The image above by Stanza is a series of GPS walks in Bristol made in 2003.
LONDON DIGITAL CITY
Is London ( or could it be ) a “Digital City”?
So it seems it says the interesting show at the “Building Centre”, where about 20 architecture and design studios are proposing a selection of multimedia solutions and applications for the city. The city is analyzed and re-projected following the ideas and guidelines of information technologies, information and technical controls, the two parallel and opposite lines of the digital field.
Projects illustrate utopian projects through a wide use of applications like huge screens or elaborated audiovisual devices. All together, it’s the idea of the city as a network and information space. “The London City Model” of Gmj design reconstructs in 3d about 40 sq. km of the city, other groups work on a map of pollution in London like the studio “Casa” while “Atmos” designs an installation that maps the sun’s presence through the reception of data mapping meteorological stations around the world thus cataloging the different brightness in different cities of the planet.
The projects extend the digital applications in the field of design and they highlight the near future possibilities of digital to make the city more accessibile and to communicate its contents, to develop an architecture of communications that shows a city different from the delirious steel & crystal that the “archi-stars” are making as the main character of architecture.
Since the nineties, London has been one of the focal points of contemporary art.
How is the space in town for digital arts?
There is space, though not space for big shows, that are located more often in Liverpool, Hull or other minor centres. Since many of the languages are, (or are becoming by now digital, like video and photography), it’s more difficult to distinguish between digital arts and visual arts.
Video art is present in visual galleries like the “historical” “White Cube” that shows the latest works by Sam Taylor Wood, a video installation on 8 screens, “Sigh”, where an orchestra plays without instruments, while the musicians mime the actions of playng.
Prevalence of “feeling” over acting? Refusal of the image of things and reference to contents?
Beyond video the digital scene is still researching and experimenting on borderline spaces, developing in art colleges, or through some specialised galleries. But in the London public spaces there is just now a wide presence of Raphael Lozano Hemmer’s works, a big installation at Barbican Centre, where the public’s shadows activate radio waves, defining the invisibile presence of the innumerable signals that surround us.
Meanwhile, in the historical space of Trafalgar Square there is a big video installation, “Underscan”, sequences of video-portraits taken in northern England and based on virtual relationships through media. Sleeping people are activated by the shadows of passers-by and seem to contact the public with the purpose of involving the “other” alienated in society.
Where there is today an underground but steady growth of digital media in the artist’s field.
Integration of digital media is on its way in the art system and mainly in the teaching of the art colleges furnishing artists and materials for a an art scene particularly active like the London one.
These artists translate the digital and comunication language forms, that are by now more complex then in the 80’s and 90’s.
Stanza, artist and researcher at Goldsmith’s College works on definition of “topographies” called “Biocities” or “Innercities”, traces and paths through satellite projects or webcam, control cameras, etc… Like in “Urban Generations” that accumulates live-cctv sequences from different global points in an image of the city always renewed, post-producted in a collage of different engines re-elaborating data on view.
Stanza screenshot of live data visualisation of the city
The Goldsmith College itself works on new media and organizes conferences .
For example “Metadata”, with speakers such as Lev Manovich and Lozano Hemmer, who talk about using the data and the web digital memory as a platform a well as a tool itself, working on the accumulation of different fonts.
The Slade School’s approach to media is different, starting not so much from the media culture but from issues typical of contemporary arts. The section “Scemfa” teaches concepts of new media and has a website with news and works inside and outside the School. Several artists are teaching in the department (of digital media?). For instance, Susan Collins who, from the nineties, focuses her work on relationships between digital image and its development in time, following a given concept. As it happens in “Slow Fields”, where she gradually “leafs through”, or processes a landscape using a webcam putting it in a data base extending the image over a year. Codifying and encoding image as time based data as stripes of visualization, showing pixels reavealing the digital nature of the image. As in other works like “Harewood”, “Fenlandia” and “Glenlandia”, equally based on showing the material-immateriality of digital, exasperating its processes.
Also at Slade School, Simon Faithfull works on a “look from outside”, emphasizing mechanical movements, casual or pre-designed, recognizing spaces in a trip to Alaska as seen through an airplane porthole, or like the video “30 Km” shot from a weather balloon, or the whole circuit of a subway line. The target? Mapping space and mapping our relation with it.
While the digital area in London connects through “Node”, media network on the web, some galleries choose media-oriented languages like “http” directed by Mark Garrett, author of the “Furtherfield org”, proposing art on the net since a long time. The gallery “Http” wants to be related only to digital languages but located in a physical space that models the net and network concepts. “The Space”, has a long history and it’s a partly “no profit” structure that manages studios and low cost reidencies for young artists.
Just as a gallery, has opened to new media and is showing “New Media in Canada”, several Canadian artists using media culture: Peter Flemming, Germaine Koh, Joe Mackay, Nicholas Stedman, Norman White. The works, still very different for every artist, are all engaged in operations of measurments, reckonings, using technological tools and inserting tiny deviances outlining contradictions. Flemming’s boat contains water and does not navigate, Stedman’s robot ( remembering Deep Blue ) reacts to contact with human skin.
All works tend to find ironic solutions to the questions seriously posed by the “Technoart” in these years in dramatic tones. The “distance” taken from the digital issues by artists is shown in the choice of the tradition of “mechanical toys” and the odd structures of so many digital art devices, thus opening to a more fluid use of those same issues in plastic arts.
“Arts Catalysts” organizes shows in different spaces on “site specific” choices, networks and installations like “Nuclear. Art and Radioactivity”, working on the issue of nuclear energy, repositioning the problem in parallel with the new and controversial projects of nuclear structures.
The show, installed in an abandoned public structure, left the public alone to discover a video, “Half Life”, memories of an old nuclear centre, and a radioactivity detector signalling radiations in an empty and ruined office like in the movie “Stalker”. The techno-scientific issues raised by Arts Catalysts both with discussions and installations try to link creative issues to ecology, science, space and biotecnology.
Showing video as well is the classic I.C.A (even with vj) and the British Film Institute, with artists’ videos, and video-compilations by “Onedotzero”. And active as well groups about web-tv and vj like “AddictiveTv” and “ne1co” working on video languages and live media in a scene of mixed cultures both in clubs and on Net.
So in a very short visit Digital/London looks difficult to seize. It is more a collage of very different elements from established White Cube and Hunch of Venison gallerie, public spaces like Barbican Centre or Trafalgar Square or institutional structures like I.C.A.
Of course the main role is played by the experimental structures doing courageous shows like “The space”, “Http” and “Arts Catalysts” and a number of small groups working in the direction of net and public spaces.
While research structures and galleries look for a space of mediation with the public and the art system, a future change will surely come from the art colleges by now working with video and various softwares .
Out of “Media Arts”, the issues opened by use of digital instruments lead to consequent changes in the aesthetic production and in the productive role of the artists.
And they reveal many unknown quantities about the contemporary art system, today in full mediatic visibility and museum explosion, but still cautious towards the contents of the more radical digital arts.