lives, but there are still many creative and critical engagements that digital technologies play in artists’ practices: be it as tools, as a medium (as Alexandra), questioning and commenting on the networked society, or speculating upon possible socio-technical futures.
Another artist who took the theme of time as her subject matter is Kristina Pulejkova (MA Art and Science), with her project Capsule. Capsule is an installation piece that explores the concepts of real time and subjective time perception. Different time scales are overlapped in order to collapse any linearity in the narrative structure. Past, present and future become a chaotic flat plane where distant stories of space and time mix with personal time perception narratives of artists and scientists. This temporal polyphony is enhanced with soundscapes from the plasma oscillations from the JET fusion reactor and stellar sonifications from NASA’s Kepler Project. Capsule consists of two pieces, which are connected via web cam live feed. The capsule – shaped viewing pod derives from a cross section of the JET fusion reactor. Inside the capsule, there is a looped projection of the same titled animation piece, which is occasionally interrupted by a live feed of the second piece which is an interactive light structure, further adding an aspect of ‘real time’.
Social Media and the Amateur
Social media are used as a tool, a medium, but also as a means to interaction with the audience, as Lou Macnamara (BA Fine Art) explains. #WatchingTheWar is an installation designed to be photographed and shared online by the public. The photograph of children playing in the rubble of Aleppo was taken recently by Yasmin Al Tellawy. Traditional forms of journalism are being challenged by the rise of citizen journalists using smartphones and social media platforms to spread information. The war in Syria has been consistently documented on Twitter and Youtube by the people living within. The New York Times runs a page called Watching Syria’s War, which collates footage of the conflict and tries to contextualize it in order to ‘track the human toll’. Rather than leaving journalists out of a job, this shift appears to have created a new role: collecting, curating and analyzing the huge amount of news now available. In his book Bending the Frame, Fred Ritchin terms this metaphotography. Art galleries are full of people instagramming contemporary painting or posing next to classic sculptures. I am intrigued to see how this snap happy crowd will choose to document the scene of destruction from Aleppo. www.loumacnamara.com
How will the crowd document a documentation of the destruction of Aleppo? This is the real question. What is remarkable about this piece is how central the issues of digital technologies are, and yet, how removed they manage to appear in its presentation. How will people represent themselves through social media in terms of this representation of Aleppo? How will they be judged by the artist and by one another? Macnamara’s piece stimulates us and gives us a way-in to exploring the way digital technologies are participating in every moment of our lives, including war and terrorism, and how they impact our society, changing the way we frame and understand ourselves and our world.
This work also reminds us that for a number of years now, journalists and war photographers have lost their monopoly of interpretation and communication; big corporations’ points of views are challenged by the passerby with an iPhone – and our collective understanding of authenticity and credibility is challenged. Here is a screenshot of one of the many things that come up when typing #WatchingTheWar on Twitter.
Jeff Ko (BA Fine Art), uses social media in his work, and questions identities and the idea of “self” through them. My work in general is interested in ideas of information, communication and representation. I find that the digital is where the majority of our information and communication occurs and in turn where we have most control over the representation of ourselves and it is also a dominant tool that aids the construction of self in contemporary life. I use online platforms such as Instagram and SnapChat in my practice as materials of the everyday. They are tools, which function in our worlds and in our everyday vocabulary. Using these tools makes the work accessible and as close to the everyday reality as possible. www.jeff-ko.com
Elsa Carazo Tejedor (BA Fine Art) uses video, projection and a laptop, all digital technologies; but what really struck me was the fundamental questioning of identity. It might be my personal reading of her statement, but I cannot help thinking “online” identity, and how we, as individuals, see ourselves in everyday life through the medium of our digital selves, through the screen. “Under the layers of the self” is a making off of the installation comprising of both “Thanks to her” and “10 seconds of your time”. This installation and both videos aim to explore the labels of the self. These labels, working as symbols of our identity, are created and reproduced by people that surround us. Through this introspective practice, we are able to recognize those labels and call them ‘Self’. The transformation of the ‘self’ is a methodology of learning produced by the exchange of experiences. During this exchange the individual can acquire different perceptions of other selves from people that surround it. Therefore, constructs its own identity by the perception of others.
The labels are displayed through four different angles of understanding. On the one hand, I am showing to the viewer what surrounds them and how they interact with their environment. And in the other hand, talking about themselves and their different backgrounds and aspirations. In both of them experiences are shared in order to meet a single and cooperative ‘self’. The other two important angles, are materialized by how the installation is displayed. The two previous videos are reproduced twice in the space: the image reproduced in the laptop is the same as the image projected on the wall. The only way of acquiring a complete understanding of the video is by putting the headphones on and attend to the video reproduced on the laptop. This way, the viewer is immersed in the video while it is in the piece itself. The individual now is surrounded by the video projection and the story itself. elsact.wordpress.com
The question of identity and the self takes on a biological turn with Jaden Hastings’ (MA Art and Science) work: I would say the piece that involved the most technically sophisticated work was my holographic projection in The Point of Departure. My scientific research is focused upon the proteins that define us (materially) as being Homo sapiens. Using de novo protein structure prediction (the focus of my prior MSc in Bioinformatics at the University of Oxford), I resolved the 3D structures of three proteins that have been identified as being uniquely human. Using my output files (a list of x, y, z coordinates for every atom in the protein of interest), I moved it into specialised visualisation software where I could produce animations of each structure. Finally, I moved these animations into 4D for the holographic projection using Adobe Premier and After Effects. To accompany each animated protein, I composed a musical piece by recording my own sounds (e.g. drumming on a Native American ceremonial drum, singing, recording sounds while out on a hike) and then combining them with sounds recorded by NASA to produce a call-and-response between myself and the Cosmos. Technically, I used the Zoom h4n, Logic Pro X, and my King Korg synthesiser. www.jadenhastings.com
From social media representation and constructed self, to the many selves we present and construct through others, and the biological definition of Homo Sapiens, identities were widely explored in the show.
Having looked at Time, Social Media and Identities through the lens of the digital, Central Saint Martins Degree Show One presented and questioned our digitised world in many different ways. Whilst artists might not react against digital technologies as they used to when they first appeared, they certainly still questioned them, not as alien disruptions, but as integral parts of a modern world that is, to a certain extent, defined by our use of technologies and the digital. Looking through the show, I came to realise the significance of digital technologies in the practice of so many young artists: they are exploring their understanding of time, themselves, social relationships and much more. The forthcoming second blog post will look at graduating students exploring further digital themes: namely, environments (physical and digital) and the questions of realities. It seems space and even our “real” are defined and seen through the digital.