FOAM Amsterdam - August '19
’A strange odour prevailed as I inhaled the acrid smoke from the pipe and fought to keep it down. Eyes closed, bronchi tingling, a low humming commenced as I rested with my head on my knees, and my heartbeat melted away. A wipe transition momentarily transcended upon the scene, simultaneously flipping it upside down as I looked up. Darkness promptly followed, then exquisite light. Turning to the side I glimpsed a face dissolve into geometry, the voice crystal clear, razor sharp. This was ultra-high definition, a new mathematical perspective, the digital realm.’ - Dominic Hawgood (Casting Out The Self)
I had the opportunity to visit FOAM in Amsterdam recently, and a series of exhibitions which probe the role of photography in relation to other forms of technology, and also, explicitly in the case of Dominic Hawgood but also in the disquieting subtext of Alex Prager’s work, her arresting scenes of a mental subterranean-suburbia, camera as witness, perception and altered states of consciousness. Hawgood makes connections between rituals involving recreational drug use, associated with spirituality, and ‘the ‘rituals’ of visual computing’ which are shifting the ways in which we see and understand ‘the world’ - or at least, a ‘common reality’.
‘Casting Out The Self’ draws on Hawgood’s experience of DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine), an increasingly popular hallucinogen, and how his response was to feel as if he was trapped inside more of a computer simulation rather than some ethereal plain, with shapes and geometries having the graphical clarities associated with digital rendering. One thing I came away with was the unfortunate feeling that my appreciation of the work really benefited from having researched the subject and the artists’ practice afterwards, and this is something I am (and intend to remain) actively cautious of as I make work that could potentially be overloaded with material - finding the right balance to affect a powerful communication. I want to avoid the type of installation which is seductive on the surface but feels sterile as an experience until it is revisited through Google. This is of course only my personal response - importantly moreover to the installation of the project, which afforded perhaps too much space to each component, spread across several rooms and corridors I felt maybe diluted the power of that potential to convey the relationships between reaching for the sacred and the aesthetic of the digital, in the ‘ceremonial atmosphere’ FOAM describes Hawgood as having presented.
Similarly, the curation of Kevin Bray’s work ‘Morpher' I felt did not enable the more compelling and impressive elements of the project to communicate effectively; light beaming through the windows glazed the projection above the mantel, which drained the vibrancy from the dense and visceral, twisting and winding ‘plastic’ topographies populated by little igniting flame icons against scans of smudgy romantic landscape backdrops, graphic motifs and rocky archaeological crumblings that break apart and reassemble, holding the construction of the work under an artificial lamp.
The animation work itself I found really absorbing and it did make me question our gravitations towards expected forms of narrative and succession in acts of metamorphosis and transformation. An ‘is-that-intentional?’ awkwardness dominated the positioning of large MDF slotted sculptures which resembled some of the components within the animation work, but with figurative aspects (minimal contour traces of faces and hands), lined up around the mantel almost like spectators to the wild and apocalyptic process of their own making. These were broken up by a trailing sheet of red fabric which wound it’s way across the space... Again, the installation seemed to hinder the potential of the work and I didn’t feel as if those decisions strongly reflected the pivot point of the work, which seems to be the tensions that we encounter between our excitement over new technologies (and perhaps the pull of simulation) and our physical/deliberate applications of them, perhaps our forensic compulsion towards understanding how something works in relation to the implication of it’s disassembly and reconfiguration; the glossy digital fabric of objects, tools, codes, symbols in Morpher seem both intentionally renewing and regurgitating in a very focused loop, and saturated, melting alien forms masked by or breaking through ‘screens’ and surfaces are sometimes surprising and bold, but also firmly entrenched in an aesthetic of digital deconstruction that is perhaps becoming familiar.