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James Bridle @Spike Island by Trevor H Smith
On Wednesday we went to see James Bridle talking about his latest work, here’s what Trev thought:
This week I told friends that I was going to see James Bridle, of New Aesthetic fame, give a talk at Spike Island…
‘What’s it about?’ they (all) asked. I explained that I expected James to describe his previous work but that it would mainly be about his current projects. ‘Projects?’ one friend enquired, ‘Like science stuff?’
‘No,’ I replied, ‘not science stuff.’ before failing (repeatedly) to describe what it is that James Bridle does. The truth is that some of what he does is like science stuff, and some of it is like art stuff, and then there’s the journalistic stuff and the philosophical stuff. His latest work – about the manufacture and use of drones – even includes political stuff.
What James does is describe the present in a way that only addresses the present. His approach is unapologetically non-nostalgic while simultaneously describing some of the most dreadful things that are occurring in the world today without ever getting into doom-laden predictions for our future.
He begins by showing us a couple of images: one a satellite shot of a geometrically designed field irrigation system on the border between South Africa and Namibia; the other a new, anonymous building in central London, whose external tiling appears as a pixelated version of the grey skies against which it is set. He explains that in a post-digital world one can only see pixels here and that having seen them makes them now impossible to un-see. Bridle is demonstrating that our increasingly digital experience is spilling over into the physical world. I felt that this description – of being unable to differentiate – was slightly inaccurate; I know that my mind is quite capable of separating a pixelated skyline from a section of grey tiling on a building. After a century of Hollywood and thirty years of MTV, we have all seen ourselves in real time as the lead in a movie, or as the rock/pop/hip-hop star on a video shoot, or even – as one of my video-game playing friends pointed out on the walk home – after a 48-hour Assassin’s Creed session, one cannot help but see oneself scaling a drainpipe and leaping from rooftop to rooftop, and doing whatever else one does in that world, but we don’t believe it.
I digress. Having illustrated his point perfectly well, our speaker moves on to tell us about another of his projects, the end result (end being a complicated term here) of which is a hard copy of the Wikipedia entry relating to the second Iraq War. Whether we like it or not, the internet stores things, and Wikipedia does this visibly, so James’s publication contains all of the versions of history that were written about a single event (on Wikipedia), including all edits and re-edits, un-cited statements and altered statistics.
That history is constantly re-appraised is neither new nor surprising to anyone who studied the subject to GCSE level, but that we can now document those changes through social media is a fascinating development. The once hierarchical organisation of historical events is being undermined by citizen journalism and social media, a good thing surely, but this has also meant that we have turned our hand-held documentation devices on ourselves, as his Balloon Mapping Project demonstrates, we have built the Panopticon, and it is us.
To anyone interested in the present, rather than retro, the current big thing, rather than the last or next big thing, the work James does is always interesting, and his presentational style is engaging and entertaining. Fortunately there is enough of him online to ensure that you can get plenty out of his work without ever leaving your sofa. Take a look around the links below for more information.
Trevor H Smith
Disclaimer: This review reflects my views only a few days after having seen the talk, I cannot guarantee that if you return here in a week, month, or year, that the text may have been altered slightly to reflect my changing moods.
No Pic Per Day 2013
New project by Trevor H Smith
Last year a few of my Facebook friends posted a ‘Pic Per Day’ for the entire year. I wanted to join in with the project, but missed its beginning and felt joining late wouldn’t be true to the project, so I decided to wait until 2013.
Then in May my phone got water-damaged. It survived, but its camera stopped working altogether.
So when 2013 finally did come round, and I was still camera-less, I decided to find an image per day that I would not take a picture of, but instead describe. Quite fitting as my work is largely text-based, and quite a challenge too. So far I have been posting it as a Facebook status update. Here are a couple of examples and today’s Daily No Pic:
No Pic Per Day 2013: New Years Day, debris from the night before strewn about the living room. Beer cans, half-eaten fish sticks, and cubes of cheapest cheddar and red leicester on cocktail sticks.
No Pic Per Day 2013: Jan 2. Sunrise over Alice Park, Bath. Orange light picks out trails of dewy spiderwebs among the flowerbeds.
No Pic Per Day 2013: Jan 7. Leaning against a lamp-post on Combe Park Road, Bath; a push bike painted white, serving as a memorial to a cyclist who lost his life here.
No Pic Per Day 2013: Jan 8. Breakfast for three - 4 soft-boiled eggs, a pile of toasty soldiers, two cups of tea and a bowl of baby porridge.
No Pic Per Day 2013: Jan 9. A potted Christmas tree, on the pavement outside its former home, with a sign that reads ‘Free to a good home’.
I’m not sure whether an overall tone or style will become apparent - I’m sure some of these will be boring and uninteresting to the majority of readers - but at the very least I will be creating a year-long string of short text pieces. Maybe this time next year I’ll find something to do with them.