Kicking off the new academic year is a blog from the AHRC Digital Transformations Team on their work with digital artist Eduardo Kac on how technology can disrupt traditional artistic forms.
During the months of April to June this year, the AHRC’s Digital Transformations Theme team were involved with a number of exhibitions, installations and workshops focused on the work of pioneering media artist, Eduardo Kac.
Over the last three decades, Kac’s work has explored how new technologies can disrupt our ideas about texts and poetry. His art works incorporate a variety of technology from fax machines and conductive ink to working with astronauts on the International Space Station.
Digital Transformations Theme Leader Fellow, Professor Andrew Prescott, curated Kac’s first solo UK exhibition at the Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park, London, which ran from the 7th of April to the 28th May.
“One of the most exciting outcomes of the work I have undertaken as Theme Leader Fellow has been the way it has identified opportunities for intellectual cross-fertilisation between creative arts practice and humanities research.
The way in which Eduardo Kac’s work interrogates text and communication raises many questions about how arts and humanities engages with the digital world. I am very honoured to have curated this wonderful exhibition, which was not only highly accessible but also posed challenging intellectual questions.”
The ‘Poetry for Animals, Machines and Aliens’ exhibition focused on his work with poetry and the notion of textual instability. One of Kac’s most recent works, called ‘Inner Telescope’ (2017), was featured in the exhibition – a short film showing the creation of the first poem in outer space! The work was performed by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet aboard the International Space Station. The viewer watches as a small paper object designed by Kac is fashioned by Pesquet and floats through the space station, slowly twisting and turning in zero gravity. As the paper form rotates and bobs, we might see the letters ‘M’, ‘O’ and ‘I’ – or we might not.
The viewer’s eye is also drawn to the densely packed man-made environment of the space station before turning a corner and seeing the breath-taking view of earth from inside the space station.
The exhibition also included a large scale art work in the middle of Finsbury Park designed by Kac and installed by Furtherfield Gallery. The pixelated image of a rabbit which was painted on the grass is the latest in a series of works called ‘Lagoogleglyphs’. These glyphs are designed to be viewable from space via satellite imagery. Previous versions have been installed on the roofs of the Oi Futuro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the Es Baluard Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
The installation in Finsbury Park was on the ground and it became a piece of public art in ways that the artist, curator and gallery did not envisage: visitors walked up to and across it, pausing to bend down and touch the paintwork; children ran across it and incorporated the lines into their games and stories. After the exhibition closed the Lagoogleglyph was left to naturally grow out and fade. The only evidence for its temporary existence will be the images taken during the exhibition – and perhaps on a passing satellite image…
Running alongside the exhibition was a number of public events and workshops organised by the Digital Transformations Theme and the Furtherfield Gallery. Artist Michael Szpakowski ran several free family workshops which invited participants to design their own rabbit, plot it on a map of Finsbury Park and use GPS trackers to walk their own bunny shaped route! Participants got to learn about the park, the art exhibition and GPS technology in a fun and informal way.
Andrew Prescott and Ruth Catlow, co-director of the Furtherfield Gallery, hosted a series of free workshops which gathered people with an interest in the social and cultural benefits of digital technology.
The attendees included researchers and academics from a range of disciplines, artists, curators, activists, and businesses who each brought their own perspectives and experiences to bear on discussions of the future of Arts and Humanities research in the context of digital technology.
The workshops demonstrated how digital tools and technologies are enhancing Arts and Humanities research and practice, and generating new and exciting avenues for research.
Many of the projects funded by Digital Transformations, for example, use digital tools and platforms to organise and make accessible large amounts of data. Take the Digital Panopticon project – how does being able to search millions of records from the Old Bailey change the way we think about our justice system and the lives of people in the past who were subject to that system?
Technology can also be used to improve people’s day-to-day lives. The Tangible Memories project demonstrated how digital tools can be used to address the key social challenges of caring for an ageing population and also make a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of older people. Creativity, inclusivity and social responsibility are at the centre of the research and practice of each of the Digital Transformations projects.
One of the areas that the Theme has sought to encourage is the fruitful links between art practice and Arts and Humanities research, especially in the context of digital technology.
The questions Kac asks in his art and his research intersect with the activities of the Digital Transformations Theme. How are digital tools and environments shaping the way we do Arts and Humanities research? How can Arts and Humanities research engage creatively and meaningfully with the possibilities offered by digital technology? And how can the Arts help us to understand how technology is impacting our lives? The answers often lead us down surprising rabbit-filled paths…!
You can find out more about the exhibition, including a video featuring Andrew Prescott and Eduardo Kac, here: https://www.furtherfield.org/events/poetry-for-animals-machines-and-aliens-the-art-of-eduardo-kac/.
Feature image: A still from Inner Telescope (2017)