Awards and Exhibitions – Highlights, Serendipity and Dilemmas

This week several students watched the 2015 Lumen Prize Ceremony in the comfort of their own home while at the same time maintaining a group dialog with Jonathan’s concurrent Skype session. This worked amazingly well and it was really interesting to get everyone’s comments and participate in a live discussion as the ceremony took place. Alasdair actually managed to attend the event itself.

A small group of mainly first year MA Fine Art Digital students also spent the day at the V&A (many thanks to Alejandro for organising it – we now have a WhatsApp group for these trips) for The London Design Festival.

There are far too many fantastic exhibits to highlight so I will just include my own personal favourites.

At the Lumen event there was a heavy leaning towards data driven projects particularly during the presentations before the awards. I am sure that those presented had great thought behind them but artistically I felt that most had low impact visually.

One prize winning installation stood out for me – ‘Forte’ by the lab 212 collective in France. They used a church, ceiling to floor strings along the aisle between the pews, and a digital self playing grand piano near the alter to produce an interactive work. Pluck different strings and the piano plays random snippets of compositions by one of the group. Take a look.

Compared with the Lumen prize data driven projects one at the V&A completely blew me away. This was a case of serendipity. I was looking at the V&A programme and saw the name Alex May, who I have mentioned before in a previous blog and who is conducting a Skype seminar on ‘Painting with Light’ (projection mapping) that I am participating in this coming Saturday. I contacted him and found that he was exhibiting and he was there with a colleague Anna with an installation called ‘Sequence’. So I went with the group to meet them and see their work. It was AMAZING!


A picture of Natalie wearing the Oculus Virtual Reality Headset and headphones
The screen gives only a 2D representation of the 3D view through the VR headset.

I quote verbatim from the description of their work. I cannot say that I understand the medical science behind it but I get the gist. ”Sequence’ is a bio-digital installation which investigates the emerging technology of whole genome sequencing of bacteria, which made it possible to study the entire genetic blueprint of an organism …. and how infections spread.’ Given the fact that both Alex and Anna are Artists and not scientists even with the help of Oxford University and others, they had to get to the point where they understood and could implement the whole process…then present it artistically.

Anna ‘learn’t how to sequence an entire bacterial genome… including the sequencing of around 2.8 million base pairs of DNA of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria….’ which lives in her (and our) nose. This data was then assembled and presented using software’ (written by Alex May in C++)’.

The funded project took around 18 months to complete. Sitting with the Oculus headset and headphones on you were totally emerged in the middle of the DNA sequence. If you looked up the 2.8 million base pairs projected miles up into space. If you looked down it was like looking at them down a deep mine. You could explore the genome sequence left and right through 360 degrees. The headphone provided explanation but the effect was far beyond my basic description. Just out of this World.

Next I was also able to live broadcast a message from the V&A to 6 installations in Mexico City and a dedicated local radio station there.

My final ‘pick of the week’ was the installation ‘Curiosity Cloud’ by Micher’Traxler, a work sponsored by Perrier-Jouet, ‘whose label motive is connected to the Art Nouveaux movement, and the traditional use of insect and butterfly motifs throughout this period’ (quoted verbatim from the V&A guide to the exhibition). It was a sensual and interactive installation with its viewers.

If there was nobody in the room it would be in darkness. As you enter, hanging sensors throughout the installation measure the level of heat and the position of visitors walking through the centre of the work. This lights up lamps in the vicinity, and controls the light level and speed of insects and butterflies flying within the hundreds of over-sized light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Take a look and listen as the insects hit the inside of the glass as they fly.

And finally to the artist’s dilemma. I attended lectures ostensibly on ‘copyright’ but these were far less dry than I expected. From a theme ‘How does an artist eat’, the speakers contrasted and illustrated the wide use of other artists’ work in their own compositions (or vice versa). Dr JR Carpenter presented a slide quoting Jonathan Letham ‘All art exists in a continuum of borrowing’. Eva Weinmayr presented her ‘Piracy Project’ where she illustrated many works which were almost blatant copies of some other artist’s work. One was a book printed word for word with the same cover as the original famous author with a 50,000 print run which now sold for 20,000 US dollars each as collectors items – many times the original author’s royalties. Smita Kheria’s doctoral research project collected the views of artists, agents and other representatives of the industry to understand their views and requirements on the issue of ownership, copyright and payment. Some artists were happy to ‘open source’ their work. Others did not want payment for the incorporation of their work in that of others, but insisted on acknowledgement. Another group wanted to control distribution tightly, protect their copyright and get paid for its use. Most believed that they had little or no control of the distribution of their work, how they protected their copyright, and even how they got paid for all of its use. A view expressed earlier by Alex May who wondered how he might get paid in future for 18 month’s collaborative work.

I opened the panel question and answer session with a suggestion that there might be lessons to learn from the software industry and did anyone have any views on that. For example, some software authors were happy to offer their work as ‘open source’. While others tightly controlled distribution and payment through watermarks, not being able to save or copy, serial numbers, etc. JR (as she was referred to by the rest of the panel) said that anyone who was capable of copying her protected work on her website was welcome to it. She even taught student’s how to do it! There were no constructive arguments to the contrary either from the panel or the audience. A huge business opportunity for someone I think.

The other dilemma came out in my earlier conversation with Alex May. Most digital installations rely on other commercially available or open sourced software and hardware. It changes. How does your digital work or installation keep current? Otherwise it probably does not work any more. His view was that we must be losing large swathes of works from the past that are now sadly redundant. The lights go out on your precious and hard work.

I have no answer to this. Do you?

1 thought on “Awards and Exhibitions – Highlights, Serendipity and Dilemmas

  1. Pingback: Unit 1 Assessment | terencemquinn91

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