with Emily Butler
‘I’m interested in thinking about the new behaviours that come of human engagement with technology, thinking about probability and algorithmic governance from a critical posthuman point of view’
Listen to the full interview here:
My work takes a multimedia approach, often as assemblages that come together as installations, with pieces coming together like a puzzle over a period of time. I work in video, virtual reality, text and sound, with a critical conceptual underpinning. I’m interested in thinking about the new behaviours that come of human engagement with advances in technology, and I’ve been obsessed by probability for a while now. I’m interested in the shift in thinking that the calculus brought to things, and how this is actualised today in say, ranking systems and forms of algorithmic governance. I include myself in the mix where possible, drawing from personal history, but try to emphasise a multispecies perspective and critical posthuman position.
What are you showing in The London Open 2022?
I’ll be showing The Underlying, which is a body of work commissioned by arebyte Gallery in 2019. The work draws on issues to do with probability and risk that have come into sharp focus during the pandemic, revealed by interdependencies across social media, finance, and the environment. It includes Lag Lag Lag, an eight-screen monitor work, riffing off of financiers’ screens, with video interlaced with live data analysis, sentiment and emotion software trained on mentions of BPAs – bisphenol A, a synthetic oestrogen and by-product of the plastics industry since the 1930s now flooding the planet’s water supplies – displayed alongside the social media source, live tweets and rolling news feed. In turn, the live data influences the VR work Derivative, which is set around Bank in the old financial district of the City of London, where arcane legal practices allow a third of the world’s tax evasion to take place. The Prosthetics are handblown glass eyes, ocular prosthesis, clusters, if you like, looking out from the corners of the gallery. They are reminiscent of organic organisms and draw reference from the Fates, the three sisters forced to share one eye between them, suggestive of the surveillance that drives data analysis but also points to the limited resources of a dwindling biosphere, and to the collective approach necessary to tackle environmental change.
The work is shown as an installation with a surround sound work made in collaboration with Paul Purgas. It has this deep sub-bass that’s reminiscent of being on a plane, or cradled, travelling for a long time in deep space aboard a molecular spaceship perhaps. The work combines as a puzzle almost, in an installation where a huge sand drift is swept up into the corner of the gallery as the particles escape the VR, if you will. There’s quite a material underpinning to the work, despite it being quite high tech.
You’ve broadly described five large elements to the work: the eight-screen monitor work, the VR, the prosthetics, the glass elements, the soundscape, and the sand. Why is it titled The Underlying?
The underlying is the price that drives the derivatives markets. Finance is often seen as fiction but it’s not really, it’s just really complex how price is arrived at, reliant on all kinds of factors, such as whether the weather was good this year for crops to grow, or a political coup in a country is going to affect transport, etc. Whilst this used to be a human skill, following historical precedents, it’s now analysed by automated methods such as sentiment and emotion analysis of the news.I came across the software, a financier’s tool, whilst working on Low Animal Spirits and Breaking News – Flash Crash in 2014 and wanted to utilise it as a key mechanism of our hyperconnected times, in a performative way, whereby the value derived from social media and news production feeds the work in a critical sense. Sentiment and emotional analysis is applied to mentions of BPA in the live news feed and twitter-sphere, shown on the screens with other financiers’ graphs relating to BPA: this toxin and synthetic oestrogen, particularly good at binding with humans, now quite literally flooding the world’s water supplies. There’s an HUD that shows the live readings of sentiment/emotion analysis that influences the environment within the VR space. I’m particularly fascinated by this as at the time of making I was going through the menopause and was thinking back to when I was prescribed synthetic oestrogen during adolescence, in a desperate bid to stop my growing. At a very basic level, I was aware that xenoestrogen was some kind of technology as I emerged from this biochemical prosthesis, and here molecular entanglements enmesh with modulatory control of data.
I became fascinated as well with how the contractual condition of both the derivative, and insurance, was key to thinking about environmental concerns in ways that reveal the negative effects of capitalism on the environment through a relationship with the past, just as the future comes up increasingly short. Here, the underlying, comes of an extractable relation, that inscribes ongoing inequalities, often born of colonial pasts. The insurance industry is particularly interesting also, as it’s central to what’s happening with the climate crisis, as an industry that applies sentiment and emotion analysis to what has become a ‘reputation economy’ via social media. When public opinion turns, the insurance industry refuses then to underwrite those industries seen as polluters, as they increasingly end up being taken to court. It made me want to relocate climate disaster as happening right now, amongst the City of London’s financial district, something more akin to Bladerunner 2019: the burnout.
Works in the exhibition:
The Underlying: Derivative, 2019
VR work with live sentiment analysis of BPA’s in twitter / live news
Lag Lag Lag, 2019
Eight-screen video interface, with live sentiment/emotion analysis
re mentions of BPA on twitterand online news
04:36 mins, looped
The Prosthetics, 2019
Ocular prosthetics, blown glass
23 x 15 x 20cm, 15 x 18 x 15cm approx. and 14 x 7 x 9cm
Commissioned by arebyte Gallery 2019
Ami Clarke (b. Epsom, UK)
Selected exhibitions: Pandemonium/Do Androids Dream of Pandemonium, Beyond Matter residency, ZKM, Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe (2022); Digital Archive of Artists’ Publishing (2021); On Pandemonium, Risk residency Radar, Loughborough University (2020–1), Real Time, Seventeen Gallery, London (2020); The Underlying, arebyte Gallery (solo) (2019); End-of-the-World Trade: On the Speculative Economies of Art and Extraction symposium, Goldsmiths Visual Cultures (2019); Digital Ecologies II: Fiction Machines, Bath Spa University (2019); ODD catalyst, Bucharest (2018); ORGASMIC STREAMING, LUX Waterlow Park Centre/Chelsea Space (2018); NEW WORLD ORDER, Rijeka (2017), Ljubljana (2017), Furtherfield Gallery (2017); Cold Bodies, Warm Machines, Art, Technology And The Posthuman, NRW-Forum Düsseldorf (2016); Low Animal Spirits, End User, Hayward Gallery (2015)
What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?
This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.
Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.
The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.
The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.
The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.
Gallery 1, Downstairs
The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko’s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge’s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.
Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara’s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.
Gallery 9, Upstairs
This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free 2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.
Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.
Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?
Gallery 8, Upstairs
The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.
Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.
On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja’s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.
The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.
Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard’s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.
See the full list of works here.
An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.
Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.