Under the titles of works of art, you usually see a description of the medium: ‘oil on canvas,’ ‘marble,’ ‘charcoal on paper,’ that kind of thing. But the two pieces in Irish artist John Gerrard’s exhibition are described in an unusual way: ‘simulations’. They may look like video works, you see, but Gerrard’s films are actually bafflingly complex real-time computer recreations of actual places.
Both works on show were created using computer modelling software and advanced imaging technology. ‘Farm’ is a slow glimpse across a Google ‘databank.’ A vast, drab, grey building flanked by cooling towers in the back of beyond, it’s a giant depository for all of our saved gchats and search histories. Gerrard was denied access by Google, so he hired a helicopter to help create this work.
‘Solar Reserve’ captures a similar view of a giant solar power plant in the Nevada desert. The image shifts over the course of the day, mimicking the real-life movements of the panels as they follow the sun. It’s hugely detailed in its 3D modelling and massively complex in its accuracy – but still feels awkwardly unreal. It’s purposefully digital, and really quite beautiful.
On one level, Gerrard’s ‘simulations’ are quiet and meditative. It’s not a giant leap to compare them to traditional landscape paintings. A bit like the way impressionists like Pissarro painted industrial scenes encroaching upon natural vistas, Gerrard’s works show the hidden technological goitres that are eating away at our world. Viewers of Pissarro’s work wanted art to help them escape reality, not ram it down their throats – and it’s an uneasy feeling shared here. These immense high-tech constructions are hidden from view, but they are what keep us running. They’re our power, our memory stores. We don’t question where these things come from, they just appear, but Gerrard wants to confront all of that. He wants to unshroud the mysteries behind our Facebook feeds and push notifications. These simulated views of real places may not be the glitziest, most dazzling works of art around, but they aren’t half unsettling.