Every year since 2011, Brighton holds the annual digital festival, where artists, designers and developers display their work, hold workshops and meet to discuss all things digital. The 2018 festival began on the 13th September with a launch party at the Phoenix Gallery, an independent gallery and workshop space, run by artists from in and around Brighton.
As well as marking the start of the festival, the gallery is host to two auspicious events. The first of these is Uncommon Natures, a commissioned exhibition comprising a selection of contemporary works that have been shortlisted for the 2018 Lumen Prize. The second exhibit is from the 50th Anniversary of the Computer Arts Society, where digital artwork from the 1960s to the present day is on display.
Uncommon Natures – Lumen Prize 2018 shortlist
The first work displayed in the exhibition is ACCI BABA’s Eternal Return, a video of a chimpanzee in an old cathode ray tube projected onto the wall; there is no sound, just the assumed speech of the chimp; conveying its immortal message to mankind and to provoke a sense of obligation for the time being.
Sentimentality for Jess
Next is a set of near life-size image of a pregnant mannequin-like figures, isolated on a black background. This is the the virtual life of Jess, a Trauma Training Mannequin, in Irina Zadorozhnaia’s, Sentimentality for Jess; a work modelled on images taken from the artist’s family photographs and animated into poses using the training software, frozen as stills.
Sectioned off in a smaller room is a series of four small triptychs, Jason Rouse’s Digital Border, a set of computer generated landscapes, devoid of people: a response to the increasing problems associated with human-made borders, inspired by personal historical experience with the north/south border in Ireland.
Opposite Digital Border, in near darkness, is Nye Thomson’s Backdoored. Presented as an array of wall-mounted tablets, each of the tablet screens has an image from the archive, which the artist has been collecting from unsecured security cameras on the Internet for two years. The work invites the viewer to face their own voyeuristic impulses, experience the queasy tension between shock and fascination that the images evoke, and consider their own complicity in the surveillance machine.
The ‘biological-technological network’ installation, Degenerative Cultures by Cesar Baio and Lois (The League of Imaginary Scientists) comprises a book encapsulated within a clear dome, on which a camera is mounted, connected to a digital device. The camera continuously monitors the growth of a fungus over the pages of the book; recording the resulting decay of the text. The information is run through a computer algorithm that gathers and combines similar text from the Internet. The hybrid results are published through its Twitter account, @hellofungus and as a continuous printout from the device.
Back in the main space are three large screens. The first has a glitchy, animated display of segmented video and stills, presented as an ever-changing series of rendered blocks. This is Sandra Crisp’s perpetual browse_r. The images feature political news clips, environmental events and disasters and random search engine results; each soundtracked by white noise and sound-bites from the event. Every clip and 3D object in the video represents an event in time; forming ‘memory surfaces’ collecting the mass circulation of images and information.
Exactly the Same
The next screen shows video of a young woman facing the camera; she repeats the words “I feel exactly the same way.” but with the voice of a man. As the video continues, the woman turns to face a different direction, and as she does, the male voice changes. This happens many times over the course of the installation piece. This work is Exactly the Same, by Maeve Rendle, which considers the impossibility of two people, regardless of sex or race, ever feeling exactly the same way as each other about anything.
Dada Da Ta
The last video piece in the set is Dada Da Ta by Jake Elwes. Jake scoured YouTube to source 50 plus hours of interviews with prominent technology industry leaders from around the world; the footage includes Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. He then passed the clips through IBM’s Watson speech to text service and, in turn, fed the data into a custom computer program that left the video with only the instances of numbers spoken by the interviewees, played in chronological order.
Along the back wall of the gallery space is Overload (Consequence) by Mark Lyons. The piece uses emergent technology, Google’s Deep Dream neural network in this instance, which attempts to interpret and recreate a scanned image using images within its network. The six vertical tapestry-like abstract images comprising lines, dots and dripping ink are the result of the process. This, inadvertently, produced a work that’s mechanical, visibly systematic but also humanised by its errors and its tactility.
Future Past News
The final piece in the collection is Future Past News, an installation by Karolina Ziulkoski & Andrea Wolf. The installation resembles a typical living space from the late 1930s, complete with dressings, furniture. A television set from the era shows a film reel of events in 1937 leading up to the Second World War; clips show footage of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, amongst others. In front of the TV, on a stand, is an iPad playing a similar film reel. As the archive TV footage plays, the iPad shows current events (from 2016, when the piece was created), with clips of Trump, Putin and other contemporaries; serving to present a worrying comparison TV footage plays, the the two time periods.
Uncommon Natures and the CAS50 exhibition both run until the 23rd September. The Brighton Digital Festival itself runs throughout the rest of September until the 13th October. Visit the Festival website for more details on the events happening in the city.
Images on this page courtesy of the Lumen Prize 2018.