Never Odd Or Even
This is the first survey exhibition by Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead in the UK, bringing together a range of new and recent works.
Interested in how information about the world is filtered through the prism of the world wide web, and other forms of information technology, Thomson & Craighead play with this data to create poetic, compelling works that ask fundamental questions about what it is to be human.
Encompassing small-scale quotidian encounters, as well as works that point up the smallness of humankind in the vastness of the universe, there is a lyricism and lightness of touch that enables the artists to address major political and social themes from unexpected angles.
A recent work, More Songs of Innocence and of Experience, takes text from 'spam' emails and displays them in the style of a karaoke machine, accompanied by the kind of anodyne music favoured by supermarkets and shopping centres. The text derives from emails purporting to come from the likes of Mrs. Gadhafi or a successful but terminally ill millionaire, offering spurious financial deals couched in plaintive, flowery language. Thomson & Craighead are interested in the fantasies at work in the scenarios that these emails play out - fantasies mirrored in the aspirational projections of the karaoke singer - in which plain text on a screen promises an unrealistic wish fulfillment of the most unlikely variety.
A similar use of appropriated text finds its way into a range of works that pull the internet into other areas of life. Beacon, 2007 taps into live Google searches, the results of which are displayed on a railway flap sign. Updated at regular intervals, the continuous stream of words, picked at random from a global Googling community, flows like abstract concrete poetry, made solid via the very analogue means of communication that are the mechanical revolving flaps of the railway display sign.
In contrast, more recent works such as Belief use the vast array of video imagery that breeds in quiet corners of the internet. Graphing together a series of YouTube clips that show self-appointed proselytizers for a diversity of more or less recognised creeds - from the obsessed to the deranged - extemporizing on their personal faiths and fetishes. Between each clip, the camera pans back to show a Google earth view of the globe, and a projected compass on the ground revolves to indicate the geographic location of the next bedroom broadcaster.
This use of found footage, both visual and textual, is a common thread that links many of Thomson & Craighead's diverse projects. Commandeering the words and pictures that float so freely on the internet, they acknowledge the various artistic and literary traditions that this collage-like activity places them in. Owing as much to the 20th century practice of the readymade, as to the visual poetry of the Oulipo writers, Thomson & Craighead recognise their sources as being an ephemeral products of the moment, but transform them into enduring timeless works.
Of the works brought together for this exhibition, the one that most directly references this mixing up of time is The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order. Using a complete version of the 1960s film, Thomson & Craighead have re-edited it so that every utterance is placed in alphabetical, rather than narrative sequence. Referencing the 'constrained editing technique' explored and developed by Oulipo writers, this representation of HG Wells seminal story explores not only this artful means of assemblage, but also demonstrates an approach to film-making that draws entirely on pre-existing material. These methods of reuse and recycling allow the artists to engage in a form of oblique story telling - one where meaning is implied rather than explained and ideas percolate more slowly. Throughout, there is a mapping out of temporal and spatial parameters, testing the boundaries of the knowable world.
Over the duration of the Thomson & Craighead exhibtion, Never Odd or Even, localised staus updates from Twitter will be selected then published and installed in the gallery.
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Micromégas postcards are available to take from the exhibition for free. The title of the work is inspired by a short story written in 1752 by the French philospher and satirist Voltaire, available to read here.
The International New Media Gallery is currently showing Thomson & Craighead's A Short Film About War as part of their on-line programme. The exhibition and PDF publication can be accessed here.
Thomson & Craighead's recent two channel installation work October, 2012 can be viewed as a single screen, on-line version on the Photoworks, Brighton website here
A recent interview with Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead for The Creators Project can be read here