I hope this goes viral

I’ve been cleaning up my basement studio in what has grown to be a sisyphean task of trying to reorganise a bunch of stranded items that can only be labelled as “misc”, without giving into the temptation of throwing them into a box also entitled “misc”. Marie Kondo might ask, “do these things bring you joy?” and the answer most certainly is no, however they might bring me the need not to spend three quid on amazon some time in the distant near future.

Like any good artist, I am a bit of a hoarder, and semantic value has nothing on “potential use” value. “Hey, I remember this bolt” I’ll say picking the lucky bit of bright steel out of a cardboard box previously hidden inside a plastic crate. “I remember you from being on my desk for months and constantly picking you up and wondering where you might go before eventually dumping you and all your friends into this box that has been hidden away until now, and since you are all different sorts of things, I shall have no choice but to put you on my desk for the meantime while I work out what box you shall live in next.”

I can’t be the only person going through this. In these oft described “unprecedented” times many people in their isolation will be turning their houses over looking for the past and hoping to bury themselves in it or bring it back to the present day. Google does this for free now. A few weeks ago, I had a notification on my phone, google wanted to share with me “on this day, 4 years ago” and served up the photos I had taken of my grandmother’s cremation. Well, of the flowers and wreaths there after the actual cremation.

I’m not sure how I really felt about it. On the one hand is the ever growing invasion of our mental spaces by the tech giants, reading and viewing everything we do, listening to our conversations. I refute the Orwellian nature of it. At least Ingsoc had your back, inconsistent though they may have been with history, you knew what to watch when Big Brother was watching you. The tech monopolies have their own backs to care for, the data they collect is only as valuable as the tools that decipher it but the potential is there to truly know all about you, even before you know yourself. But their only objective is money, not as in the case of Ingsoc: power and control, and this makes them more dangerous, if the price is right, they will sell, with no morals or ideology. It is telling Google removed its motto “Don’t be Evil” from its code of conduct.

But the other side of the tale is the fact that without this little notification I wouldn’t have remembered. I wouldn’t have looked back again at the yellow flowers and I wouldn’t have had the little conversation I had with my mother about it. And you wonder, “Why can’t it all be memories of yellow flowers?”

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Crane silhouettes

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Sometime in July, 2019, I found myself lying on the hallway carpet floor, stuck in a moment when aeons pass but the clock barely ticks. And I thought about how I’d gotten there; After climbing the basement stairs, in a mood, I had decided that I didn’t feel like being upstanding anymore and let myself collapse. The floor was soft and warm and provided the comforting assuredness and security that my knees and spine simply couldn’t. When upright, as an adult, you carry with you those burdens, the tasks, expectations, desires and goals you set yourself. They aren’t in and of themselves particularly metaphorically heavy, just metaphorically cumbersome, taking up metaphorical space in your metaphorical head. Add to that the looming atmospheric pressure of climate anxiety, economic uncertainty and social instability, the only reasonable response is to collapse. On the floor, those exigencies no longer fight for attention and provide a metaphorical weighted blanket to comfort you in your decision to stay low, out of the smoke.

So I decided to collapse.

There’s something comical in a person falling over. For whatever reason that compels them to do so. The act of a human body without control or dignity ignites a schadenfreude within us. I have a long way down to go before I can fall with the grace of a Buster Keaton, but even in the worst of these pieces, I think the pathetic nature in the desire not to get hurt and the subsequent lack of commitment sometimes lends itself to the point of the work. We who collapse don’t particularly want to fall.

Within this format, I wanted to explore the varied types of collapse I felt around me, those being primarily financial, political, ecological, social and egotistical, with a view through the use of titling and staging to attempt to introduce a more deliberate humour.

Beyond the confines of my basement, I began to see places I could use to help me give meaning to the collapse. It was odd trying to use spontaneity in the creation of artwork in public spaces. I tend to keep myself to myself when out in public and most of these works still reflect that, the seclusion providing the space and confidence to execute. However, human reaction to the collapse is definitely an element of the art that needs exploring, but so far I am uncomfortable with needlessly tricking people into concern.

For the last piece I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Nuremberg for work and check out the Zeppelinfield where the famous Nuremberg rallies took place. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to finish the history tour and visit the courthouse. It was a very weird environment to be in, with markings for a racetrack and a football stadium standing proud elsewhere in the park, and yet reading about the towers as toilets for the two hundred thousand participants in the Nazi party’s political rallies. Seeing people jogging up and down the stairs and myself standing on a spot I have only seen in archive footage, as easily and nonchalantly as can be. The reminders of the area’s history and its purpose were dotted around, there was no hiding from it, but it seemed as though that history were being embraced, engaged with in continued use. The park isn’t celebrating, the area isn’t particularly nice, but it’s as though the whole world is standing with me and collectively shrugs, saying: “that happened”.

And as if to punish my disrespect, mere minutes after recording the piece, a near blizzard whipped up from nowhere. My friend and I walked to a train station, saw that it didn’t fit our ticket company and decided neither to buy tickets or try our luck and so we walked out and trudged our way through bitter winds back past the Zeppelinfield. Soon after again I realised I had lost my wallet, so turning around we passed through the settling snow to the point on top of the steps where the laughing wind revealed my wallet and brought about superstitious reflection.

Standing in the memories of a crumbling stadium holding my damp wallet meant something, but I’m not sure what, they weren’t my memories. A fictionalisation of the past was all I ever heard of a crowd two hundred thousand strong, roaring at me on a balcony, but then again, all memories are fictions. The stories we tell ourselves to piece together moments long gone to build our own narrative mythos, a foundation for some part of ourselves we want to attribute to something we can point at as being meaningful.

I undertook a course in Video Game Art Production in order to get better at the 3D pipeline. Each of us was tasked with creating our own diorama, a small corner of a room or so, though everyone did something a bit more ambitious. In my case, my ambition I think led me to create a less occupied outcome than desired. My scene, I knew needed to be crafted around a story. My desire was to create a retro-futurist racing garage and to some extent I believe this was managed, but there are definitely both technical and artistic mistakes, lighting being a large one.

The figure I ended up focusing on was James Hunt, the famed 1976 Formula One world champion, often dubbed “The last playboy of F1”. The fearless, cigar smoking, womanising heavy drinker is a mythological figure to my generation of F1 fans and even to those who saw him race I’m sure.

When I have made 3D works I have set out to impose the falseness of the reality I’ve cast on the viewer. It is hard to explain the importance this holds for me, I crave the honesty in it. I wish to get across that feeling of scientific exposition, where pulling back the curtain fabric of reality doesn’t diminish the trick of nature, but reveals a beauty in the understanding of its complexities. You know the ball will come down but you still throw it as hard as you can to see if you can defy gravity. To play on that boundary between suspense and experience. The subtle and not so subtle clues are there in my diorama about this environment, the giant computer, oil barrels and James hunt putting us into the 70s but the trophy pushing us 50 years into the future. There was more needed to fully sell the concept, but the point being an environment, a memory of a time that precedes me, the fictionalisation of a moment.

Nostalgia, in other words, for something “lost” but never actually possessed. And it is this feeling that drives the artistic movement Vaporwave and its cousins. Those coming of age in the 2010’s era of Late capitalism (or so we think(hope(pray))), at once both critique and hold reverence of the memories of 80s and 90s cyberware, computer culture, consumerism and elevator music. The marble church of the shopping mall explored on Windows 95; playing out distortions of a VHS tape to slowed down soul music interspersed with operating system startup noises. Screensavers.

I’ve been a fan of Vaporwave for a while, having enjoyed the music, but was never really compelled until recently to attempt to create anything of the oeuvre. It then struck me that I wanted a screensaver. I wanted a Windows 95 screensaver. I wanted the Windows 95 logo as a screensaver. A feat more complicated than I had initially imagined, but I set about creating and animating a 3D version of the Windows 95 logo to spin and the window panels to wave, before rendering it and editing the resulting video to have lower quality, screen lines and VHS distortion.

Windows 95 is older than me.

To follow this up, I began working on an animated piece about the Covid-19 crisis, continuing with those clean consumerist ideals that were laid bare in the hoarding of toilet paper, of all resources.

My running inspirational theme was “Coronavirus meets the Paris Hilton shopping channel”, ideally the toilet paper would have sparkled, but glittering arseholes aside, this was a fun exercise into some of the simulation tools within Maya. The first shot was simply of descending virus particles, hand sanitiser bottles and toilet paper, but the next proposed to be a more intricately designed affair. I envisioned a large promotional fountain in the aforementioned marbled shopping mall, one where a small child or morose teenage lover might whimsically throw a penny to make a wish. An oasis of spiked hope in a sea of pink.

I imagine an ultra wealthy paranoiac installing something like this in their mansion. An alcohol gel fountain to ward away the bad spirits (pun intended) in an over-saturated world. Alas the animation is too expensive in its current form for it to be practical for me to render, and too expensive for me to want to do so on a render farm at this present moment. So I leave you with a couple of stills, to remember.

But I should stop digging up the past, in metaphor and reality, and find a box to hide away those items labelled “misc”.

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