faigh ar ais as an fharraige was an installation originally developed for exhibition in Rye Creative Centre, Rye, England. It was created between July 2017 and February 2018 and exhibited from March3-17 2018. It featured one visual art installation made up of several parts – a large painting (176x284cm), a transposition of JMW Turner’s watercolour Rye, Sussex (1794-7) forms the backdrop for the work. A touchscreen controller provides an interface for visitors to ‘control’ the installation, linked to a projection that appears over the painting and ‘recreates’ the landscape featured. The topics dealt with in this installation are technology (as a controlling feature), terminology (language as a way of understanding landscape) and place (location as socially identified).
This paper is a documentation of the conceptual development of this artwork, with an emphasis on how the ideas formed in the making of the work, and an exploration of how the work was received and used. As documentation this is not written as a critical response and is not intended to act as criticism of the artwork.
The relationship between technology and human societies is bi-directional – developed technologies influence the behaviour of individuals, and similarly individuals construct technologies in response to the influenced behaviour (Stiegler, 1998). This relationship between technology and society is long-standing. The development of technological tools (such as the hammer) leads to further development (nails or staples) and these developments influence human behaviour.
Contemporary technology that is pervasive and immediate in western (and in many non-western) cultures include internet technologies and mobile telephony. The use of social media, the internet and domain-specific applications has led to social behavioural effects in urban and rural areas. The effects include addiction to mobile phones through implementation of methods like gamification (Salehan and Negahban, 2013) to expanded networks of communication through social networking platforms or messaging services.
The direct engagement with technology is one reason why it is becoming pervasive. Because technology asks users to ‘interact’ to produce results or change things, the relationship between people and objects, like smartphones, become closely intertwined.
The first direct overlap between technology and terminology is the common usage of words. Robert MacFarlane noted that many common natural words (such as ‘moss’ or ‘bluebell’) were being removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and technological words that were perceived to be more commonly used were being added (such as ‘chatroom’ and ‘database’) (Macfarlane, 2015). This type of classification is not new – many old words become disused over time and languages constantly evolve, but what was pronounced about this observation was how the categorisation of nature terms were perceived to be reduced in importance when compared to technological terms.
Language shapes the way that the world is observed. The use of language has an influence over how things are perceived, through categorisation and observation (Rosch and Lloyd, 1978). Thus, it can be reasoned that the systematic reduction of words from a specific field also reduce the general understanding of that field. Language is well documented as being related to the body, as a physical reaction to the world that we live in (Low, 2003, Acker, 1997, Lakoff, 2008, Butler, 2013). Socio-linguist George Lakoff emphasises the danger of relying on our current conceptual structures when developing artificial intelligence, stating that artificial intelligence systems still rely on the experiences and bodily interactions of language (2008).
Place, as a broad concept, can be described as a location with an identity (Lippard, 1997). This identity is prescribed by people always, and can relate to small or large areas. Landscape painting has been described as providing a window to another place; this window was subsequently incorporated into technological tools (computer, smartphone and tablet screens) (Manovich, 2001).
JMW Turner visited Sussex and south-east England in the late 18th Century to work on a series of watercolours. From this, he produced many small works. Rye, Sussex (1794-7) was created among a series of works, and is among a back-catalogue that Turner later revisited and repainted. The starkness of this work, as an early sketch, represents an important point in the early development of the painter. The location, looking upriver in Rye, forms a backdrop both for the original work and for the transposition represented in exhibition in Rye.
Synthesis of Concepts: The Artwork
Rye sits in an area of land that was once surrounded by sea. In the 13th Century storms shifted the landscape in the area, shifting large banks of land and moving the coast away from the town. The nearby (Old) Winchelsea was destroyed in February 1287 by large storms and heavy flooding. The link between the movement of coast and the power of the sea to divide, add and remove from the island landscape is historical and contemporary. Current extremes in global warming predict an increase in beach movement and erosion in Ireland and the UK through increased extreme weather conditions. And behind these extreme weather conditions is a continued technological push for new and more extreme machinery (for example, for mining or weapons).
faigh ar ais as an sharraige itself is stark. The viewer is invited to look at the brightly-lit transposition of a landscape painting from a long time past, and without any physical interaction they can do this. However, a touchscreen controller attached to a pitch black plinth sits near the entrance to the exhibition space, inviting interaction. On the touchscreen appears a list of natural words related to the landscape that come from Sussex and the surrounding area, and that have generally dwindled in use The danger of gimmick in digital art is real; the challenge with the medium digital art is often to ensure concepts are not lost in the playfulness of interactivity. To this end, the conceptual development focussed on how digital art can be used to add a perceptive layer to an artwork (Kwastek, 2013). Unusually for a work in this series the place was only viewed from outside, through research, without physical interaction until the exhibition. This was an intentional choice following on from past site-specific work (Kwon, 2004, Küchler, 2002), to form an image of ‘landscape’ without allowing local social culture to influence the work. In this way, the artist becomes the ‘machine’, the technologically assisted view from outside.
The painting and the projection were designed to combine into a single surface, a commentary on the role of art and the window of a landscape. Developed in line with theory on the use of a gallery space (Krauss, 2011) and community as active actor in an artwork (Kester, 2004), and using a landscape painting with significance for the area, the goal was to emphasise that this, as an artwork, is standing as its own metaphor or language, as an observation as well as a criticism. No language, whether technological, social, linguistic or artistic, appears without some baggage from a historical school of thought, and this is the reason for using painting as part of a visual metaphor in an interactive digital installation.
Interacting with a single word reveals a definition and an image (often unrelated, scraped from Google images as a first hit for each term). This interaction reveals a first level, that technology can give (textual) information. Simultaneously, when a definition is revealed, a projection masks the landscape painting, presenting a new and altered view of the artwork on the wall. Each projection is loosely related to the term defined.
Observation of interactions from people showed a tendency to follow the gamified route – to tap through each different definition one at a time, without spending much time on the information contained on-screen. The immediate response of the ‘monumental’ section of the artwork (the painting, layered under the projection) took precedence over the pedagogical aspect of the work; furthermore, the gamified and learned interactions with the touchscreen took further precedence over the resultant projections.
The artwork was created to combine the influences of technology, terminology and place, as an attempt to emphasise the importance of retaining or understanding landscape, and to emphasise the role that technology plays in landscape. As the ‘promethean’ mode of technology expands in use, technology has become a catch-all for solving issues with resources, often at the expense of landscape (Sassen, 2014, Klein, 2015). The development of invasive strip-mining techniques, the environmental effects of oil and gas production, and the current research into carbon-controlling technologies are purported as ways where technology can ‘save’ an environment. This work instead asks that we consider the Epimethean approach to technology: To avoid the technology, and retain the landscape, or to engage with it at the risk of altering or ruining.
faigh ar ais as an fharraige uses the Irish language (Gaeilge) incorrectly. It is a mistranslation of the phrase 'return back from the sea' taken from Google Translate (May 2017). The title, as the work, uses terminology and technology as part of its overall criticism.
Development, planning, exhibition hosted by Rye Creative Centre, Rye, Sussex.
Supported by Culture Ireland as part of GB18: Promoting Irish Arts in Britain
More information: http://shanefinanart.org/
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