Interview with Artist Activist
Winner of the Sustainability Art Prize 2016, Artists Activists is being interviewed by Cambridge Sustainability Residency, touching issues concerning art practices in the times of the Anthropocene.
What are the links between visual images and message when it comes to address a broad topic such as sustainability?
Images such as Scar Tissue are designed to be projected onto buildings within public space allowing a visual platform for open dialogue away from the gallery confines. In my practice I ensure to mediate with empirical satellite data to facilitate a question/s I may have about what is being reported via media platforms. The war in Syria, which covers only 3% of the subject matter within Scar Tissue, is a very visceral example of the strong link between visual image and the message of sustainability in that satellite allows us to see the bombs dropping-capturing that allows us to even just scratch the surface of what that must be like. Because satellite cannot lie, for those who want to know, it tells the truth. On the opposite side of the Scar Tissue from the Syrian images is the visual data collated from The Arctic Circle. Time lapse data capture will ensure to record visuals with I believe a stronger message than metadata which so many appear to ignore.
Could you tell us about the aesthetic process of this work?
For the first time in my professional artistic career aesthetic became secondary with the primary focal point being mass empirical data in one image. It was only when I had obtained 8,000 satellite images in relation to what concerns I have regarding global sustainability that I fully comprehended the task of prioritizing and subsequently editing images to be viewed in a way that would draw an audience to engage with very difficult and disturbing subject matter. The technical skills involved with designing an image containing at time 300 working layers and 12 gig of data pushed me but I was fully aware that if the aesthetics of the final image did not draw the eye, then the data within the image would be missed.
How did you go about your research for this piece? What was ‘lost’ in the investigation and what was ‘gained’?
The research faced barriers and then sheer outright determination to overcome those barriers in order to find truth in an ethical manor. Many assume I use Google and even the press release suggests I just found the images on the ESA platform and that is just incorrect. In order to research I had to find Legal Access on to satellite platforms but then to piggy back data platforms to search on the globe exactly where I wanted to focus.All images had to be obtained by myself otherwise I would infringe copywrite. There is also an issue with what ESA want the public to see and so what images they publish. I will have the only images of the bombs dropping at that moment in time which answers the question in context with what is lost-my faith in humanity. What was also lost was my privacy because I soon evidenced beyond all reasonable doubt that I had become a person of interest and my computer was being monitored. Anyone who seeks the truth legally in context with many global sustainability questions can expect that, from members of Greenpeace to students in every University in every city around the world. As for what is gained, I now have a powerful tool that I have finely tuned to be able to respond very quickly to investigate and evidence global situations instantly and a platform in from which to share this information. All I need to do is to overcome the transference which tends to hit me like waves of emotion when I see things and realize the impact these things have on so many.
What are your thoughts about the political position of art practice in the Anthropocene? I have always been and always will be apolitical. Human activity has had significant impact globally in every aspect of life even in my lifetime but I believe I have seen enough to understand that it is ignorance, greed, power, poor land management, population growth, desperation, war and many other issues that are the drivers for the anthropocene. It is my belief that a persons politics could blind one to events within a certain epoch and than to detach art practice from a political agenda is important. The difference between political agenda and Global (and powerful) apolitical policy is vast and the correct multi platform art practice that spreads debate within a attentive voting public become a powerful tool in which to convey difficult sustainability discourse.
How can artists find their voices to communicate difficult topics?
One day you decide to do just one small thing to make a change- that is generally not even understanding the concept of the the anthropecene, and so that small thing can be quite personal to you and a space or situation around you.Artist express what is within them without being financially driven and generally are part of a strong interactive network who share ideas and information openly, freely and with social conscious at the forefront. Once you find the courage to make the first mark expressing how you feel about that one small thing, it is both liberating and humbling and you seek out other like minded creatives within growing networks. It is much harder for an artist to know he/she is ignoring difficult subjects than to engage with them and learn.
What are the avenues that Schools of Art and other institutions which support the creative industries should take in order to bring sustainability into the art practices?
The pedagogical structure within Schools of Art still needs to be understood as unequal in many modern cultures globally. Here in the Uk students are inspired by tutors who engage fully in all aspects of sustainability within practice so much so that in the last 10 years alone the educational structure has changed beyond all recognition. Funding for PHD research, educational tools and curriculum adjustment has increased in support of many issues related to sustainability meaning that debate is always current and up to date. We are taught to facilitate debate around the world within minutes via social platforms and yet it is all to easy to forget that this freedom within creative education and indeed creative industry is neither equal or global. At this very moment there are artists in prison for markmaking or risking persecution for exposing truth. At this very moment I know this text is being read by the people who monitor my computer because of research I have undertaken for the Sustainability Art Prize but I feel lucky to be part of an institution that does not shy away from controversial creative discourse in relation to sustainability. If I had undertaken this work 500 miles east of here, I could be in prison right now but the creative environment I am educated within allows me to assess risk wisely in an informed manor. What more could I ask for apart from that to be the right of all.