“Artists are so bizarre and come from such strange places”: Glenn Ligon interview below

Interview: John Gerrard

John Gerrard, Oil Stick Work, (Angelo Martinez / Richfield, Kansas), 2008, Realtime 3. © the artist and Art on the Underground. Production: Werner Poetzelberger. Modelling: Daniel Fellsner. Programming: Helmut Bressler. Additional programming: Matthias Strohmaier. Model: Angelo Martinez

Canary Wharf underground station offers the best and the worst opportunity an artist could hope for.

“There are 45 million people who will travel through that station per annum, which is extraordinary. There’s no gallery in the world which could even boast a fraction of that kind of potential audience,” says John Gerrard.

“But of course, it’s not a receptive audience. It’s a hurrying, blind audience in a way.”

Gerrard is responsible for a vast projection on the far wall of atrium, which requires nothing if not patience. The computer generated simulation unfolds in real time, day by day, with a narrative scheduled to last for 30 years.

Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez/Richfield, Kansas) is set in a Kansas landscape dominated by a grain silo. Dawn breaks about noon British Summer Time and the scene fades to darkness at around 2am.

Between those times, a lone figure sets to work painting the building black. He paints one square metre each day with an artist’s crayon. By the time he completes his task, in 2038, US oil supplies are projected to run dry.

Art on the Underground will be showing the astonishing time based work for 12 months, and Gerrard hopes that in that time a “fraction” of the audience will notice the work’s progression.

The tempo of his art is a far cry from the pace of nearby life. The Jubilee Line station serves some of the world’s busiest banks. “I think the banking context is a very good foil for the work, for the slow build of the work,” says the Irish artist.

He also expresses amazement at the latest forms of (high frequency and algorithmic) trading. “It’s almost become quite anarchic what’s happening in those environments,” he says.

“You’ve got people basically spending billions to gain in microseconds on somebody else in terms of speculation.”

The central theme in Oil Stick Work, intensive farming, is clearly not unrelated. In the 1930s, oil-powered agriculture caused catastrophe when the prairies succumbed to the worst dust storms ever seen in America.

Today the same landscapes are dominated by ominous and anonymous buildings such as the grain silo above or the grow finish units used to farm and slaughter pigs. People are few and far between, but with one notable exception.

Angelo Martinez is the name of a New York builder who auditioned as a stand-in for a worker who told Gerrard to stop taking photos of one of the installations in Kansas. Now with virtually remodelled features, the artist says it “really is a portrait of him.”

The unreal localities which inspired Oil Stick Work are well suited to 3D simulations. “I’m slightly on my own with the medium which is curious,” notes the artist.

“There is an established arena of game art which is in existence, but this particular kind of static approach, which I think has a lot of potential, I don’t think there’s anybody working like this at the moment.”

That medium, according to Gerrard, “was effectively born in a military context,” and for his next work his is taking the form back to its roots.

“The new work I’m doing at the moment is actually remaking a historical scene which is from the Iran-Iraq war, the first Iraq war from the 1980s, and in it there is a soldier figure…who is enacting a kind of impossible performance.”

This will be the first time the artist has used military training technology to recreate a military training exercise. “I’ll see how that goes. I mean, it’s a bit of a risk,” he says.

But despite the outward calm of a piece like Oil Stick Work, organised aggression is already very much a theme.

“Those grow finish units on the American landscape are in and of themselves a type of horror story of gargantuan proportions,” he suggests. “I don’t think there are many games that would reach that level of…what is it? You know, the implicit violence in those scenes.”

From Kansas to Canary Wharf, what you cannot see is what can shock the most.

Written for Culture24.


Feature: Soundtracks for an Exhibition

Ron Terada, Soundtrack for an Exhibition, video still. Courtesy of Ikon

Art is getting noisier. Galleries echo with moving image installations. The quieter ones provide you with audio-guides. Sound is now such a vital dimension of art, some artists are making art about that very phenomenon.

In a boxlike construction at Ikon in Birmingham, you can pull up a beanbag and enjoy some music. On a giant screen ahead a retro turntable plays a selection of vinyl LPs. It reconstructs the type of experience you might have at home, yet you are sat in a sculpture.

This is Soundtrack for an Exhibition (2000-) by conceptual artist Ron Terada. It features a selection of his favourite tunes from the last ten years and celebrates his first major show in Europe. Pavement, The Magnetic Fields and The Walkmen are among the bands included.

Curator Helen Legg explains the popularity of the work: “Ron likes making mix tapes and people like having mix tapes made for them . . . so people are working out whether there is a narrative to the work.” This particular mix tape has also been pressed up as a free record that gallery goers can take home with them.

The melancholy tunes can be heard throughout the exhibition, and it should be mentioned that this show is called “Who I Think I Am”. This personal selection of music seems a direct way of getting to know the artist, or is it?

“I think that Ron is very smart guy,” says Legg. “He’s very self aware, so the music is both the kind of music he would listen to – they are his favourite songs quite genuinely – but he is also very aware of impression they give of him, so that’s why the show is a self portrait and the music too.”

Either way, Terada has good taste, which makes this a contender for the best sounding show of the year. It makes you wonder why so much art is still looked at in silence.

“I think its just a cultural habit, which I guess comes from the history of exhibition making and the way museums and galleries have operated historically,” explains Legg. “But I think with moving images becoming more prevalent within galleries that’s starting to be challenged and fade away. I think curators are increasingly becoming aware of the uses of sound, and artists too.”

Not content with soundtracks, many creative arts shows are now developing audiovisual idents. A recent example can be found at Life in 2050 at Proud Central in London.

Most of the work in the future-focussed exhibition, which runs in support of the 9th Sci-Fi London Film Festival, is comprised of relatively quiet illustration, photography and design. So the ident, projected from the mouth of a sculptural robot onto the white wall, sets the atmospheric tone.

Visually, it is a code-generated animation, which appears to map the evolution and dissolution of an entire world. It is abstract, cerebral and, like the Terada piece, hypnotic. Meanwhile the ambient techno backing provides an unofficial soundtrack to your visit and indeed the entire film festival.

Creative Director Andrew Jones and his agency Future Deluxe set out to find music that could bear repeated listening. “Some of the first pieces we looked at were quite electronic and quite structured, with too much emphasis on the beat, but when we heard Quadrant 3 [by Harmonic 313], it matched the animations because you could keep listening to it again and again,” he explains.

Jones says that in the world of digital arts, it is now standard practice to develop an ident: “In terms of promotion and the online element it works very well, getting people talking about it, building up a bit of hype before the exhibition starts.”

Yet he admits there is a historical precedence for silence before the work of art. “There’s definitely some things that are carried forward from the past with art galleries. There is I think an element of ‘That’s how we do things in an art gallery, because that’s how we’ve always done it.’”

“I don’t know why,” he adds. “I don’t agree with it.” And as he demonstrates, shows with added music leave a powerful impression. Anyone might come round to Jones’ way of thinking.

Written for Art & Music.


Preview: Back Buffer – New Arena Paintings

Scene rendered with ioq3aPaint. Picture: julianoliver.com

Exhibition: Back Buffer: New Arena Paintings, The Hannah Maclure Centre,  Dundee, February 13 – April 30 2010

It is hard to imagine Jackson Pollock on a computer. But artist and inventor Julian Oliver has developed what you might call virtual action painting.

Instead of attacking a canvas, Oliver uses software which gamers have long been using to attack aliens.

ioquake3 is a gaming engine used worldwide in first person shooter titles. It is free to use and open source, in other words open to modification.

So Oliver has developed ioq3aPaint. His players are armed with brushes rather than guns. Their aim is to establish painterly supremacy in a mathematical universe.

A 3D environment evolves in response to your control pad. Every twitch and lunge is rendered as a graphic splurge. Visitors to the show at The Hannah Maclure Centre will be able to play the game in a temporary arcade.

36 million paintings will be generated in the course of the exhibition, 250 of which will be made available as prints.

The abstract expressionists tried many ways of introducing chance and spontaneity into their work, but they never tried this.

Clearly none of them had Oliver’s techie skills. His teaching subjects include object-oriented programming, virtual architecture, UNIX/Linux, interface design, augmented reality and open source development practices.

Written for Culture24.