Listening to Xanax was a solo show held at Gossamer Fog gallery in 2018.
Listening to Xanax meditates on the idea of anxiety as both a psychological state and a general social condition, with works in the show concerned with the spectrum of our symbiosis with machines. This is approached from a position of paranoid, helpless awareness; a knowingness that our lives have become so entangled with technology in a way that we are not yet psychologically equipped to deal with. Technology, as means of communication, is a prosthetic extension necessitated by modern life that would leave a (phantom) void if removed. This very reliance leaves us susceptible, and therefore anxious. This anxiety has been co-opted by the technocracy, acknowledged as symptomatic of a human interface with the digital, and normalised. It is normal for celebrities now to speak of their problems with anxiety. Katy Perry has anxiety.
Advertising, and more broadly hyper-capitalism, has played a large part in carving out a society where we are told we are important as individuals but also placing huge emphasis on status, appearance and success. Social media and communications technology allows the population to perpetuate these values through their own networks, thus enforcing ideals that have been created to sell products as a socially acceptable position. The popular phrase of FOMO has fear and anxiety at its core, but even this phrase was co-created by venture capitalist Patrick J. McGinnis and marketing strategist Dan Herman. As people are bombarded with the self-publicity of friends, co-workers and those who they’ve never met, they are unwittingly fuelling mechanisms that do not care about people. Social media platforms are designed to encourage near-constant interaction, conditioning your brain to anticipate the next notification, the next little reward.
In the eponymously titled Listening to Xanax, two robots manoeuvre around the boundaries of their allocated space, unsure of their direction and always under threat of potential failure. The robotic movements of back and forth is used as a cybernetic link in to the inhaling and exhaling of human breathing. Whirring motors of the robots bleed into this sampled audio of a common countermeasure for reducing anxiety, creating an amalgamated soundscape mixed into other calming sounds of nature. This dichotomy of the natural and the robotic is symbolic of the synergy needed to get two autonomous entities working in harmony. As the robots try to control their own environment, they can also be seen as being controlled by their environment; both symptoms of an anxious condition.
This relationship manifests in several other print works that present unnatural, holographic surfaces covered with handmade marks. This covering, masking and reworking that suggests a terminal dissatisfaction with the present, symptomatic of conditions that necessitate continual change. Again, this process is driven by anxiety, as a way of undermining the otherwise perfect, shiny surfaces of the works. We are now conditioned to expect hyper-stimulation as the normative state isn't sufficient, the current must always be a natural state of flux. How important is the natural in this new age? A recent survey suggests that 53% of Millenials would rather lose their ability to smell than their smartphones and computers. After all, what use is a sense of smell in the technosphere? Adolescents who are more invested in smartphones and social media have been found to suffer from higher rates of anxiety and depression, lower self esteem and a lower quality of sleep. The techno-anxiety is impossible to turn off.
Breathe. (In through the nose, out through the mouth).
2 channel video installation (Each channel 1080p), extruded aluminum construction system, strobe light, stereo audio
(slow down) The Blame Game, (2017), is made from 3D rendered animation, ripped YouTube clips, real video camera footage and sampled audio.
The work centers around a recording I made a few years ago of a vinyl cutter working in my studio. Within the clip, Kanye West's 'The Blame Game' plays in the background. Taking this as a cue, the song becomes the soundtrack for the video. 'The Blame Game' fades in and out alongside the mechanical realtime footage of the vinyl cutter working, rips from Norwegian 'slow tv', and manic strobe filtered dancing. The opening bars of Aphex Twin's 'Avril 14th' concludes the work; the original in place of Kanye's sample.
The video attempts to capture the energy of isolation and feverish anxiety that can result from being hyperconnected - a human node seeking a sense of calm within a complex network of ubiquitous technologies.
The Loop, (2017), is made from a combination of 3D rendered animation and found online footage. It centres around a computer generated replica of a table that I have in my studio. The work imagines the world from the perspective of someone trapped in the table - that person communicates with the natural world through a screen in the tabletop.
The video was made for ColLive, a performance night organised by composer Catherine Cheung, with the Silk Street Sinfonia.
Catherine scored a soundtrack to the video, which was performed live on the night by the orchestra. The musicians were re-imagined as physical, human conduits between the video and the live audience; by playing Catherine’s music they gave another voice to the video.
UV print on holographic paper
138 x 80 x 4cm
Could Ecopsychology cure my Cyberchondria was an online residency spanning the Space In Between website and Instagram feed in August 2016.
The residency took as a starting point a TED talk given by Koert Van Mensvoor entitled Pyramid of Technology: How Technology becomes Nature, which presents “a model called the ‘pyramid of technology’”, arguing for a sociological reinterpretation of technology that allows it to become a “celebrated materialism in the world of our human thinking and imagination”.
Fragments of transcribed text, reworked and re-edited as part of the ongoing Net Autoquotes series, appeared on the SIB Instagram feed, linking to a video playing on the homepage of the main SIB website.
Within Could Ecopsychology cure my Cyberchondria, 2016, the protagonist – Van Mensvoor – is reimagined as the conductor of an orchestra, elevating his position as speaker to a quasi-religious level as his voice is translated into Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) signals controlling electronic digital instruments.
The residency culminated in a live streamed robotic re-reading of the transcribed talk, as Could Ecopsycholgy cure my Cyberchondria (Technology becomes Nature Edit) played through spaceinbetween.co.uk for 6 hours on Friday 26th August 2016.
How the mind comes to be furnished was a collaborative project between James Irwin and Lilah Fowler shown at Space In Between, London in February 2016.
All works conceived by James Irwin and Lilah Fowler, except I am Ten Thousand Cathedrals Rolled into One, Lilah Fowler
The Degrade Regrade Series is a set of HD animations made by algorithmically modifying web-based adverts.
The Transitions series is a set of HD animations made from hyperlinked web-based imagery.
Silicon Progression (ii) is a series of still and moving image works made from algorithmically edited stock images of raw silicon.
All works within the series are composed from still images generated by progressively rearranging 1 source image. Each still is a different arrangement of the same set of pixels.
Silicon Binary Progression (ii), 2014, is also part of the Binary Progression Series - a set of moving image works that count - using images as symbols for binary digits - from 0 to 255.
RGB InstaWorks are a series of moving image works exploring RGB colour space through the veneer of overlaid Instagram filters.
Digital photo frames, jpeg images
1080p digital animation, stereo audio, plaster board, spray paint, speakers, Mac mini
011011 is a floor based installation and video work exploring binary counting systems through the ultra magnification of smart phone video clips and spray painted gestures. A link to the video is provided below. The 256 second animation counts from 1 through to a full byte of information. The sound is also sampled from smart phone movie clips.
1080p digital animation, stereo audio, mirrors, glass Klein bottle, speakers, Mac mini
Klein Divide is a digitally rendered journey through a Klein bottle: a topological form that has no distinct inside or outside and can only be properly represented theoretically. Within the work, the Klein bottle is used as a motif for exploring digital reality. What defines the divide between the physical and digital worlds, and how can this separation be bridged?
Instagram Veneers is an ongoing series of UV prints on hardwood veneers.
The surface of each work is overlayed with a digitally printed Instagram filter, producing layered images that merge digital and physical processes of re-presentation.
Binary Translations (Space In Between, 2013) began as a series of computer generated prints designed to decode the digital colour spectrum. An Internet image search for "16777216" - the total number of unique RGB colours possible - led to the discovery that artist France Languérand, had already achieved a startlingly similar outcome. Given that each of these images is determined by algorithms designed to represent the entire colour spectrum, the chance of two being identical was 1 in 16,777,216. Irwin contacted Languérand and invited her to contribute her work to the show.
Whilst the artists' reasons for the same investigation were different – made in different places, and separated by several years – they represent the possibility for a digitally connected state, offering a metaphor for ideas shared within an intangible and digital 'space'. Both Cone of memory and Möbius Response were made by Irwin after the discovery of Languérand's work. Responding to the overlap between the two artists' practices from the perspective of an imagined, overarching digital connectivity, both works represent an absence, or collapsing, of time and space. The works and the topological forms they contain sum up this collapse; the things that appear to separate us no longer apply, and the past and the present meet in a kind of digitally rendered priori state.
Möbius Response, a computer generated rotating band, acts as a symbol or motif that ties the two artists' work together, objectifying the similarity of an outcome that is irrespective of the motivation. Illustrating a kind of resolute objectivity it exists only in digital space, prompting an ethereal quality that is hard to grasp.
In Cone of memory a projection scans through a Photoshop colour picker-palette of the RGB colour spectrum, projecting each pixel as a plane of solid colour. Overlaid on to the cone is a quote from French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson's Matter and Memory:
MEMORY, LADEN WITH THE WHOLE OF THE PAST, RESPONDS TO THE APPEAL OF THE PRESENT STATE BY TWO SIMULTANEOUS MOVEMENTS, ONE OF TRANSLATION, BY WHICH IT MOVES IN ITS ENTIRETY TO MEET EXPERIENCE ... AND THE OTHER OF ROTATION UPON ITSELF, BY WHICH IT TURNS TOWARDS THE SITUATION OF THE MOMENT, PRESENTING TO IT THAT SIDE OF ITSELF WHICH MAY PROVE MOST USEFUL.
The inclusion of Bergson's quote is loaded in its relation to the digital focus of Binary Translations; bringing the past and present together in the same moment, and ignoring the sequential nature of time.
The same RGB colour values of the projection have been translated into sounds with frequencies chosen to resonate with the rest of the works in the show. This backdrop of 'noise' acts as a tool for connecting the works within the show and drawing the audience in to the sense of the inevitable; in to the possibility of an abstracted digital togetherness.
Binary Translations was reviewed by Time Out. Read the review here
1080p Digital Animation
The RGB Spectrum is an ongoing series of images generated to explore digital colour space. The images are the output of a custom-built computer program designed to test the 16,777,216 unique colours of the RGB spectrum.
Digital projection from custom built software, stereo audio, styrene, tracing paper, mirror
All work made in 2012
Acrylic, anodised aluminium
Radar Absorbent Material, anodised aluminium
70 x 70 x 70cm
Wi-Fi blocking paint, CNC cut MDF
200 x 100 x 33.3cm
Glass, mirror ball motor, wire, hook
Dimensions variable (diameter of glass sphere 13.5cm)
Fluorescent lights, anodised aluminium, MDF, acrylic, Arduino, electronics
Screen: 315 x 220 x 60cm. Plinth: 40 x 102 x 40cm
Sixteen fluorescent lights, mounted on the wall and arranged as a sixteen-segment digital display, replace the gallery lighting. Viewers are invited to interact with the sculpture through a plinth-mounted interface and, by using a sliding mechanism, can instantly reconfigure the lighting in order to create characters from the English alphabet.
Neon tubing, radio control system, acrylic, MDF
Dimensions variable. (Neon: 90 x 20cm. Plinth: 40 x 102 x 40cm)
A single white neon is mounted on the wall reading ON/OFF. Viewers may engage with this work via a button, reading ON/OFF, fitted into the top of a plinth. With each button press each word turns off (and it's opposite on), or each word on (and it's opposite off).
Keyboards, lambda prints, acrylic, MDF
202.4 x 102 x 78.9cm
Three office keyboards lie side by side in a museum display cabinet. We can't touch them - they are stand-alone art objects. The keys of each of the three keyboards are all printed with the letters A, B, and C respectively. As devices through which we can record our thoughts and communicate meaning, they are defunct. Above each keyboard lies a print - each one printed with a different symbol. The 'symbol' represents the 'letter' printed on the accompanying keyboard within the International Code of Signals. Ships use these signals at sea to communicate to one another. In the context of a contemporary art gallery they perhaps more readily reference colour field painting? Presented as art, tools and languages which enable two-way communication become static objects that surrender to our interpretations.