Unsurprisingly, given the last few years, I haven’t done very much out and about research. I’ve mostly been sitting at home on my computer. Since I haven’t been doing much IRL, I have written an introduction to my work and practice through my best internet experiences.
In this really good and well thought out text, I’m going to introduce you to 5 shows/projects/artworks that I’ve made over the past couple of years, via an online encounter that inspired them - or that I think in some way sums them up. This could be an image, YouTube video, website whatever. Buckle up!
View the related artworks in the collection at the bottom of the text. To request a link to view the animations, please email: email@example.com
Online Encounter Number 1: the-garage.tv
I became obsessed with this website (also their instagram @SteveGiralt - the founder - has a big instagram following) when I was researching for my current solo exhibition ‘Show Real’ at Humber Street Gallery, Hull, UK (until 17 April). I came across ‘The Garage’ whilst on a YouTube rampage watching videos about fake food used in movies and commercials.
‘The Garage’ describe themselves as “a technologically driven, visual innovation production company”. They make elaborate robotic setups to take super slow motion films of food for commercials. They’ll build a robot arm to hold a knife so it can butter a croissant in the exact same way a thousands times, or hold a ketchup bottle so it can deliver sauce in a perfectly straight line, or whisk eggs in the perfect way, or fork pasta in the perfect way, or pour coffee in the perfect way. There are ones where 2 robot arms throw things at exactly the same time, so you can see a raspberry in slow motion sail through a cascade of sugar, or 2 croissants collide or something. It’s great, definitely worth going and watching some slow motion food robots if you have the time.
If you look across the spectrum of my work there are 2 topics that reliably make an appearance every other project or so: robots and food. I’m not sure why I’m particularly interested in either. I think the most baseline thing I’ve had written on my personal statement forever is that my work is about "our relationship to technology through an everyday lens". What could possibly illustrate ‘technology’ more than a robot, and what’s more ‘everyday’ than food, I eat it everyday.
I’m a big fan of juxtapositions; I think there’s a lot of scope for tension or comedy between two things that inherently clash with each other. Another nugget from a past personal statement about my work is the phrase ‘clash of organic and synthetic’ - ‘The Garage’ is 100% that. That phrase springs to mind when I watch the showreels of adverts they’ve made on their site - all the foods being epically thrown around by robots off screen, looking all massive and shiny. The food is literally clashing/clattering into one another, but also I think it's in the clash of the behind scenes set up, compared with the final edit, that does it for me. The absurdity of the effort, almost worship, that’s gone into making a bottle of ketchup look good.
It’s this transformation from film set up to final epic shot that I was thinking about in some of the works in ‘Show Real’. It's so dramatic, this comical tale: the laboriously engineered set up, the stillness and tension as the mechanisms teeter on the edge of release, the utter anticlimax as they trigger and the movement lasts for about 2 seconds, and finally, it’s magnificent rebirth in the final edit. In the final edit, the food is reborn as a celestial being. Through this super slow-motion zoom, beyond the bounds of the human eye, technology can deliver unto us, this massive planetary croissant gliding across our screens.
Boy do I love to animate a robot! I can see myself revisiting this maybe in a digital work, but for now I’ve made a couple of sculptures in Show Real that are homages to my forays through ‘The Garage’s’ archives.
For example, the work 'Wet Sandwich Shop' (image below) is based on a behind the scenes set up for a subway sandwich advert. They do this with all sorts of separable layer based foods such as sandwiches and burgers. Each layer is suspended on a thin wire, so that when a robot controlled knife swipes through the air and cuts them all, all the layers of the sandwich fall in tower formation upon one another and jollily bounce into the perfect sandwich. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to achieve with this piece, except that I wanted to use this wire sandwich set up for something. I just think it’s a really good image. Is the sculpture a warehouse? Is it a catering stall? Is it a robot? I don’t know. The layers of the sandwich in the sculpture are made of wax and there’s a pipe system installed above that delivers a continuous drip of water, so all the layers stay wet, and then it pisses the excess liquid into a bucket of silicone ice at the bottom. One of the YouTube videos about food props I was watching said that on film sets, people will spray fruit and veg with water (or water and glycerin together) and that keeps it looking fresh under harsh set lights all day. So it felt important to me that the sandwich in 'Wet Sandwich Drop' was kept wet and fresh for the duration of the show.
Also the work 'Prefix for the Show' related to this. It is a big mobile piece that spins above you in the space and says the word ‘serious’ in massive letters made out of Wotsits, with lots of little satellites around it. I was thinking about those super slow motion adverts, the way they turn food into colossal celestial objects. I wanted this piece to be like a big sun shining over the exhibition. The word 'serious' is chosen because I was thinking about the tag lines you get on food packaging or adverts - those big emphasis words like seriously cheesy, or really something, usually in a big jazzy font. I think that out of the context of a well produced ad, they feel very desperate - like "I’m seriously cheesy, please believe me". I think it’s important to say I’m not sure how I feel about this work, it felt like quite a big departure from my usual stuff, so I can’t decide whether or not I hate it, but I made it and it’s there at Humber Street Gallery, slowly spinning away.
Online Encounter Number 2: eBay seller - ‘oohlala555’
During the first lock down in 2020, I got really into small soapstone sculptures on eBay. I wanted this one that was a tower of monkeys, but it was quite expensive so I got into the habit of scrolling through all the soapstone sculptures available, while I was waiting for animations to render, in the hopes of finding a cheaper alternative. I started noticing that sometimes some of them had items for scale next to them, and it became a point of mild excitement for me when this happened. I got particularly enthralled by this one seller, oohlala555, who always uses a coke can for scale.
When the images are collated, I feel like I’m looking at an album of the coke can, rather than images of the objects for sale. The many faces of the coke can, as if it's being photographed by a lover or something. In some of the pictures, the coke can is all coy, peeking out from behind paintings or standing awkwardly next to sculptures. The orientation of the coke logo adds to the anthropomorphisation, like its looking to the side or looking directly at the camera depending on which part of the logo you can see. There’s one where the coke can appears sandwiched between 2 colourful pots, as if it’s the lead singer in a trio girl band. There’s one where it’s stood in the middle of ‘4 Hand Carved Ancient Dragon Dance SoapStone Statues’ like it’s a tourist having its photo taken with a monument. I wonder if it's the same coke can in every image, or does the seller drink them on completion of the day’s eBay uploads? Are these the last seen images of the fated cans? All this essentially means I take a lot of joy in seeing ornaments photographed next to mundane items for scale. I wasn’t lying when I said I like juxtapositions.
It’s not just coke cans either, it's just easy to find these images as oohlala555 is a reliable photographer of the coke can for scale. It’s actually quite hard to scout out images of items for scale. On eBay they are transient by nature, so you can’t save them to come back to later, plus, the item for scale is never mentioned in the title or description. A ghostly object only ever seen as a comparative. There’s a whole plethora of other items for scale out there on eBay, awkwardly poised next to little ornaments, if you have the time to seek them out - which I did over lockdown. There’s coins and lip salves, lighters, AA batteries, thimbles, there was a meme circulating for a while about a banana for scale - used in the sale of a TV. A veritable shmorgus board of them.
Items for scale have become synonymous with the first lockdown for me, as it was the only time that I had the time to do all that scrolling - I’ll probably never see as many items for scale as I did over lockdown again. Scale is weird on computer screens. Images are presented out of context, floating amongst ads and text and posts, flatly juxtaposed with other images of all manner of scales. If I go on my eBay homepage now, I can see an advert for a jumper and an advert for a fake kiwi (this is the kind of stuff I buy) right next to each other, so the kiwi looks huge in comparison to the jacket - or the jacket looks tiny in comparison to the kiwi. I heard some great stories over lockdown about people ordering things online that turned out to either be really massive or really tiny.
I was working on a solo show which was to be presented across VITRINE London and VITRINE Digital at the time titled ‘You Will Knead’ (2021), which ended up being a sort of homage to everything lockdown. On brand, we did a digital show as well as a physical one, since a lot of people wouldn’t be able to see the real one. For both, as I imagined even the real one would mostly be viewed online in photos, it felt important to feature a lot of items for scale so people could get their bearings. We all spent a lot more time on our computer screens over lockdown, seeing things from weird flat perspectives at a time when everything was off kilter anyway. Items for scale are a nice moment of grounding for us all in reality - they’re like a sensory que in mindfulness, pulling you back to the present. Or like in inception when they all have a special object that lets them know they are dreaming or something? I can’t remember, but I think the analogy works?
Online Encounter Number 3: Bullet Proof’s ‘Upgrade Labs’ Website
‘Upgrade Labs’ is an offshoot company of Dave Asprey, famed for inventing the Bulletproof Coffee, a general bigwig within the Transhumanist movement, and self described ‘Father of Biohacking’ (a biohacker is somebody who uses science or technology to make their bodily function better/ more efficiently).
‘Upgrade Labs’ describes itself as “the world’s first Human Upgrade Centre” (I think they’ve even trademarked that phrase by the looks of the website?). I would describe it as like a biohacker spa or maybe a biohacker gym (any one who remembers the film Dodgeball, in the pictures it looks like Globo Gym). I’ve included the upgrade labs website because I think it’s worth going and having a look at all the various pods that you can go and sit in (I imagine for a lot of money) that might make you live longer.
I have an ongoing interest in Transhumanism, which is how I got into looking at all of these mega-wellness companies. My understanding of Transhumanism is to have a total unwavering belief in technology. To believe that technology will be our lord and saviour, and that we should accept, and put all our efforts into, the merging of human beings and technology. Some transhumanists talk about the body as a prison, a slowly dying meat sack, and our only escape is to merge with technology so we can ultimately conquer death, and live forever in tech-paradise - heaven on earth.
So, the name of the game is to live forever. There is a theory that if you can live till you’re 120 (I dunno what age the start point is here) then you can live forever, because by that time, the technological means to conquer death will have been invented. So Upgrade Labs, and BulletProof too, are services/products to try and help achieve this goal. I don’t doubt that this is all really good for you by the way, I’m sure it’s great, I drink budget bulletproof (with a lowercase b) coffees and I am partial. This luxury system of pods that is required to maybe make you live a bit longer however, is very much indicative of the main flaw in the transhumanism ideology, which is that living forever in heaven on earth is probably only going to be for a small minority of very wealthy people.
On the theme of waiting around in expensive, temperature controlled pods trying to live forever, I was also looking into a cryogenic freezing facility - ‘life preservation centre’ - in Phoenix Arizona called, Alcor. If the upgrade lab pods don’t work for you and you die before you hit 120, don’t worry, because you can cryogenically freeze your body for about $200,000, or $80,000 if it’s just your head (not including transportation of the body, or the standby team awaiting your death). So then you can be revived some time in the future when that’s possible.
I made these 2 sculptures about this (ish), intended to be something between a transhumanist trophy and a tomb - ones called Pending Triumph and ones called Killing Time Watching Gardening Videos. They each have the trophy shape, but with a sort of mausoleum bit at the bottom, and then there's a waiting room at the top. I imagine there's a lot of waiting, awaiting the transhumanists, so the trophies are covered in a layer of silt. Pending Triumph has a little crowd of cryogenic-head ghosts in the waiting room, and in Killing Time Watching Gardening Videos they’ve erected a big screen so they can watch videos of gardening robots.
On the theme of waiting around in expensive, temperature controlled pods trying to live forever, I was also looking into a cryogenic freezing facility or ‘life preservation centre’, in Phoenix Arizona, called Alcor. If the upgrade lab pods don’t work for you and you die before you hit 120, don’t worry, because you can cryogenically freeze your body for about $200,000 - or $80,000 if it’s just your head (not including transportation of the body, or the standby team awaiting your death). So then you can be revived some time in the future when that’s possible.
I made these 2 sculptures about this(ish), intended to be something between a transhumanist trophy and a tomb titled ‘Pending Triumph’ and ‘Killing Time Watching Gardening Videos’, (both 2021). They each have the trophy shape, but with a sort of mausoleum bit at the bottom, and then there's a waiting room at the top. I imagine there's a lot of waiting when it comes to the transhumanists, so the trophies are covered in a layer of silt. ‘Pending Triumph’ has a little crowd of cryogenic-head ghosts in the waiting room, and in ‘Killing Time Watching Gardening Videos’, they’ve erected a big screen so they can watch videos of gardening robots.
Online Encounter Number 4: This video of a homemade robot performing the Tea Ceremony
I like watching videos of robots performing mundane tasks badly. I think this is quite a universal thing. Highlights of this video for me are the bit when the robot arm holding the chasen (bamboo whisk) starts spinning and the whole thing rattles, and also when the daifuku (sweet rice cake) pops up at the end.
There are so many other good videos of robots that could have been mentioned here, but I’ve gone with this one because it’s my ideal mix of robot, ceremony, a clunky mechanism, and food. If you google robot tea ceremony, you’ll find some much sleeker ones out there, where the robot arms are so smooth they look like eels. Also worth a look is videos of a robot called Pepper performing buddhist funerals.
These robot ceremony videos inspired my animation piece ‘Awakening Ceremony’ (2021) shown at Huxley-Parlour Gallery last year. I was still on the transhumanist train, thinking about trying to live forever through pods and bulletproof coffees. The animation is meant to be a fictitious cryogenic life preservation centre somewhere in the future, so all the transhumanists are dead and preserved in tanks, and all that’s left are the domestic robots roaming around. And so over the years, they develop their own robot religion trying to wake the transhumanists up, but develop these rituals via silly misunderstandings. For example they mistake the conference coffee urn as an object of worship, thinking it's like the elixir of life. I think the alcor tanks look like coffee urns. Basically, the animation shows robots having a ceremony where they make a bulletproof coffee.
Online Encounter Number 5: The BooBuddy Interactive Ghost Hunting Bear - EMF detecting bear, by Ghost Stop
Well done if you’re still here.
This is a bear that detects EMF (I think you learn this quite early on at school, but I had to google and remind myself). EMF stands for electromagnetic forces, of which there is a whole spectrum including classics such as visible light, microwaves and radio waves, plus the dangerous ones like gamma rays and X-rays.
I found this EMF detecting bear on the ghost hunting equipment online shop ‘Ghost Stop’. Glitches in technology have always been associated with ghosts or haunting in some way - you see this particularly in horror movies where the lights flash or the TV turns on or the phone rings of its own accord when the ghost is there. The ghostly framing of EMF is interesting in particular because I think it’s been rehashed into present day concerns in the form of 5G conspiracy theories. 5G is a new frequency on the EMF spectrum - still amongst the safe ones, but some people think that the 5G EMF frequency is bad for us.
Anyway, I like looking at spurious products online that claim to reduce EMF in your workspace. For example you can get EMF reducing candles, stickers, plants, hats, pants and beds. You name it, you can get it! The crystal market has gotten in on the action too, there's a stone called shungite and supposedly if you have a pyramid of it, it will get rid of all the EMF.
I made these 2 virtual sculptures depicting the range of EMF reducing paraphernalia you can find online, DROPPING SOON AS NFTS EVERYBODY. I think of them as like fake-tech-religious artifacts (?) of the little jade figurines cleansing/purifying their workspace of the sinister EMF.