Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Untitled #24

Still, my hands down, absolute favourite 100 days blog is Howard’s art history blog Untitled #23. Howard only did the project up until Christmas. Then he signed off never to return. In the weird way that Twitter lets you get attached to people you barely know, I miss Howard and I hope he’s doing well wherever he may be.

There are only 14 entries for 100 days on his blog but the quality is immense. His posts will educate you, they will entertain you, they will make you laugh, make you cry, make you wish you were a gay man named Pete living in Bristol (or maybe that last one’s just me). If the only thing I had got out of 100 days was to read his first post I still would have left the project a better person.

I know very little about art but part of the reason for this plagiarism project is to challenge myself. I want to be able to look at a work of art and learn about it and really understand it. So it was with this aim that I went to possibly my favourite place in all the world, the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The V&A does something amazing. It focuses on the art and design created throughout history, throughout the world. By looking at the objects created it tells human history in a way that avoids so many of the euro-centric patriarchal interpretations. It is history where clothes are equally as important as crowns, where you can find out as much about the lives of the elite as of the poor, where embroidery from Aztec and Spanish women are placed side by side and valued equally. Through experiencing history through artefacts rather than written facts I feel you gain a huge and overwhelming sense that history happened to real people, how similar and how different we all are.

Where the V&A goes even further is that it allows us to look not only at the past but also the present and how our lives are shaped by and reflected in the art and design of today. Jason Bruges' Mirror Mirror a commissioned work as part of the Decode exhibition of digital art very literally reflects us and the modern world around us. This installation features over 40 panels made up of LEDs and a camera encased in a double layer of acrylic. These units are placed in formation in the pool of the John Madejski Garden. The cameras act both as sensors to detect when there is movement in front of them and to capture the image of what is moving. This is instantly played back on the led screen until the object stops moving and the screen returns to white. These images not only reflect what is in front of them but they, in turn, are reflected in the water of the pool.

Technologically it is amazingly clever. Each LED displays in 250 shades of grey allowing the small screens to display remarkable recognisable images. It even works in darkness with the cameras picking up infra red light beamed onto participants form the balcony. It showcases how far we’ve come. How technology can be manipulated and used by us. How we can create and reflect nature, and how, with each image reflected in the pond, we can make nature reflect us.

With technology playing such a huge part in our lives it is easy to forget that there is a human hand behind it. Mirror Mirror reminds us of the human element of technology- when we interact with the piece we literally make it happen, human energy is the force that drives it.

At the same time there is something sinister about technology. The grainy images that are projected back are reminiscent of surveillance footage and CCTV. It is almost as if we are being watched although we don’t know by whom. The multiple cameras that capture us at every angle as we walk by are a reminder of how often our image is captured every day.

But where is the line between being watched and wanting to be seen? Take a few minutes to watch how people interact with the installation and you will see how they dance in front of it, wave at it, pull funny faces. Almost everyone takes delight in seeing themselves reflected. It is the idea of ‘digital narcissism’: we fall in love with our digital reflection- not only in this piece but all over the internet, we love to see ourselves reflected in blogs, on Twitter, on YouTube, we create and replicate our image in technology in a myriad different ways.

Through complex technology Bruges is showing us a basic human instinct- the desire to see ourselves reflected in the world. The pond itself could have provided us with a reflection of ourselves but the installation offers something more. Walk past the camera and it will play back your image for the second you go past but then will continue to display the backdrop of the museum behind, the stunning architecture of the past, of a museum that houses almost all of human history. We are only passing through. However, if you don’t move out of shot, if you stay still, after a few seconds the screen returns to white- in this world of technology if we stop moving we are rendered invisible.

If you got to the end of this post- congratulations and thank you! I didn’t come up with all of these ideas by myself- I went to a talk by Bruges at the museum which was fascinating. If you haven’t yet seen the Decode exhibition and you get a chance do go, it’s incredible.

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