Do We Still Fear The Machine?

in conversation with Jack West


Like any deity worth its salt, we still fear The Machine. They say it will take our jobs – you can’t trust it. They say it can set us free, give us hope – do the work for us and release us to abound into a future of endless leisure. It’s a hand offering food, don’t bite it, it might be all you’ve got.In the virtual world there is no grease, just perfect movement. Without friction there is no wear, no need to maintain. These machines can toil away endlessly leaving us sat on the sidelines with nothing to do but question the actions played out in front of us. And they carry on, pushing, pulling, hitting, sorting, sweeping. Each action must have a reason – surely? Or there again maybe it’s just ritual, an attempt at appeasement, a prayer for a release from the Boschian nightmare in which they find themselves. Turn the crank for 8 hours a day and you’ll be rewarded with a fine gold nugget.The virtual world spills out into the real. Parts come together in an attempt to create function; they repeat, stutter then fall away leaving a purpose that is entirely totemic. Born from a process of heavy industry, cut by lasers from metal sheets only to end up in a life of static redundancy. Poised for action but still somehow limp.

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How did you first get interested in art and begin making works?

I have always loved making so I guess becoming an artist was an extension of that. I followed the pretty standard art route of Foundation, BA, MA – all in London, and unsurprisingly throughout that process, my practice has changed a lot. I left my BA at Chelsea College of Art as a painter, making these huge semi-abstract paintings of runways. It was between then and applying to my MA at the Slade that I realised I had more interest in making physical objects, hence why I applied to the sculpture course and - lucky for me – was accepted.

What attracted you to create your sculpture and video specifically?

I have always been interested in the mechanics of things and the way objects work. From there I began playing with sculpture in an attempt to make kinetic objects but I always found the result of these objects to be pretty underwhelming. I had used CGI video software to explore ways of making these initial models and it soon turned out that the moving sculptures were more interested in the virtual world than in real. From there I began to develop the video work and sculptural work in their own rights rather than having to have a direct link between the two.

Your artwork questions the way we relate machine, automation and technology, can you talk about this choice and how you approach these themes in your works?

Yeah, machines, automation and technology are all subjects I’m very interested in – particularly the role of ‘work’ as this massive over-hanging sword in our culture. I think as my practice has progressed, the links have become less explicit, but I hope these ideas always sit in the background. Machines are built to perform a task a specific task and therefore develop this almost ritualistic embodiment. But once they’re gone beyond their initial use, their value is totally drained. There is, of course, a neat mirror to the way we look at the purpose of these machine objects and the purpose we find in our own lives – it’s a concern that I don’t think will ever get old.

What is your reflection on artificial intelligence? What is informing your work right now?

Artificial intelligence is fascinating mainly in the way that it reflects so many of our ambitions and fears as a society. It often seems that we have the potential to do so much with our technology but the limitations that are placed over developing it tend to be ancient, in-built concerns about exploring new territory. There is, however, an inevitability to its progression and I think the most interesting potential for AI is the way in which it could entirely restructure the society, hence why for some this brings hope and others fear. Again it comes down to purpose – if AI can take your job then what, in a society that idolises hard work, are you left with? This has always informed my work but moreover, it introduces ideas around gaming and competition come in, it’s as if we’re both waiting for the inevitable and running away from it and I think this has distilled into a lot of recent work.

Could you tell me more about your last exhibition ‘Last Man Standing' at Castor Projects, ?

The show was a little bit of a departure from the usual work I make and came about in a more meandering process, but I always find it good to shift a practice into a less comfortable place. I wanted to create a show that was a bit more playful – literally in this case as it centres around a board game that visitors can play, but also in the general feel of the work. Making big metal machine-like objects can get a little heavy (in all regards) so it was great to make objects with a little less gravity.

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Why do you think art is important and what is it for you?

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I think art, at least in terms of being someone who is exploring ideas in the confines of the ‘art world’ at it best allows you to explore things in a totally unregulated way. Again in our culture, the idea of ‘creativeness’ has been somewhat co-opted as a lifestyle choice and as a result of its almost become meaningless, but I think when you’re fully engaged in practice, be it your own or someone else’s that’s when you really do see new ways of thinking. As long as my own practice allows me to ask new questions and explore ideas it’ll always have some inherent value, even if that’s only for myself.

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