Here is an example of immersive or experiential city art. I love the idea of bringing the piece into the real world; reaching many more people than from within the confines of a gallery.
In the video installation Night Watch, a watching eye gazes down at passers-by. The piece is a dialogue on the concepts of safety, conspiracy, and the mechanics of control. Night Watch premiered at the Art under the Bridge Festival in 2006 in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The Manhattan Bridge is considered a main terrorist target, and consequently is packed with hidden surveillance cameras and other security. The idea was to make a very visible watching eye. Night Watch was shown again in Shanghai as part of Intrude Art & Life organized by the Zendai MoMA in 2008.
Initially Night Watch was proposed for the watchtower of an old fire station overlooking downtown Manhattan. The manager refused as he found the piece too political. A similar reaction occurred in Shanghai. A few days before I arrived, the department store that had agreed to have Night Watch projected onto its façade suddenly refused without explanation. Biljana Ciric, the curator of Intrude Art & Life, and I agreed to do the project without permission, an idea I found exciting and appropriate to the piece. Driving around Shanghai location-scouting was amazing: blinking corporate logos and lit monuments are backdrops for millions of people on the move. Shanghai Museum on People’s Square immediately caught my interest. I wanted to project Night Watch onto this landmark building as an eye/icon over the central entrance.
A van was prepared with a generator, projector, trolley, and seven helpers. After testing the projection in a dark underpass, we headed for People’s Square, where we projected the eye under a multistory highway with people racing by in cars and on pedestrian bridges. Some slowed down and stopped, marveling at the eye. Suddenly the floodlights on the Shanghai Museum were turned off, and I exclaimed, “Let’s go for it!” We managed to project Night Watch for two hours before uniformed guards turned us away. The projection at Shanghai Museum has been published internationally but not in China, where the Intrude project ran into problems with authorities.
The next night we headed for Pudong, a science-fiction looking skyscraper area, where I had spotted a park with a pavilion. When we arrived, the park was crowded with police on motorbikes with blinking red lights, and my heart sunk. One of my helpers, whose father was in the police, went to investigate and came back with an unlikely message: it’s OK. A new Narcissus aspect of the piece occurred as the projection was mirrored in the lake while the surrounding skyscrapers were looking down at the watching eye.
Inserting an installation in an external space is different from doing it in the white cube of a museum. Much is at stake in the urban spaces of the city, where political, cultural, and commercial forces manifest themselves. The context of the public space of the city, its speed, and noise level, the intensity and level of awareness and presence among its citizens is a great challenge. I have chosen to address the public in the public space itself by infiltrating its iconography, propaganda, and control mechanisms, and by introducing a multilayered, contemplative dimension.
My work is fundamentally based on drawing, but this is reinvented through large-scale site-responsive installations, interventions, drawings, and animations. All my work intends to sketch morphing and imaginary environments. For me, the ability to transform is key, and installation allows spaces to become immersive, fragile environments into which the audience can enter. I want the work to be playful and beautiful but undercut by a tension and darker uncertainty.
I’ve made a conscious choice to base a contemporary practice in a rural location (Cambridgeshire, England), and have allowed the rural to impact through the work. Influenced by the overgrown uncultivated boundaries of the low, wide-skied landscape of East Anglia, nature is consistently themed throughout the work.
In my installations I use lines of thread, paper shards, and cuts, delicate connecting points of tape, materials that are more akin to collage and drawing than sculpture. It’s with these that I weave and spin impossible spaces. Colliding abstract and representational elements combine to create new and, at times, fantastical environments. There is resourcefulness in the choice of materials, and a handcrafted low-tech aesthetic keeping it close to drawing and allowing a simple honesty to come through. I want there to be a connection to the process of making, although there is transformation I’m not interested in illusion.
Duration is important within all my work, both conceptually and thematically, whether this is through the ephemerality of building temporary paper installations, or drawing directly onto the wall, or the aim to hold onto, freeze frame, or slow down time. Recent animations create an otherworldly fantastical location that transport the audience from the everyday into an unfamiliar time to reveal an unseen, secret space creating chance encounters—but only for a fleeting moment. I’ve consistently, rejected creating lasting work, avoiding the art artifact, and viewing the work more as an experience.
Repetition of mark, shape, or form plays out throughout my work. This repetition builds a flow or rhythm, deliberately constructing this augmentation to enable a charged intensity but also underlining an interest in process. A visible labor emerges, rendered futile by the application of the work directly into temporary locations.
Although recently my focus has been on drawing and animation, I’m constantly drawn back to installation as a medium. Recent animations have been created through a series of changing charcoal wall drawings. These drawings are painfully recorded mark by mark, deleted, reworked, playing out a narrative of nature and science colliding—a narrative that create imaginary “secret machines,” transmitting, trying to communicate. Each frame is deleted to allow the next, the resulting animation becoming the only documentation of the process.