On 15th January 2015 I was pleased to attend a contemporary art lecture from the series ‘GHOSTS: Technologies/Subjectivities’ at Camberwell College of Art (UAL: University of the Arts, London). This session featured a series of presentations about aesthetic responses by black British artists to an increasingly ‘techno-cultural’ and globalised art world (esp. over the past two decades) – with an introductory presentation from the event’s co-facilitator Professor Paul Goodwin (Chair of Black Art and Design, UAL)*; and additional practitioner commentaries by multimedia artist Gary Stewart (former Head of New Media at the Institute of International Visual Arts (InIVA), 1995-2011) and artist-curator and academic Dr Keith Piper (http://www.keithpiper.info/).
In Paul Goodwin’s opening address, a number of ‘problematics’ relating to issues of migration, diaspora, ‘race’, gender, sexualities and postcolonial identities were posited, framed around the following key questions:
- What can art tell us about the transformation of gendered, class and racialised subjectivities in our techno-cultural and information rich societies?
- What does a critical art practice look like today?
- What are the excesses that hover as a “ghostly spectre” around forms of representation and its technologies?
- What does it mean to think, feel and filter affect though the digital?
In response, Gary Stewart talked about the significance and early influence of the digital platform “X-Space” – that he helped to develop in 1996 via InIVA as a virtual environment for generating and sharing experimental multimedia artwork, under the stewardship of the Institute’s former director Gilane Tawadros. He later commented on how that early digital exhibition space became the foundation of later important group projects, such as the conference and publication Liminal: A Question of Position (InIVA, 2009), and the tele-media project by Che-Guevara John and Philippe Chollet, ‘Frictions of Distance’ (2009).
Keith Piper followed by sharing information about the genesis of two of his most challenging projects to address questions relating to the techno-cultural over the past 15 years: specifically, his multimedia installation piece ‘Robot Bodies’ (originally created in the late-1990s, and first displayed as ‘Robot Bodies: The Mechanoid’s Bloodline’ in 2001) – which featured a montage of text, film clips and audio-narration about fictional, cinematic sci-fi cyborgs and androids serving as metaphors of the black body as ‘Other’; and a more recent work (described as still in progress) titled ‘Code/’ (January, 2015). In this latter piece, Piper references the work of Jamaican-British technologist John Henry Thompson (inventor of the computer coding language ‘Lingo’/Macromedia in the 1990s) as a way of exploring ideas around the dynamism of human communications, hybrid (“patois”) language formations and ‘signifying (or “signifyin”) practices’.
In addition to fascinating insights into the life and work of John Henry Thompson, a number of other key figures involved in the field of digital media arts were mentioned during the Q&A as influential mentors and associates – including Derek Richards (co-founder and creative director of ARTEC: Arts Technology Centre in London during the early 1990s) and the photographer and multimedia artist Roshini Kempadoo (http://www.roshinikempadoo.co.uk/).
As a result of attending this very thought-provoking lecture I intend to carry out further research in this field – commencing with a review of the following recommended texts, past artworks and archived exhibition projects:
BISHOP, Claire (2012) ‘The Digital Divide: Contemporary Art and New Media’. Artforum, pp. 434-441.
CUBITT, Sean (2009) ‘Art, Technology and Policy in the Twenty-First Century’. Third Text, Vol. 23 (5), pp. 571-578 – http://thirdtext.org/
PIPER, Keith (1999) Relocating the Remains (InIVA Exhibition Project) – http://www.iniva.org/piper/RR.html
PIPER, Keith (2001) ‘Notes on the Mechanoid’s Bloodline: Looking at Robots, Androids and Cyborgs.’ Art Journal, vol. 60, no. 3 (Fall 2001), pp. 96-8.
* GHOSTS: Technologies/Subjectivities was co-organised by artist and academic Sonia Boyce (Professor of Fine Arts, UAL)
For further details about the lecture series – and the associated UAL exhibitions by Alia Syed (‘Panopticon Letters: Missive 1, 2013’) and Chila Kumari Burman (‘Self-Portraits – This Is Not Me’, 2014) that have accompanied these digital art conversations over the past year, please see additional information (& archived content) via the UAL (University of the Arts, London) website: