predators

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 magic barefoot, tiptoeing figure of a child, cautious yet highly curious as she feels her way around in-between worlds.

 

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blobsJerwood Writer in Residence Alice Butler responds to The machine is almost pure magic

 

1. Reality does not run along the neat straight lines of the printed page wrote Sadie Plant in Zeros and Ones, aligning the infinitely tangled webs of the internet with the infinitely tangled webs of language. In the liquid flow of the data stream, words become isolated fragments estranged from an organizing central narrative. The channels of the computerized network are a-temporal. Against time (as we know it), not in any way with it. To read on and with the screen is to trust your body, and all of its unpredictable eruptions, over the packaged and bound linear narrative. When the machine hums, your body hums too, and so does language. Brains… are not unified entities but hives or swarms of elements, interconnected multiplicities, packet-switching systems of enormous complexity, which have no centralized government (Plant, 1997).

 

2. In Georgie Grace’s video The machine is almost pure magic, swarms of appropriated linguistic fragments combine in a visual narration of aural silence. There is no spoken voice to guide us, only buzzing phonetic hives spelled out in neon text on screen: it is a script of unfinished sentences, leading us to an unknown, but tempting us somewhere.

Before she writes, the artist listens and transcribes, scribbling down verbal events (scientific lectures or techno-talks, for example) in the contemporaneous moment of their speaking. It is the live copied (or forgotten), then re-ordered. Mediated by her tinkering hand. The individual voice becomes drowned out and buried by the process (performance) of transcription, so that the original author disappears in the artist’s edit, and she replaces him: I’m interested in the experience of reading and it wouldn’t be a reading experience if it were a listening experience, so how reading is mediated on screen is something that I am concerned with: do I remember things in the same way? Am I able to organise things in my mind when I have multiple tabs and screens open? (Georgie Grace, 2015, 15:03 PM).

 

3. Georgie harnesses Kenneth Goldsmith’s concept of uncreative writing (How do you determine who owns a piece of writing? 14:44 PM) to craft and model a script of stolen lines and lecturing rhetoric, re-modelled as a text of questioning and sensorial combat. Of displacement and replacement. The script is not linear or narrative-driven, but it does build, unfold in some sort of sequence of sense. Sentences meet and merge, then break with the artifice. Fracture with their cut-up arrangement. Georgie’s syntactical collections embody a kind of liquid flow, and excess, as they travel and accrete in multiple directions. Deriving from the transcription-research, the script contains unexpected overlaps: although the content of each speech is different, the tone and language is transferrable. Like a download. Or a copy and paste. There are jumps in it so it is not completely smooth but at the same time it has a flow so you can almost make sense of it. The appropriating impulse of the ‘uncreative’ writer mirrors (as in screen) the immaterial and uncensored walls of the digital network, where authorship and ownership become tangled in the hyperlinked blur.

 

4. The machine is almost pure magic reads like an enumerative instructive manual, an assembly of texts to compute and join together. A text-based narration, it nevertheless ‘speaks’ a language of promotion, profession, aspiration, and work, in ghostly emerald city intonations: ‘You have an extremely powerful and very, very flexible device / you can use it to influence people / you can use it to get a better job / you can use it to increase your prosperity’. It feels as planned and formulated as the digital system it describes, as it performs the language of impenetrable science in creepy imperatives. An ambiguous order to trust and repeat. Real science and fictional science, as Georgie said. When reading/watching, Georgie’s friend declared whatever it is I’m buying one! She thought it was selling her something, a sort of phantom product. As writer and artist, Georgie has constructed a text in which form and content merge and speak: the transcribed language of the lecture is shuffled anew by the artist so that it inhabits, in its fragmentary list-like form, the syntax of the machine. Phrases to click, estranged from a coherent centre. ‘you can put a command in a box,’ the artist writes in place of the anonymous machine of artificial intelligence, flowing into ‘and the box sends out a high frequency signal/ it shoots out a beam of light’.

 

5. Georgie’s video operates as a moving image, linked by cut-and-pasted stills (overlaid with cut-and-pasted language). Aesthetically, it embodies the ‘possibly analogue / possibly digital’ epithet in the script, used to describe the merging of corporeal and technological in a quasi-fictional machine, but equally an apt describer of Georgie’s film-making. Archive photographs of uninhabited sixties interiors are chopped into a mix of rippling animations and magnified grey materials. I was drawn to the idea of what reality is made of in its particles, pixels and half-tones – a focalized, immaterial materiality, in which the granular substance of the abstract background is not so far removed from the granular photographs shuffled in between. The images are filed and rearranged, akin to the ease of digital administration: it feels like a computational aesthetic of uploading and downloading, referring to the ways computers can sort images and understand them. File them irrespective of the date in which they were made. Nearly all of the images in the film document empty spaces, their textures mediated, virtual and digital, so that the past image (which also represents the epoch of cybernetic serendipity in art and technology) is relocated as an image of futurity. Of ‘cosmic significance’, or so says the script. And if the image is reduced to the atomic and molecular, so is the language. The artist manipulates linguistic material in the same way as a nanotechnologist, combing through the detritus of speech to refocus and reveal a fiction of her own.

 

6. From the form to the content. What does the posthuman machine that Georgie is transcribing, tracking and fictionalizing do? In Sadie’s silver smooth text, she wrote of a brain that ‘is body, extending even to the fingertips, through all the thinking, pulsing, fluctuating chemistries, and virtually connected with the matters of other bodies, clothes, keyboards, traffic flows, city streets and data streams’. In Georgie’s artwork, she extends this union further, writing a machine of mind-powered prosthetics, so that brain and body are computerized as one infinite and intelligent object. As the fragments of script direct us: ‘we’ll become machines that act like humans / technology and humanity are going to be converging / we’re going ethereal / like a snake shedding its skin.’ And in The machine is almost pure magic, the fiction of the immortal machine that flows and evolves from imagination to object over the course of the script, is communicated via Georgie’s writing: shedding the excess skin of language, she uncovers scales, molecules and atoms – which will eventually stick together again, to make another fiction new.

Machines to Crystallize TimeIn amongst CJ Mahony and Georgie Grace’s futuristic sounding installation at Smiths Row, Alicia Rodriguez finds the work is more about capturing the past than the sci-fi future.

 

A crystal carries the particular essence of a petrified movement, an exquisite object in the course of being formed. The apparent hardness of the stone and the softness of its changeability offer a complex set of properties that can form the basis of a speculative, theoretical study concerning time, space and inter-dimensional travel.

 

CJ Mahony and Georgie Grace, in a collaborative project drawn from a diverse range of sources and disassembled pieces of previous work, use ideas surrounding the process of crystallization in an attempt to become closer to some kind of real representation of ‘the past’. They exploit the immersive, time-based nature of film and installation to mimic the faceted refractions and subtle manipulations of crystalline forms.

 

Though constructed from a number of separate works, Machines to Crystallize Time reads as one intricate installation, and the boundary between Grace’s and Mahony’s work is a subtle, almost unnoticeable kind of language.

 

Angular, megalithic shards of timber and plywood are arranged in a fragmented, labyrinthine cluster, their peaks reaching towards the gallery’s high Georgian ceilings. Projections appear and disappear onto the surfaces of each structure – partially due to the loop of each film, and partially due to visitors passing in front of the projectors, elevated slightly above the ground. The films depict crystals that rotate and convulse within a void, as if emerging from the fabric of the gallery space itself. The fractured presence of both film and sculpture discombobulates the viewer, and plays with our perception of space: it is slightly challenging, for example, to trace the whereabouts of each projector, and to discern whether the shadows cast upon the timber frames are one’s own.

 

In his essay, ‘Machines to Crystallize Time’ (from which the exhibition takes its name) Maurizio Lazzarato suggests that video is the ‘first technology that corresponds to a generalised decoding of the flows of images’. The essay discusses video as a crystallization of duration or ‘time-matter’, and the implications of a technology which can depict the temporal perception of an experience unfolding. The conversation between Grace and Mahony’s work is informed by this idea: the sculptures are temporary, but present, and the films are glistening depictions of past images.

 

There is an interesting, referential ‘circuit’ that forms within the installation, a collage of two-dimensional and three-dimensional space. Certain surfaces of Mahony’s large plywood sculptures are painted a particular shade of grey that, although tilted and leaning, gives it the appearance of being completely flat, as if cut and pasted into existence. A series of delicately soldered maquettes nest within the larger structures, adopting a notional recollection of the floating crystals featured in Grace’s films. As projections, the films in turn transform each sculpture into a surface, and the three-dimensional maquettes become flickering two-dimensional shadows. The artists suggest, in their extended press release, that ‘both redistribute one another’.

 

In addition to projected images, films also unfold on slightly outdated monitors. The retro-technology has automatic connotations of an awkward stylized nostalgia, but is simple enough to provide an appropriate backdrop to elegantly revolving crystals and the acutely rendered Calabi-Yau manifold (produced by Jeff Bryant and Dr. Andrew Hanson) at the entrance of the show. The monitors, clumsy by contemporary standards, are ‘present’ surfaces that emerge from the tight passageways within the installation like small tokens from our own world, familiar items depicting contextless images from the ‘past’ that in turn appear to transcend any dimension at all.

 

Smiths Row is, shamefully, often overlooked due to being situated in the small, historic market town of Bury St Edmunds, stationed just that little bit too far out of London. Its programme has always drawn a mixed crowd, with a diverse variety of events and craft workshops. However, Machines to Crystallize Time feels like the next step towards becoming a contemporary art staple in the east.

 

Accompanying the exhibition is a discussion led by a panel including the artists and an astronomer, offering ‘propositions on time travel’. The gallery also include a small reading room in which the artists have provided a number of texts that construct a comprehensive environment behind the show. Far from simply existing as additional material, these resources support each fragment of thought that constitutes a loaded, non-linear discourse.

 

Citing Christian Bök’s 1994 book-length poem ‘Crystallography’ as an influence, the artists adopt a heavily research-based, almost literary approach. CJ Mahony’s sculptures and Georgie Grace’s films are the physical culmination of a conversation that touches upon multiple strands of a basic discussion surrounding time, space, form and technology. Executed through a process in pieces, Machines to Crystallize Time presents a careful collation of two distinct artistic practices.

 

Review for Garageland

 

georgie grace