I’m writing this on a laptop, and jumping from writing to researching something else, by scanning the internet. In a while I’ll check my emails, and maybe reply to some. For many of us, much of life revolves around this condition of interface with a machine. Reflecting on these exchanges, the recent show at Bolton’s neo:gallery23 was timely and relevant.
Noticeable at once at the very back of the gallery was Bex Ilsley’s photographic lightbox work, ‘’ (2018) which set the tone for the whole show in questioning the notion of identity – in brash colour – and a science fiction-influenced sense of the extreme. Like a double portrait, it subdivides into different personalities and moods. I nearly didn’t make it to investigate Ilsley’s work, however, because on the way I sampled Alistair Peat’s ‘Oculus’ (2017). A 3D experience in cyberspace involving you entering an utterly otherworldly environment where you seem to be descending rapidly, engulfed by amorphous multi-coloured shapes. I should have rested on the very large cushion supplied. Naturally enough, children seemed to love it.
Another work that might connect with children because of its circus-based subject matter was Liliana Robins’ ‘Sweet’ (2017). A film-based installation in which you observe a performer filmed from above, displayed on the floor, while surround-sound audio sweeps around and through you, convincing you, almost, that you’re experiencing something real. Some work gives you even more of a jolt, such as Oliver Bright’s ‘Fish to Face Slapping Simulator’ (2017/18): an interface between you, the visitor, and an artificial fish, at the touch of a button.
And then there were those works that contain serious doubts about the directions technology is taking us. Sume Leyden’s ‘Mizaru E, Kikazaru E, Iwazaru E’ (2018), for instance, is a sculpture combining glass human heads and broken mobile phones, one blocking a mouth, another pair blocking the ears, and the third pair blocking out the eyes. The title refers to the Japanese Three Wise Monkeys and the phrase ascribed to them: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. Perhaps the continuing miniaturisation of technology worn on the human body makes everyone more transparent and knowable, or, as this work suggests, perhaps it will make us increasingly artificial, constructed, and therefore out of touch with one another.
The answer to these doubts may therefore lie in what has been abandoned, yet still available for use. The artist duo Henry/Bragg, combining Julie Henry and Debbie Bragg, have produced a series of works about pigeons, collectively entitled ‘Columba Livia Domestica’ (2018). This includes a film about London’s pigeons, a photograph, and an interactive pigeon post message board, where you can leave a few choice words for the Henry/Bragg Pigeon Service to deliver. Perhaps the short message I wrote to a friend in South America was a tall order. But pigeons are sometimes capable of extraordinarily long flights. Technology creates complex problems, but, unless you’re a pigeon, there is no turning back.
INTERFACE, neo:gallery23, Bolton.
31 March – 20 May 2018.
Bob Dickinson is a writer and PhD researcher based in Manchester.