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MADA3 Artist's Statement

Sean Clark
June 2008

My artwork uses digital technology to explore the themes of connectedness, flow and emergence. I do this through the creation of interactive audio-visual installations that I refer to as ‘digital art-systems’.

Using a framework provided by ‘systems theory’, and specifically the work of Maturana and Varela [1], my digital art-systems are dynamic entities that aim to respond to their viewer/participants and the environment in ways similar to living organisms.

Just as living organisms can only be said to be ‘alive’ when they are engaged in the process of living, my artworks can only be said to be ‘art’ when they are being interacted with by a viewer/participant. It is only when the dynamic processes embedded within the art-system are activated that the true nature of the artwork is able to emerge.

By interacting with my artwork the viewer/participant becomes an integral part of it. This can be both literally, since I may decide to integrate their image within the piece - or they might be invited to add materials to the artwork - and indirectly, since by interacting - or even simply being present within the system - they change the piece for ever.

My role as an artist is to define the interactive possibilities of my art-systems and to set them in motion. Like a composer, I produce a ‘score’ but do not have full control over the performance, and like a group of musicians improvising around a theme, my artworks respond to the audience and themselves. While my work is not about digital technology, it is made possible through my use of computer hardware, video monitors and projectors, sensors, video cameras, microphones and speakers and the computer programs that enable the art-system to operate.

I have created a series of artworks that operate as digital art-systems. Each piece uses computer technology to enable it to respond and interact with its viewer/participants. In all cases the artworks demonstrate their current state through the generation of a dynamic video image. It is likely that the typical viewer may initially perceive this image as the complete ‘artwork’ but, of course, as the artist it is the whole system that interests me and it is my goal to communicate this ‘system-aesthetic’.

In I See You [2], a video camera is used to capture images of viewers, these images are then layered to produce a video collage that is used to attract new viewers. As images are added the collage remains in a constant state of change, and without new viewers the image fades away. The piece is intended to be installed in a public space, waiting for the flow of people to bring ‘nourishing’ faces for it to capture.

In ArtScanner [3], participants are encouraged to contribute materials to a multimedia installation via the Internet. Contributors can then add barcodes that represent these materials to a physical exhibition space that is equipped with a barcode scanner and video projector. Visitors to the space can scan the barcodes and view the images. This art-system facilitates a flow of material and people from the ‘virtual/remote’ to the ‘physical/local’ space. The use of barcode technology also alludes to the systems of consumption contained within our consumerist culture.

The most sophisticated piece, Autopoiesis [4], is a gallery-based installation that uses a video projector for ‘output’ and video camera for ‘input’. The artwork contains two recorded video streams and two recorded audio streams, with the video camera being used to produce a third, live, a video stream of the viewer/participants. As a viewer/participant moves in front of the camera they cause a hybrid recorded/live video image to be generated according to simple rules embedded within the art-system.

As well as looking to represent a ‘systems-aesthetic’, Autopoiesis specifically engages with the idea of cities as organisms, or ‘systems’, in their own right. The footage of people walking has been prepared in such a way as to encourage the viewer/participant to focus on the rhythms and flow of colours. When interacting with the artwork the video image of the viewer/participant is placed at the heart of this flow and their movement changes it, demonstrating our role as an integral part of an interacting whole. When living or working in a city you are part of it, changing and influencing it as well as being changed and influenced by it. The shapes and structures that emerge are the result of millions of seemingly everyday interactions.

Autopoiesis should be seen as an ongoing work. It will be added to over time to eventually become a series of interactive and interacting artworks that explore the interconnected world around us through the construction of digital art-systems.

[1] Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela are Chilean biologists who developed the model of ‘autopoiesis’ to describe the self-creating nature of living organisms. Their ideas have since gone on to influence ‘systems thinking’ in many other fields. See “The Tree of Knowledge” (Maturana, H & Varela, F, Shambhala Press, 1992, ISBN 978-0877736424) for an introduction to their work.

[2] ‘I See You’ was first exhibited as part of ‘Trampoline’ in November 2007 in Nottingham. More information can be found at www.cuttlefish.org.

[3] ‘ArtScanner’ was installed in multiple locations in Leicester during ‘Phoenix Digital’ in March 2008 and the technology is being used by theatre company Metro-Boulot-Dodo as part of their contribution to the ‘SEAS’ festival at various locations on the Black Sea in 2008. More information can be found at www.artscanner.org.

[4] ‘Autopoiesis’ was exhibited to an invited audience in Loughborough in May 2008 and then at the Camberwell MA03 Show in June/July 2008. The ongoing development of the piece will be documented at www.autopoiesis.org.uk. Footage generated for the piece was used as a video for The Buoys track ‘Balance’ for showing in the Nanoplex mobile cinema, see www.bathysphere.co.uk/nanoplex.