by Jerwood Writer in Residence, Lizzie Homersham:
‘I’ve been thinking that a lot of my work stems from problems with memory,’ writes Georgie Grace in an email sent in the intervening months between my visit to London’s Jerwood Space to see the single screen video the machine is almost pure magic, 2015, and my trip to g39 in Cardiff to view the five-monitor installation Recognise predators, recognise prey, 2015. ‘I worry,’ she continues, ‘that my attention is too spliced up and that I don’t retain the things I read – and that actually I just replicate that in my work; in a way it’s a record of listening, but it’s also a space where sources are lost.’
Grace’s concerns are indeed borne out in her practice: projected in a gallery transformed into a cinema-like space, the machine is almost pure magic layers lines of centred, shifting sunset coloured text over black and white moonscapes, slowly morphing then unexpectedly switching to fast-moving montages of microbial, architectural and occasionally figurative archival images. This work enacts the process of recording insofar as the images have been ‘filmed’ – translated from print to screen and thereby ‘saved’. Loss occurs in the images’ decontextualisation; provenance goes unacknowledged and they are assimilated with text that has undergone similar treatment. Presented like subtitles though the video is silent, the words in the machine…feel familiar, relating to an unspecified interface in a tone that flits between life coach, tech optimist advertorial, sci-fi vision, and cautionary tale: ‘you can just close your eyes and let the code run’, ‘limitless lifespans can be yours’ but ‘you have to be very careful about what you’re projecting onto it / your fears / your worries / you don’t want those blown up into cosmic dimensions’. Grace tells me, and otherwise I wouldn’t have known, that the machine…’s ‘limitless lifespans’ refers to a YouTube conversation between futurology and artificial intelligence experts Ray Kurzweil and Marvin Minsky, in which they ponder whether murder will be less of a crime in a future in which earlier versions of people – victims – can simply be restored. The same exchange is more fully ‘recorded’ in A wonderful future where you have back up copies, 2015 – Grace’s video commission for SPUR’s landing site – in which the words that flash up on screen stem from selective transcription of Kurzweil’s and Minsky’s speech.
Replete with borrowed material, which elements of Grace’s work are genuinely new? Besides the deft sourcing and reconfiguring of things plundered, I would wager that original writing has been smuggled between quotations from Kurzweil and Minsky. It seems as though a witty game is being played, consisting of alternately ventriloquising and imitating, thereby undermining the confidence with which such men pronounce their prophecies, as in lines like ‘here are the filters for charisma / some of you may already be charismatic / this will accentuate your natural talent’. Surely this is an instance, doubling as a comment on the ‘appification’ of the web, and on the performance of the self through the filters of social media where charisma is gauged by the quantities of ‘likes’ accrued, of Georgie Grace sneaking her own voice in. She does this in the manner of a coder whose instructional language, legible and useful only to humans keen to see a website’s working parts and perhaps repurpose them, breaks up the code dictating computer behaviour.
Distinguishing, and alerting the viewer to distinctions between different types of text and other visual stimuli is one of Grace’s areas of great competence. The lenticular prints displayed at Jerwood Space and at g39 have a novelty kitsch quality and inspire a childish kind of delight as their text changes with the reader’s movement, not just of the eyes but of the whole body, from left to right. We are physically put through our paces before domestically scaled landscapes featuring trees and lakes. Text glimmers: This time of day can be dangerous reveals its alternate message ‘We should be on our toes’; This outside is already inside continues ‘behind the resolved and clear’.
We are reminded, again in the five channel work Recognise predators, recognise prey, where text appears and disappears too fast to comprehend, how active language is and how reading is not a passive activity, though it is often undertaken while sat in front of a screen. One of Grace’s reference points is the insertion of fast flashes of text into political adverts televised during George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign. The word ‘rats’ appeared for a thirtieth of a second in an attempt to subliminally conflate the healthcare policies of Bush’s DemocRATic opponent, Al Gore, with vermin. Grace makes a case for heightened awareness in such an age of manipulation; less passive than television audiences, video gamers, whose first person perspective underwrites the viewer’s position in relation to the monitors at g39, are like the viewers of lenticular prints – looking whilst moving. But while the predatory position is encouraged, we are reminded that is cannot easily be stabilised, or overconfidently assumed. Recognise predators, recognise prey reminds us of our dual status as observers always potentially subject to observation. There are moments in the video loops where a pupil appears small-scale in the centre of the screen, before dilating to solar, screen-filling proportions, looming large and eventually setting on the horizon – the eye of all pervasive surveillance. In another instant, the small rounded pupil gains angles and dents and transforms into a kite-like form in the sky.
Flying a kite: an activity that is highly dependent on being outdoors and working with the whims of the wind; an activity that can yet be represented on screen. Rather than idealising a particular mediation of reality, Grace foregrounds means of reading and adopts a rigorously ambivalent stance towards perception shaping technologies. Her position can be visually summarised in an image that flicks into view several times in the ten minute course of the machine is almost pure magica barefoot, tiptoeing figure of a child, cautious yet highly curious as she feels her way around in-between worlds.
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