Interview: Simòn Granell and Eric Butcher
By Zara Worth
In the lead up to their exhibition, artists and curators Simòn Granell and Eric Butcher took time out to briefly speak to our Editor Zara Worth, about some of the ideas behind the show.
Zara Worth In contemporary society mechanisation (and technology generally) is a fundamental aspect of daily life. Why now in particular have you chosen to put together an exhibition, which throws mechanisation into the lime light?
Simòn Granell While these issues are commonplace, there still remains an anxiety. I believe they persist not out of a sense of unresolvedness, but are enduring and insistent both culturally and in contemporary Fine Art and therefore subject to reinterpretation. In short, it is an interest in how these artists respond to a sense of ‘being in the world’ and the responsibility that comes with that.
As author and international advisor on education Ken Robinson suggests, we spend too much time in our heads at the expense of our bodies. By contrast we talk about those moments during the creative process where things ‘come together’, where we lose a sense of time and the work ‘just happens’. But what happens? The mind and the body come together, the attention shifts from the head towards the centre of the body. In Eastern culture this is variously known in yogic and martial arts circles as the hara or one point. Rathe than regarding this ‘happening’ as an elusive and rare occurrence that comes to us, we have the ability to develop it. My interest in this project is the different ways in which these artists explore this aspect of mechanisation through a range of dialogues about a bodily response.
Eric Butcher During my lifetime (I’m 43) there has been a very clear and obvious shift from a predominantly mechanical, analogue experience of machines to a digital one. The kind of technology my children interact with has changed fundamentally to that with which I was brought up. As this process accelerates beyond the ability of many people to keep up, this seems a good time to look back as well as forward and consider the notion of mechanisation in its widest sense, putting into context the plethora of forward-looking digital practices that abound.
You’ll notice that, while not shying away from new media, the show isn’t particularly driven by technology. There have been plenty of other shows showcasing practices that exploit the cutting edge of technology. We wanted, rather, to look at an expanded concept of mechanisation, rather than machines or technology per se, partly as a way of contextualising the latter, but also because it offers a useful way into exploring an aspect of so much contemporary fine art practice.
ZW I understand that some of the artist's featured in the exhibition make work in a manner which mimics mechanised process (an amusing idea when of course these machines initially were developed to mimic human actions). Do you think mechanisation has altered the way that artists view their own processes and production?
SG Yes absolutely. It has broadened their points of reference as its influence can be felt within all modes of art production.
EB I’m glad we amuse as well as inform, I’ll have to remember that one for our next Arts Council bid! Early systems of mechanisation were modeled on human action and agency, emulating the ways in which human beings act and more recently, think. But it soon became apparent that better systems could be designed, systems which acknowledge and exploit the inherent characteristics of machine production, rather than bending the machine to mimic Man’s behaviour. The relationship is now more dialogic, with our behavioural processes and methodologies owing as much to machine production as the machine owes to its human designers. So yes, I do think mechanisation has enormously altered the processes and production methods of some, but not all creative practices. It would be surprising if it didn’t.
ZW What aspects of both human and mechanised production do you believe to be most valuable in the art making process?
SG That is a very broad and context-specific question and therefore difficult to answer. Value is determined on a case-by-case basis. I would hope that in both instances that as evidence of an ‘art making process’ they should elicit an active rather than passive engagement with an audience.
ZW By large many of the works are impacted by mechanisation during the making process in the studio or elsewhere away from the gallery. To what extent do you believe mechanisation has impacted upon the ways in which we view an artwork?
SG Again, this is a huge question. It has affected developments from paints and pigments, printing technologies to mobile devices, reproduction, authorship and originality. It is everywhere and no longer a matter of ‘other’ as we are very often driving it ourselves. So we can either remain passive or critically engage with it. Again, within the context of the project, it is a matter of how an audience might negotiate these issues.
EB We could discuss that question much more profoundly, but there’s no need. Look at the most trivial of examples; how do we consume works of art? How do we encounter them? Predominantly in books and on the internet. I wonder what proportion of art works that you are familiar with you have actually seen? The mediated, reproduced image massively expands our ability to experience art, enabling us to ‘experience’ work that is historically and geographically remote. But it is, of course, not without its drawbacks. Because you are not actually ‘experiencing’ the work of art at all, but a mediated version of it. All it gives you is an idea of certain aspects of what something looks like, which is an utterly different thing to actually experiencing something.
ZW Here the machine is maker and at times artwork, can it ever be author?
SG I think all the work on display qualifies as artwork. Perhaps it is more a matter of the machine (noun or verb) as artwork and at times maker. These are interchangeable, depending on whether you apply the term to the artist or the work itself. Sometimes they collide sometimes not. For example in Natasha work, she is author and maker, but also the role of author and maker could be said to shift both to the work itself and to the viewer. This would also open up a discussion about intent and consciousness. Hopefully the work opens up these possibilities.
EB I guess it largely depends on what you mean by ‘author’. Can it make new, interesting and novel work? Of course. Can it take creative decisions? Yes. Can it take creative decisions which haven’t been set in train by a progenitor (the artist/designer), i.e. without reference to a set of programmed parameters? Well, I’m no expert in AI [Artificial Intelligence], and not withstanding the ability of machines to learn from experience, I don’t see how.