Samsung Art+ Prize
Two of the ten artists shortlisted for the first annual Samsung Art+ Prize, dedicated to new media art, discuss what it might mean to be 'digital' artists. Duo Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard admit not being techies despite working in 3D for 'Radio Mania' and Doug Fishbone talks about his controversial feature film, 'Elmina'.
Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard
'When we began working together it was performance art that was considered a dirty word, but our work has always embraced a variety of media, from sound to video - we've been called everything.
'Some artists associate themselves with digital or new media because they like to stand apart from the commercial art world, but it's really an illusion of democracy as the internet has only 30 per cent penetration globally. Putting something online does not automatically make it available to the world, yet in the West almost everyone's lives are touched by digital in some way every day. New media has simply become the now media.
'Most of the time, technology should be invisible in our practice; indeed we've never used any technology - new or old - for the sheer sake of it. The idea drives the work and everything else follows. When we began “Radio Mania” (2009) we didn't set out with the intention of making a 3D film. A long period of research in the BFI archives drew us to Laurens Hammond, famous for the Hammond organ, but who had also invented a 3D moving-picture system as early as 1922.
'The advances in digital technology are incredible but there have been times when it should have made the process easier, for example in “File under Sacred Music”, our 2003 remake of a 1978 video of the Cramps playing at Napa State Mental Institute. We filmed the re-enactment at broadcast quality then set about using digital post-production to achieve the noise, static, interference and degradation of the original. Within an hour we gave up on the digital approach and re-filmed the video on a screen, physically pulling the tape out of the cassette to crease and scratch its surface. We broke three VHS players in the process but achieved the random deterioration we needed.
'It's always sad to see media pass into obscurity, because it means there are huge archives of material that are no longer (easily) accessible, but that shouldn't stop us celebrating new developments. In our studio we play vinyl and use Spotify, one doesn't replace the other. All artists at heart seem to be romantics, and we're enthralled by near extinct and redundant technologies, as well as with the rituals of using them. We're also obsessed with junk science and spend far too much time looking at plans to build your own time machine and other such nonsense, which led us to work with an ex-MoD acoustic weapons developer to devise a machine that purports to communicate subliminally, for “Silent Sound” (2006).
'One of the most remarkable things about our recent radio play, “Romeo Echo Delta” (2011), was just how quickly the work was documented and disseminated by the audience. The use of social networks fed directly into the work, with a scripted Tweet from @unknownjourno marking the start of the piece. Throughout the broadcast there was scripted and improvised activity taking place online, so we were able to interact directly with the audience and those that chose to were able to engage directly with the work.'
'The initial idea for “Elmina” was to insert myself into a low-budget Ghanaian film as the lead, without ever clarifying my racial identity, and see what that triggered - to see whether my absorption into an African film could be taken at face value, as it were. I was inspired by the way casting is done in opera, where it doesn't matter about the individual's identity, provided he or she can sing competently. To do this in a black film, in which I was the only white face, posed an interesting challenge. At certain times in the film I speak Twi, one of the local languages, though I do maintain my own accent throughout and even throw in one tiny quip in Yiddish, just to see if anyone catches it.
'I see myself as the animator of the work but I was interested in questions of authorship around the piece, which is I see as a collaboration, first and foremost. I was fortunate to work with a fantastic production company in Ghana, Revele Films, which was responsible for writing the script and all the production and editing. It addressed the ambiguity of the casting gesture in a very subtle way, without ever giving anything away.
'The key to the project was to mute my own artistic ego and trust their creative efforts so as not parody the West African film world at all. I think this may be something people assume when they hear the concept, especially if they are familiar with other work of mine, which is often satirical, but it was always my intention to create a film that would be able to circulate in both fine art and African film circles. For that to work properly, I felt that I needed a film that would be received by a domestic Ghanaian audience according to the conventions and expectations that people might have there, and that would, of course, also challenge those conventions.
'As with my “Hypnosis Project” (2009), which examined the possibility that different audiences can perceive the same film in completely different ways, I wanted a film that tests the parameters of what audiences will accept or tolerate as the limits of role and representation in cinema. There will be contexts in the African market, by which I also mean immigrant audiences in the UK, where the fine artistic intentions of the piece are simply not known, and have no bearing - I am central in the art world reading, but marginal in the African reading. This excites me, especially when the piece reaches the pirated market, with people buying it as bootleg DVDs.
'The novelty of the project offers another odd and tantalising possibility - that by positioning myself as a celebrity in that framework, I may in fact become one. There have been some art world forays into Nollywood but I hope to be able to bring together these two very different cultural economies that rarely intersect.'