My initial research was informed from artists I had discovered while working on previous projects. The subjects explored were quite literal, relating to trends, themes and the evolution of social media, as well as examples of artwork made around the topic of social media. I would also consider the types of work I was exploring early on was much more traditional, making use of physical media such as photography and collage. Pinterest continued to be a useful tool for collecting visuals. At the start of the FMP I had hoped to create an exhibition piece and a sculpture work for the Barnsdale Gardens commission. I created a Pinterest mood-board to gather inspiration for this work but it never progressed further than this as I realised I simply did not have enough time to devote to both and decided to pursue the social media work as I was more interested to research and explore this theme. I used surveys and peer discussion as well as online research to gain insight into the uses and attitudes towards various social media sites, which I think was also helpful in helping me to see what role these interactions play in each persons’ head and how their decisions about sharing are informed and have developed. This was intriguing because I feel that throughout the project I was always trying to question the role that social media plays in our sense of identity and social life, and what space it occupies in our minds in terms of effecting our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
Although I was very enthusiastic about the concept it was still incredibly broad and I was struggling to see how to communicate something so non-visual in an exhibition space. I felt overwhelmed by how many potential avenues there were to be explored. It was at this point that I decided to seek out the advice of Gemma Marmalade, who played a crucial role on guiding the research that followed and assisting me in focussing my ideas.
Gemma suggested I research video artists such as Ryan Trecartin, Hito Steyerl and Paul Kindersley. While exploring their work I also recalled a piece by Rachel Maclean that I’d seen last year at the British Art Show. As I watched their films I began to realise that I would make a stronger point if I were to take a more exaggerated approach to my concept. I had been taking photographs, mainly on my phone, trying to mimic the style of images on Instagram with the intention of crafting a ‘fake’ Instagram account, inspired by Amalia Ulman’s work. But I wasn’t satisfied with the photos as the quality was poor and unpolished, or with the plan as I couldn’t figure out what I was trying to say. The video works got me thinking about the instructional nature of online media, the unwritten expectations of how to behave and what to post, that I was curious about. I saw it as an extension of social pressures already present in every-day. It struck me how reliant many of us are upon the internet for answers and I tried to introduce that feeling of desperately seeking answers to the video. I shifted away from the goal of crafting a persona and focussed instead on various sensory methods of influencing the audience. By not defining the character I was also playing with the idea that we can present ourselves as anyone or anything online, while also demonstrating the desire for attention but likelihood to remain anonymous and unnoticed, blending into the sea of similarity.
As video was something that I had never worked with before I started to do a lot of practical research into how to use the editing program Premier Pro, as well as identifying best file types, exporting methods and so on. Somewhat ironically, considering my video concept was now a parody make-up tutorial like those found on YouTube, the resource I used most for learning about Premier Pro was YouTube. I am now comfortable using Premier Pro to edit and create video projects, something I could never have imagined at the outset. I’ve learned several valuable techniques to produce effects and have become familiar using all the basic tools for editing which will be a great skill to return to in future.
Before filming the tutorial footage I watched genuine make-up tutorials on YouTube to observe language, gestures, format and style which all helped to ‘get in character’.
In terms of practical problem solving, this came mainly in the later stages while building the exhibition space. I used black weed-guard fabric to create a roof however once it was up the light still showed through. So I used A1 sheets of black sugar paper laid over the top to block out the light. Once the screen and projector was set up I felt the projection was too flat and so decided to add the metal sheet to the wall to give it depth and dimension.
I also felt that the third, right-hand wall of the installation needed something to fill the empty space, so I began experimenting with several ideas, gained peer feedback and settled on the “404: Not Found” error message as it did not distract too much from the main work but tied in well with the overall theme. The other ideas revolved mainly around paper and print-outs attached to the wall and were rejected either because the content was too literal or because they did not tie in with the digital aesthetic.
After testing out the set-up and leaving both video and projector running for some time I found that the projector had turned itself off. It seemed this was due to over-heating, likely because of the ‘roof’ very close above it. I lifted the fabric and paper so that it was no longer covering the projector and air could circulate freely, and this was successful in keeping it running smoothly.
Overall the exhibition build introduced me to several new skills, from practical aspects of assembling boards and painting, drilling etc. to maintaining a personal exhibition space and finding solutions to problems as time goes on. For the latter it is essential to remain objective and not too emotionally attached to the work.
My time planning has improved over the year and the project log and proposal time plan were both useful tools in keeping this on track during FMP. The main issue that arose was that I did not have enough time to devote to the Barnsdale commission and had to give up on the idea. Also because I did not know at the outset what I would be producing for my final piece it was difficult to know how much time to allow at that point. I now see how valuable feedback and critiques were throughout and it has taught me to less precious over my ideas; feedback from Gemma was crucial in the process and in future would seek a similar tutorial at an earlier stage.
As the theme was always digital I struggled to document a regular visual resource of ideas, especially as many of the subjects were so intangible. I kept a lot of notes but retaining a visual record is something that I could improve on in future.
I am satisfied with the presentation of my final piece for the exhibition, however after some reflection and feedback I have identified areas for improvement
The audio levels within the video were not balanced, meaning that the speech was at a much lower level than the sound effects. This meant that the video had to be played at a volume that didn’t make the sound effects too overwhelming but left the speech quite muffled. Several visitors commented that this made it difficult to hear. One said that they thought this was deliberate and actually accentuated the message of being drowned in technology and the words weren’t important to the overall delivery. However if I had more time and experience with the software this is definitely something I would have adjusted.
One visitor commented that they felt the projection and “404” on the wall were distracting and made the presentation confused. I am starting to agree with them after receiving positive feedback for the video. While I was working on the project I felt concerned that the video would not be strong enough to communicate my intentions on its own and that’s why I chose to include the other elements. Also, after my discussion with Gemma and before beginning to focus on the video, my intention was to create an installation that explored the idea of what the internet would look like if it occupied a physical space. I enjoyed the process of creating the abstract images and it satisfied my desire to engage with some practical creative work. However as time went on, editing the main video took up most of my time and I began to become more occupied with the conceptual elements mentioned previously. I see now that my ideas needed to be concentrated and I should either have pursued the video alone, or the sensory ‘internet room’ idea and that attempting to convey both resulted in a diluted and confused presentation.
However I am glad that I chose to black out the exhibition space as I feel this helped to accentuate the feeling of disorientation and claustrophobia I intended to spark through the video. Feedback from visitors confirmed that they felt being in a dark space made them feel uneasy and isolated. When explaining to me what they thought many people have used the words “disjointed”, “overwhelming” or “uncomfortable” to describe the experience which was exactly what I was aiming for. One visitor commented that he understood the idea of being overwhelmed by technological communication from the sound effects and “glitch” visuals but that, being a 40-year-old male, he did not understand where the make-up tutorial fit in. Until that point I hadn’t considered that this may not translate to a broad audience. I opted to build on the tutorial footage because of its surreal and instructional nature, and because the webcam felt almost voyeuristic, however upon reflection I would next time choose a broader range of footage to draw from and try to keep its content more in line with the overall message of the piece.
If I were to translate the installation to a professional gallery space I would address the issues mentioned above and keep only the main video. I would aim to display it in a window-less space, preferably with dark walls. This could be achieved by using black fabrics draped like curtains around the wall. I would also provide seating for the audience, such as beanbags or stools, as I hope this would encourage them to view the entire video. I feel it’s important for the audio to be played through speakers, though if this were not possible the issues could be overcome by using wireless headphones.
Rachel Maclean’s work has been a big influence on my own and while considering this piece in a gallery setting I reviewed the way she displayed her video “Feed Me” at The British Art Show 8. The work was projected onto the wall, with seating for viewers. The main element that I picked up on was the way that the walls had been painted turquoise and hung with plain pink canvasses, colours very present in the work. I didn’t notice this element of the presentation but can now see how well it worked to make the viewers feel as though they are occupying the world displayed in front of them. It fills the blank space and ties together the experience without distracting from the main event. This is definitely a technique which I would draw from in this context, perhaps having plain canvasses with key colours or enlarged pixel patterns hung on the walls, with snatches of computer code or error messages just visible falling out of the frame. Although the use of a projector would be an important consideration to make the work visible to a bigger audience, I feel that being displayed on the Mac screen contributed to the overall experience and I like the idea of viewers peering into a small screen, as we often do into our smartphones.
Overall I am happy with the final piece I have created. Through feedback from visitors to the exhibition, my comments book, and responses from sharing the work on Facebook I have had the joy of knowing that the video successfully communicated many of the feelings and ideas I was aiming too. This feedback has also helped me to be self-critical and know how to improve in future. It has demonstrated that I shouldn’t be afraid to share my work and that if my intention is to use art to communicate question then it is important to listen the thoughts of the audience.
My greatest missed opportunities have been not pursuing the Barnsdale commission and not seeking final feedback from Gemma Marmalade.
I had to give up the Barnsdale idea due to time constraints and I feel that was the right decision as it allowed me to fully focus on my ideas, however I do not regret not being able to see through a live commission.
Although I missed the chance to show Gemma my installation I have sent her an e-mail to thank her for her help and with a link so she can see the final video.
This project has taught me a lot about my process. It has demonstrated to me that often my concepts stem from very broad thoughts and ideas and that it is essential to focus these intentions, through practical experimentation and peer discussion. On top of this it has shown me that it’s essential to have faith and confidence in my ideas and not hedge my bets by creating superfluous work.
By choosing to work with video I have gained valuable new practical knowledge and skills, as well as seeing the possibilities of this medium in terms of being able to share with a broader audience via the internet and communicate idea that would be more challenging to portray in static or more traditional media. It has reinforced my understanding that medium must be informed by concept, in this instance digital concept = digital medium.
“Feed Me” by Rachel Maclean at British Art Show 8