Portraiture – 3 Billy’s

Did anyone else watch Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime on BBC on Saturday night?  I came across it by accident as I don’t tend to look at what’s on the telly – I’ve usually got my head buried in words, or at the moment, knitting squares for picnic blankets ready for Spon Spun Festival 2017.  At hearing the unmistakable voice of Billy Connolly I looked up at the screen and was wondering whether I would continue to watch when my husband told me what it was about – three artists that I admire were in it!  How about that?  John Byrne, Rachel Maclean and Jack Vettriano.  The knitting got thrust out of sight!

I thought it was great that three very different artists had been commissioned to create his portrait and it was interesting to see how each of them interacted with Billy (can I stop using his surname now?).  There was no mistaking the close connection between him and John Byrne and I have to confess to having a lump in my throat throughout much of the programme, but more so during the clips between two old friends.

I thought all three portraits were very well considered and each offer something unique. Vettriano’s reproduction of a film still is a representation of the strength and energy of Billy.  Whereby Maclean’s staged photography is a memento to Billy the stage comedian, cleverly brought together in typical Maclean style.  Of the three though I was most drawn to Byrne’s portrait which is Billy as himself, not performing.  It was interesting when Byrne’s commented “I can see your soul” and it is soul that jumps out of this particular portrait.

No wonder this amazing man was overcome when he saw the portraits for the first time and then again, supersized on the architecture of Glasgow.


The Artist Volunteer

I wasn’t sure whether to call this ‘The Artist Volunteer” or “Volunteering Within the Arts” because the world of art isn’t just about the artists, it embraces the audience to.  I chose the first though as it is more pertinent to my own experience.  What exactly is an artist volunteer?  Quite simply any artist, whether a student, emerging or returning artist, passionate about art and wanting to engage with their peers, learn from them, connect with them and in turn hopefully grow their own professional practice and networks.

I decided to volunteer at two events, Spon Spun Festival 17 and the inaugural Coventry Biennial.  Spon Spun Festival is an annual event in Coventry and this is its second year.  With events and workshops through July, August and September leading up to the


festival weekend which includes an Arts Trail, events and picnic.  It is a festival which is very community orientated, focusing on the Spon End area of Coventry.  As a volunteer I have already received training in Safeguarding and also in Event Management.  Next week I will attend a full day’s First Aid training.  Three more skills to add to my CV which will be beneficial in the future for work and commission opportunities in art festivals and for work/commissions within the learning and engagement sector.  Within my role as a volunteer I am also documenting all the events throughout the festival alongside Andy Nelson who is providing the photo documentation.  This will be beneficial to me as I want writing to be a key part of my professional practice and although this is writing in the form of documenting and not reviewing it will still give me valuable experience and can also be added to my CV.  For Andy it is a valuable opportunity to gain experience in documentary photography which he to can add to his CV.  As if all this wasn’t fantastic enough I will also be meeting with commissioned artists which will broaden my network further.

As a volunteer with the Coventry Biennial I have already benefited, as it was through the recruitment process with them that I got the opportunity to learn about and volunteer with Spon Spun Festival.  As an inaugural event it is also a rare opportunity to learn how an event of this size emerges from the idea stage through to a fully realised event and the


many components that go into launching a Biennial.  As a volunteer there is an opportunity to learn more about: preparation, installation and take down of art works; installation and set-up of AV equipment; invigilation of exhibitions – how do you talk about the art work to the public?; delivering workshops and engaging the local community and wider public.  All of these will enhance your knowledge and experience.

Add all of the above with the opportunity to work alongside fellow artists and who knows what future projects will present themselves from the conversations that will develop.

I shall continue to share my thoughts and experiences, not only to encourage other students, emerging artists but also so I have a written record to refer back to when writing my dissertation.

It would be great to hear the experiences of others who have trodden this path.  Was it a negative or a positive experience for you?  Did it help you progress your professional practice?  Or are you an established artist who has benefited from the help of volunteers? Comment below or if you prefer you can e-mail me at helennelsonart@gmail.com

Artist Collaboration

It has been a week of collaborations and artist collectives,  making exciting plans and meeting new people.  There has been no time for any actual making but then without all the other there would be less inspiration to help feed it.  The garden sculpture did get finished last weekend and Andy Nelson has added to, what is becoming our own sculpture garden with a unique bird table made from found computer motherboards.  You can see more of Andy’s work at https://www.instagram.com/nelsonandyart/ . The

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week began with a workshop for The Shared Collective, six of us got together to have some fun creating in response to our previous drift around Leamington Spa.  We wanted it to be a completely ‘free’ and intuitive exercise after a year of intense work preparing for exhibition and assessments.  We each brought in materials and took over two walls at the studio and had some fun talking about which parts of the drift had particularly stuck in our minds and why.  Our main subjects seemed to be: water, architecture and the orange muscle man outside one of the shops!  The benefit of being part of an artist collective is

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maintaining contact with fellow artists, we can learn so much from one another and share information and ideas for future projects.  As well as have a lot of fun!  There are exciting plans being implemented over the coming months and we are keen for these plans to engage the local community.  I can’t say too much about them yet as there are a few more hoops to jump through before we can start to action those ideas.

There are many artist collectives and collaborations and I am excited to be a part of two festivals, both implemented by artists and organised and run by artists.  The inaugural Coventry Biennial which runs from the 6th to the 22nd October, implemented by Ryan Hughes of Office for Art Design & Technology engages with artists both as exhibiting, participating, volunteering, curating, learning engagement … and more.  You can keep up-to-date with the Coventry Biennial via Twitter at https://twitter.com/Cov_Biennial .

The second is the Spon Spun Festival, it is the second year for this festival and the itinerary of workshops through July, August and September is fantastic.  Along with the festival weekend and the end of festival exhibition there is a lot going on.  You can read more about Spon Spun Festival here https://sponspun.wordpress.com/  I am thrilled to be providing the documenting alongside Andy Nelson who will be photographing all the events.  Spon Spun is also organised by creatives and fully engages with the local community.  If you’d like to keep up-to-date with what’s happening then click on the website link or follow them on twitter at https://twitter.com/SponSpun

My personal interest in being involved in these are my passion for working alongside other artists, engaging with communities and spreading the joy and value of the arts.  Not only that, but my family roots going back to at least the 1750’s were in Coventry, including Spon Street.  Spon Street has a very interesting history with buildings from Medieval times and is well worth a visit.  The Watchmakers Museum apparently has an abundance of local history and I shall be going there next week.  Also The Weavers House and The Herbert Museum if you are interested in finding out more about Coventry.

Artist collectives are growing ever more popular, what do you think?  Are you part of an artist collective or do you work on collaborative projects with other artists as part of your practice?  What do you think the benefits are of being part of an artist collective and collaborative working practices – or negatives?  Would you like to see more collaborative works represented in galleries or do you think they work better in the spaces they co-opt?  A great book about this subject is, “Co-Art: Creative Collaboration” by Ellen Mara De Wachter, – worth a read.

Why an art blog?

When you are passionate about something it consumes you and art consumes me.  If I’m not making art I’m reading about it, going to exhibitions, talking about it, thinking about it.  I can’t imagine a world without art – or cats (my other obsession).


I have zero clue about blogging though and that is something I shall learn about as I go and by looking at other bloggers and bloggers who blog about blogging.  Isn’t it funny how when you repeat a word it takes on an identity of its own? BLOG, BLOGGERS, BLOGGING – BLOG BLOG BLOG, it makes me stop and think about how the word actually sounds and feels……..  I digress.  I found this blog really good https://cristianmihai.net/

I use art as a means to explore and express subjects that light a fire in my brain.  Human psychology fascinates me, why do people act how they do?  How does environment impact on the human psyche?  What is society?  What is community?  These are just a few of the thoughts that jumble around my brain on a daily basis.  I am amazed by technology but not blinded by it.  I am old enough to feel nostalgia for a time pre-internet.  A time when the pace was slower but also a time which had its own problems.  As we solve one problem so another takes its place – or should I say challenges?

So, I think this blog will be a mix of my thoughts, observations and how that influences my art practice.  It will also be an insider account of the final year of a Fine Art degree come September and my continuing professional art practice.  I am already thinking about my dissertation!

A few tips I have picked up about blogging are a) have a schedule b) ask questions  c) don’t waffle on for too long (hmmm, may have to work harder on that one).  Choosing a day of the week where I can safely say, ‘yep, that’s blog publishing day’ is a hard one as no two weeks are the same but for now I shall opt for a Monday, just once a week for now – maybe?

Do you have a passion for art?  I’m always up for conversations with fellow art lovers, whether you are an artist or just someone who likes looking at art.  Is there something currently happening within the art world that really ‘gets your goat’?  Let’s talk about it!


Art is ….

materials, is imagination, is thoughts, is conversations, is passion …

It’s about materials, imagination, passion. It’s about expression, a vehicle for the visual representation of the voice and the mind.  Well, for me these are the foundations of art.  Art has so many different representations and it can mean something different to the artist and to each spectator.

I really enjoy playing about with materials and I’ve always got a lot on my mind.  Combining both and reacting instinctively to the materials I have to hand can result in surprising results, rarely a finished project but part of a process that leads me on a journey of discovery and expression.

As part of (and co-founder) of an artists’ collective, The Shared Collective, I have been collecting materials that I would normally throw away.  Most of it is packaging material, plastic bags of air, cardboard, polystyrene.  All of this will become some of the materials that we will use next week when we recreate Leamington Spa as a collective.  The project began with a drift (walk) around a part of Leamington Spa which is set for regeneration as the new cultural quarter.  It is a rundown area at first viewing but there is no escaping the grand architecture and many clues to its history.  It is a part of the town rich in diversity and I am excited to see what amazing creation/s we form.  I shall be writing a full review on the project.

Over the last couple of days I have been reacquainting myself with plaster bandages and said ‘hello’ to my old friend Mandy Mannequin.  On my mind is the question of identity and technology.  Part way through day one I was joined by my other half, also an artist, and he suggested we worked collaboratively.  I confess it was a little difficult to agree as I’d already started the piece as a solitary endeavour – but what the heck – let’s give it a go!

As an artist Andy uses found and discarded objects, in particular computer parts.  Although his focus is more on the throw away society and mine is more focused on human behaviour, we both use technology within our practice as both material and medium.

As we were working with the plaster we talked about the relationship between humans and technology and how intrinsic technology is now within our lives.  We both wanted to represent a fusion of the biological and the technological – other than that there has been no ‘plan’.  We continue to have conversations as we follow the journey that the materials and our individual thoughts take us on.

It is too early to decide whether we are happy with how it is going, we have more work to do and a busy week ahead!  Here are some of the work in progress pictures –

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Post-Truth, Fake News & Happy Clickers

In 1967 Guy Debord wrote and published ‘Society of the Spectacle’ in which he talks about a society no longer concerned with ‘being’, but instead, ‘having’, which, in turn, becomes an ‘appearance of having’.

Post-Truth, Fake News & Happy Clickers

Essay for 2nd Year, Fine Art & Contemporary Cultures Degree, (February 2017)


In 1967 Guy Debord wrote and published ‘Society of the Spectacle’ in which he talks about a society no longer concerned with ‘being’, but instead,  ‘having’, which, in turn, becomes an ‘appearance of having’.  In other words, a false reality. The type of society we currently live in.  As the spectacle grows exponentially, so do bubbles of hyperreality. This leads to the question – is there any such thing as real in a world increasingly fed with images and subliminal messages?  “… the spectacle … is the very heart of this real society’s unreality.  In all of its particular manifestations” (Debord and Übers, 1992:8) This essay looks at how the public perception of reality has been controlled and exploited and how ultimately it has led to seismic political and societal changes – the resulting chaos and stirrings of rebellion and how artists have been responding to these very possibilities for the past 50 years to the current day.  

As the facilitation of these bubbles of reality has mainly been through use of the internet, this essay focuses primarily on internet platforms, particularly social media.  In the case of social media there appears to be little context, other than that relating to supposed realities created in order to amuse, inform, misinform or aspire to. Artists such as Amalia Ulman, Ed Fornieles and Cory Arcangel have directly responded to this through the vernacular of social media. Whereas Hito Steyerl, Rachel Maclean, James Bridle and artist collectives such as Metahaven – who have also addressed the subject of how the dissemination of images and text across the internet is impacting on societies – have done so through work with digital technology.  Ulman, Fornieles and Arcangel highlight the obsession with hyperrealities based on consumerism in a world more interested in what you have.  Steyerl, Maclean, Bridle and Metahaven are, in a sense, the consequence of the aforementioned.  

In much the same way that the success of mass consumerism was successful for corporations using the advertising of desired realities, so similar tactics are being used to create a belief, in a false reality of what is happening globally and within our own communities.  Are we, as human beings now conditioned to believe what we see, based on what has been shown to us?  A naivety that what we see is real, is to be believed.  Reality television, advertising, social media, news reports; all strive to show us versions of reality.  A modern day Plato’s Cave.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where he describes how people who know the truth are different from those who rely purely on sight and sound, (Philosophyzer ,2012), through shadow images on a cave wall, produced by the light of a fire.  The images on our screens are the shadows on the walls of the cave and the public are the prisoners shackled in front of an ever flowing jumble of images.  The artists are the emancipated who have come back to tell the prisoners of what they have seen, but the information is so disturbing that the prisoners prefer to stay within the comfort of the reality they have become used to.  Those now emancipated cannot go back to the cave version of reality, for they know it is not as it first appears.  The prisoners, on the other hand, do not believe what they are told, they are passive watchers.  They cannot understand the information that is being passed to them, so they reject it, (Plato, n.d.) .  If we relate this to the current use of digital technology, in particular the internet, James Bridle’s writings, ‘The New Aesthetic and Its Politics’, explains the possible reasoning behind this ‘ostrich like behaviour’ – “it seems there has been a concerted, societal rejection of technical understanding, wherein the attitude that ‘I don’t understand this and therefore don’t like this and therefore I will not investigate this,’ is ascendant and lauded’. (Kholeif, 2014:26).

The advent and prolific dissemination of MEMES, (usually images with some text which act as quick visual messages) are creating echo chambers that spread far and wide.  So simple – an image, a few words but with an impact that is devastating in its effect.  With the help of clever algorithms working tirelessly behind the scenes, unseen by the happy clickers who, without thought, are giving away their most personal information – that of their thoughts, feelings and needs, which is eloquently described by Warner, N in his article ‘Prosumerism’ in Art Monthly, “Where the consumer of yesteryear would passively digest the spectacle provided, whether capitalist, political or cultural, the prosumer likes and shares, rates and reviews, remixes and uploads”. (2013)

Are we heading towards totalitarianism, with politicians now targeting the public through social media, bypassing and increasingly ridiculing journalistic routes? The year 2016 was the year of Brexit and Donald Trump and the year that post-truth became not only acknowledged by the Oxford English Dictionary but also the year that the public love affair with social media began to tarnish.  People began to realise that the information being presented to them was an attempt to take away their choices through misrepresentation and falsehoods.  The phrase ‘fake news’ is currently being discussed daily across all forms of media. The joy of being able to connect with people via our computers, tablets and smartphones has turned into newsfeeds full of political agenda, seeming to infiltrate every part of life.  Creating bubbles of hyperreality which are circulated repeatedly across social media.  An alarming increase in, what is referred to as ‘fake news’, was seen during the Brexit campaign and the USA election campaign. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook expressed concerns regarding fake news, although he does not feel that fake news spread via Facebook had a direct impact on the electoral results (Appendix A) he did go on to compile an open letter on his profile entitled ‘Building Global Community’ (Appendix B), in which expresses his concerns about the effects of misinformation and how Facebook plan to try and reduce its presence.

The pro leave campaigners for Brexit and the Trump campaigners both turned to Cambridge Analytica, a Data company based in London, (Motherboard., 2017)  in order to target the unknowing public, stealth like, sneaking in under the guise of a friend to distort the truth, to confuse and ultimately to brainwash and alter public opinion. Facebook and Twitter, more so than other social media platforms became a place not just for general chit chat, a daily moan, a view into the world of a ‘celebrity’ or a sharing of horror at animal abuse.  Instead, it became the bedrock for political opining and discussion.  Each like, comment and share taking the desired message further and strengthening it in the process.  The public became unknowingly complicit in helping conjecture opinion. Outright lies become known as truth leaving the world in a very different place to what it had been prior to these two events – a world aware of how fractured it had become; unsure, distrustful and outraged.  This behaviour certainly backs up the theory in ‘Society of the Spectacle’ – “When the real world is transformed into mere images, mere images become real beings – dynamic figments that provide the direct motivations for a hypnotic behaviour” (Debord,1967:11)

Think back to Brexit.  A picture of a campaign bus, patriotic colours and a slogan that cannot be ignored, “We send the EU £350 million a week let’s fund our NHS instead vote LEAVE” (Parraudin, 2016). No time for facts, just an image and text that can be read in the blink of an eye.  The like button gets clicked over and over.  A typical post-truth tactic, hit the public where it will have the most impact.  ‘Our NHS’.  The public are proud of ‘Their’ National Health Service, they want to bring it back from the brink.  They feel nostalgia for the time when the news wasn’t full of it’s failures, cutbacks, closures and possible demise.  The image doesn’t actually tell us that £350 million will be spent on the NHS but the mere suggestion that it might is enough.  The image is shared repeatedly and just in case you don’t have friends who will like or share it, don’t worry – the algorithms will take care of that and make sure you don’t miss out on seeing it, thanks to Cambridge Analytica’s psychometric system which was initially incorporated into the digital world by Michal Kosinski.  A seemingly simple questionnaire but one that collected enough information on an individual for a highly invasive personality profile to be created. Kosinski realised that this information could be abused but despite his best efforts for it only to be used to benefit the individual, it is a model now being used for the best interests of the corporations and politicians rather than the individuals.  (Motherboard, 2017).

Post-truth is not a new phenomenon.  Fake news has been propagated for centuries (Appendix C) the advent of images along with text, following the invention of photography established ‘signposts’, “right ones or wrong ones, no matter”, (Benjamin, 1936:8).  Digital technology has facilitated its effectiveness but is not the cause of it.  However, it is the prolific dissemination of images spread worldwide via the internet with an estimated 4.77 billion people now in possession of a mobile phone and an estimated 5.07 billion expected by 2019 (Statista, 2017), the numbers ever increasing, which allows for echo chambers that can stretch uninterrupted. That is almost three quarters of the population of the world receiving information directly to their personal smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers.

Artists have always reacted to the world around them. A look at work over the last 50 years could, with hindsight, have been seen as a prognosis of what could happen and could have made us more aware of the grand scale potential from the beginning, for manipulation of opinion and facts using images and social media.  Artists have been pushing the boundaries of digital technology for years and have shown through their art how we cannot always believe what we see.  The general public however were caught napping, so comfortable in their hyperreal digital worlds.  Whitechapel Gallery’s 2016 exhibition “Electronic Superhighway” (see Appendix D)  was like a history and present day lesson of warnings and, perhaps, if the general public had not been so enthralled by the ‘magic’ of having the world at their fingertips maybe they would not have been so easily duped, would not have thought that what they were seeing was not the political leaning of one television channel or another, or of one newspaper compared to another as they had been used to, but outright lies and distortion of truth.

The Electronic Superhighway exhibition could not have been more timely in highlighting that now more than ever seeing should not be believing.  Hiroshi Kawano’s, ‘Red Tree’ (1972), (see Appendix E), (Figure 1), an art piece he created by instructing his computer to paint a tree, highlights how a simple narrative linked to an image creates an illusion of reality.  Imagine it instead as a MEME on your social media newsfeed –  when it appears on your screen you will, more than likely, think, ‘that is not a tree’ but the text tells you it is a tree, a red tree.  You might click like, share or even comment and so the dialogue begins, here is the first tremulous echo.  You now accept it is a red tree even if you don’t think it looks like a red tree.  The power of suggestion?  Nothing new in the art world.  Haven’t artists for years presented images that, without a narrative or context, may not be understood?

(Fig. 1) Kawano, H., (1972)

art ex machina

Manipulation comes not only in the form of images with text.  The manipulation and dissemination of images without text has also been taken to extremes.  There are probably very few people who are not aware of how photographic images are manipulated during editing to create an illusion of a perfect face or body, but does it stop them believing that it is possible to look that good?  If you see enough images of perfect faces and perfect bodies living a perfect lifestyle, it must be possible, musn’t it?  Amalia Ulman’s work, ‘Excellences & Perfections’ (Fig. 2)  is a perfect example of a hyperreal persona that was believed without question.

Although her work is about much more than just fact -v- fiction (Civre, 2016), it is an apt example of how easy it is to make something believable in an era where the majority live their days with a smartphone permanently attached to their hands.  Morgan Quaintance in his article, ‘Right Shift’ for Art Monthly said ‘the dynamics of self-actualisation through social-media web portals …. allows post-internet artists to turn away from real-world politics …’  (Morgan, 2015).  However, Quaintance seems to be completely missing the political undercurrent in these post-internet art works.  Surely these art works are exactly what he says they are not – a raising of awareness, a warning that seeing is not believing, especially via social media, a mirror of consumerism.  

Other recent artists who have been representing these issues include Cory Arcangel’s body of work, ‘Be the first of your friends’, (Appendix F) which takes Instagram images and turns them into physical objects, and Ed Fornieles, ‘Dorm Daze’, (Appendix G), part of a series of works which began with a fake Facebook profile –  have gone directly to the root of the echo chambers, notably Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  When you consider that Facebook has 1.79 billion monthly active users, Twitter 248 million and Instagram 200 million, (Zephoria, 2017) and if you also factor in the cross sharing between the three, that is an audience of hyper magnitude.

Consumerism and prosumerism allowed this additional layer of control of the masses. A recent visit to Rachel Maclean’s, ‘Wot u 🙂 about?’ exhibition at Tate Britain (Maclean, 2017) epitomizes everything that is society today.  Her video, ‘It’s What’s Inside That Counts’, (Figure 2) with its oversaturated cutesy colours, Disneyesque costumes and singing, the references to emoticons –  at first glance you might be expecting to see a heart-warming, happy-smiley video.  The music and sickly sweet voices draw you in, as you look around the gallery you can see the wonderment and enchantment on the upturned faces of the viewers who at first are not too alarmed by the zombified, onesie clad crowd or the furry creatures in their dresses and bloomers.  They are seduced by the blues and pinks, the pretty large blue eyes of the leading lady, played by Rachel Maclean, as are all the characters. The juxtaposition of the images and the story begins to make the viewer uncomfortable. It is both humorous and dark and if it doesn’t make the viewer begin to question their own consumerism and use of social media, then they have not been watching properly.

(Fig. 2) Maclean, R., (2016)


The sociological issues that Rachel Maclean is expressing are far from heart-warming. They contain a real and frightening truth of how and why society is fracturing at an alarming pace.  People are consumed by a need to have their worthiness validated via social media, lives being lived via data input and output.  The exhibition catalogue describes this body of work as – “Instead of new technologies dissolving economic divides or facilitating social improvement, Maclean appears to suggest that we are undertaking a mass weapons upgrade, building upon a primitive strategy exploiting a pack mentality with the new allure of anonymised abused”. (Maclean, R., 2016:15). Looking at recent political events, it would appear that her suggestion is a fact not just a maybe!

Hito Steyerl’s, “How Not To Be Seen – A fucking didactic”, (2013), (Fig 5) with invisible people and birds within a digitally altered utopia, may at first appear to be saying the complete opposite to the previously mentioned concerns about surveillance and the human-digital relationship.  However, it is revealing the hyperreality of the digital world and the lack of humanness within these online utopia’s.  Steyerl’s mix of references to both analogue and digital, invisibility and visibility, the real world and the digital world all in one video responds to many societal issues.

James Bridle’s project ‘New Aesthetic’ looks past the visual, is not concerned with the images themselves but at what is happening behind them, he says it is “…not what they look like, but how they come to be and what they have or will become…” (Kholeif, 2015:23), (see Appendix H), He is responding to the political and corporate exploitative thinking behind the seemingly innocent behaviour and interactions happening minute by minute by billions of internet users.  

Artist Ryan Hughes of Office for Art, Design and Technology who worked with James Bridle on ‘Drone Shadow’, (2016) in Leamington Spa is another artist responding to the copious infiltration of corporations and capitalism.  When I interviewed him on 24th January, 2017 he spoke about how his work is a representation of technology but not just in its digital form and how he sees it as “bad business” as opposed to the “good business” of large corporations, (Huges, R., (2017), Personal Communication, 22 February).  A good example is SIM Monument, (2015), (Fig. 6). Where instead of using the best materials and technology he used plastic, light strips and zip ties – an example of how a ‘bad business’ would do it.  During written communications with him he explained it as “responding to glossy point-of-sale, advertising and online/technological tools”, (see Appendix I).

(Fig.3) Hughes, R (2015)


Metahaven, an artist collective based in The Netherlands produce work which responds to and explores the prolific use of propoganda, (Lighthouse, 2017).  Daniel van der Velden of Metahaven said, during an interview with Fader (2016) “… some of the world’s most powerful figures have embraced impactful visual language to further their agenda”.  He is keen to point out that this form of mass manipulation is not just the realm of Russia or ISIS, something that Adam Curtis, also highlights in his documentaries, (see Appendix J).  Metahaven’s, ‘The Sprawl’, (2016) (Fig. 7) is a multi-faceted piece of work, disseminated in many forms – “a feature length version, a five-channel video installation, a YouTube channel and a website”, (Fader, 2016).  ‘The Sprawl’ along with other works by Metahaven uses layering, distortion and dissemination across multiple platforms which directly mimics the tactics used in today’s continuous alternative facts/fake news/post-truth hyperreality.

Metahaven’s, ‘The Sprawl’ pulls, sound, images, text and video from a variety of sources to create a visual representation of the manipulation and distortion which propagates across the internet, questioning global reality. We are trapped within the sprawl. Although focused primarily on Russia and the Ukraine it can also be applied to the West as events such as Brexit and the USA election show, sprawling across all forms of media. (Fader, 2016).

Maybe if more notice had been taken earlier and the artists’ representations and responses to current social culture had been taken more seriously, the world would not be in the position it currently finds itself –  with communities fighting amongst themselves, divisions growing ever wider, distrust misplaced, and aimed at neighbours rather than at those in power. They are the one’s who are creating the blurring between what is real and what isn’t, causing diversions, taking attention away from the subjects they would rather the public weren’t privy to.  

Fake news, alternative facts, each day there is now something on our television screens, in our newspapers on the internet as this is being discussed.  It would appear the public are looking for a scapegoat rather than looking towards themselves.  A recent news report on Channel Four, (2017), saw a discussion between two social internet contributors, an MP and a journalist.  Channel Four had run a survey through Google which asked participants to look at six news stories and say which ones they thought were real and which ones they thought were fake.  16,000 people took part and only 4% got all six correct and less than half were able to accurately discern more than three. Despite these findings, the journalist appeared shocked and upset that the representatives from social media were suggesting that the public are hard pressed to tell the difference between fake and real news.  Interviews with passers-by on a busy town street talked about not wanting to lose freedom of speech.  If people cannot accept their own part in how this has been played out, then the door for distortion and fake realities will always be open.  Ignorance is not bliss, each individual needs to question everything.  However, there is hope that continued awareness, whether it be through debates or through art, will at least educate people to think twice before accepting everything they see and hear. Or are we caught up in an Epimenides paradox, (see Appendix K) with an American President posting daily on his personal and professional Twitter feeds that everything in the media is ‘Fake News’ (see Appendix L). A Russian President creating fake news (Curtis, 2016).  A British Government rife with disagreement within it’s own Parties.




Maclean, R., 2017, ‘Wot u 🙂 about?’, Film, Tate Britain, London

Hughes, R., (2017), Interviewed by Helen Nelson at Office for Art, Design & Technology, 24 January 2017


Books, Journals, Magazines, Television

Channel 4, (6 February 2017), Channel 4 News, (TV), Channel 4, 1900 hrs.

Debord, G., (1967) The society of the spectacle. Translated by Knabb, K. London: Rebel Press, [200-?].

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(Fig. 1)

Kawano, H., (1972), Electronic Superhighway, [Catalogue of an exhibition held at Whitechapel Gallery, 2016], London, Whitechapel Gallery, p. 178


(Fig. 2)

Maclean, R., (2017), Wot u 🙂 about?, [Photograph], Available at >http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/rachel-maclean-wot-u-about<

[Accessed 12 January 2017]


(Fig. 3)

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[Accessed 20 January 2017]




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Appendix A:

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, found himself under fire following the success of Donald Trump and took to his own Facebook profile page to respond.  He is strong in his conviction that Facebook played no part in the success or otherwise during the electoral campaign in the USA during 2016 and says that “99% of what people see is authentic” (2016).  He does acknowledge that the 1% of hoaxes and fake news needs to be addressed but also that “I believe we must proceed very carefully though.  Identifying the “truth” is complicated”.

Appendix B:

Following on from his Facebook post of the 13 November 2016, Mark Zuckerberg posted an open letter, ‘Building Global Community’.  Zuckerberg’s view of social media is not that it is a vehicle for a society engaging in an unreal online world but that it is a portal to strengthen communities both online and offline, “”We can look at many activities through the lens of building community.  Watching video of our favorite sports team or TV show, reading our favorite sports team or TV show, reading our favorite newspaper, or playing our favorite game are not just entertainment or information but a shared experience and opportunity to bring together people who care about the same things.  We can design these experiences not for passive consumption but for strengthening social connections.”  

Whilst this vision, in theory, seems a good model, it has to be said that so far it’s proving everything but.  It is still human beings, intent on ‘appearing to have’.  It still relies on human beings being honest and transparent which is not something that can realistically be achieved.

Appendix C:

In the article, ‘The True History of Fake News’ published online by NYR Daily (2017), Robert Darnton reaches back as far as the sixth century to show examples of disseminated un-truth’s.  An historical list showing that lying and manipulation is inherent in humans. (Darnton, 2017). This combined with access to billions of people via the World Wide Web begs again the question, ‘are we surprised by what we see daily across media platforms?’  It also asks the question ‘can it actually be stopped?’.  Despite Mark Zuckerberg’s intentions (2017).

Appendix D:

Curator of the ‘Electronic Superhighway – From Experiments in Art and Technology to Art After the Internet’ exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery (2016), Omar Kholeif was exploring the same concerns and observations raised in this essay.  Questioning what ‘we’ now believe to be real and its impact on society.  How the virtual realities presented to us daily act to seduce and hypnotize.  How art responds and can continue to respond. “How then does the art that emerges from these supposedly alienating or disconnecting conditions continue to maintain a hermeneutic or phenomenological impact on the viewer?  An apposite way to consider the post-technological sphere is to use the Internet as an allegorical lens through which to construct a narrative linking art and technology’s contemporary effects.  Before proceeding, however, it is essential to define the historical social, political and economic parameters by which we understand the Internet.” (Kholeif, O., et al, 2016)

Appendix E:

Hiroshi Kawano created his art-work ‘Red Tree’ in 1972.  I chose it as it is one of the earlier computer images produced but I also consider that Kawano’s description of his process is worth noting,  “I have given him all my aesthetic knowledge …”.  A computer, technology, the world-wide web, social media – none are anything without human input.

“I have adopted a child named “System 360/75” from IBM.  Though I am sorry that his eyes are still rather short-sighted because of his young age.  I have decided to bring him up to be a painter as his tabula rasa brain with 256 K bytes has fortunately been bestowed with an a priori exact memory.  By means of Fortran programs I have given him all my aesthetic knowledge, including a painting algorithm, based on Markov-process model, which can approximately solve the problem of analyzing and synthetizing the images of pictures.  Soon he grew up to possess the ability to learn picture-painting by himself under my art-education, and to paint new pictures creatively visualizing a general image from the pictures he saw in his own artistic experience.  The picture “Red Tree” is one of the works he produced on September 30, 1971, in just 8 minutes, after learning 7 pictures I showed him.  Now I am looking forward to my lovely child becoming some day a superior painter able to create pictures with human qualities.”

Appendix F:

Arcangel, C., 2015. Be the first of your friends [Cory Arcangel]. 13 February 2017.

Available at: http://www.coryarcangel.com/shows/be-the-first-of-your-friends/

Appendix G:

McNeil, J., 2012. Artist Profile: Ed Fornieles [Rhizome]. 2 April 2012.

Available at: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2012/apr/2/artist-profile-ed-fornieles/

Appendix H:

James Bridle has an extensive portfolio which cannot be adequately discussed within the confines of a 3000 word essay.  I felt he needed to be included as an influential artist in the response to the ‘virtual world’ we occupy.  All of his works can be found on his website http://shorttermmemoryloss.com/portfolio/project/interviews/

Appendix I:

During e-mail correspondence with Ryan Hughes of Office for Art, Design and Technology, following our meeting on the 24th January 2017 I asked him about SIM Monument, “bad business” and how he is bringing the digital into the physical.  Ryan is an artist responding to current societal issues, in particular capitalism, which in turn is also a response to mass consumerism and prosumerism, which can be seen as having opened the door for the influx of distorted and manipulated messages via the internet.  

“I informally think of my entire practice as ‘bad business’ in that I am always in some kind of a push-pull relationship with capitalism ….  I think it’s crucial to respond to that push-pull and for me thats about mirroring forms; that might be in a physical sense, like how SIM Monument and Marking the Internet and the Physical are responding to glossy point-of-sale, advertising and online/technological tools but using quick and inexpensive production methods or more often (not to mention recently) like [RHP] CDRs or Office for Art, Design and Technology which are works that adopt the entire structure of commercial activity; from developing partnerships, offering products and services and presenting the labour of several/many individuals under one unified logo and brand name.  Again these all encompassing works utilise the forms of commercial activity but bastardise them somehow, perhaps through small actions; there is no CEO, I am a Lead Artist and we make quick, gorilla-like decisions such as conducting residences, without permission, atop mountains and we offer genuine development opportunities to benefit the individual practitioners instead of just thinking about what would best serve the ‘business’……  …………..  I have been working to bring the digital and physical into each others realms.  Together they are our entire experience of the world – it’s impossible to keep them apart – the digital has changed language, culture, society and even the very size of the planet.” (Hughes, R., (2017). Personal Communication. 22 February)

The collaboration with James Bridle can be viewed at https://art-design-tech.org/drone-shadow/

Appendix J:

Adam Curtis’ films have a common theme – that of distorted reality, corrupt corporations and governments.  Whichever film of his that you watch you will come away feeling shell-shocked, wanting to cry ‘conspiracy theory’ but not quite able to.  I chose HyperNormalisation as it is his most recent work and makes reference to recent political upheaval such as Brexit, Trump and Putin.  

HyperNormalisation makes you question everything you had previously considered the truth.  It makes you rethink your internet activity.  It leaves you floundering in a vast ocean with no obvious way back to dry land. (Curtis, 2016).

Appendix K:

In a world where we are increasingly unsure of who to believe, when just trying to think about what is truth can leave our heads spinning, the Epimenides Paradox seems very fitting.  Maybe not quite as obvious in the UK as it is currently in the USA, but who is the liar?  Is it the President?  Is it the Media?  

“Epimenides the Cretan says, ‘that all the Cretans are liars,’ but Epimenides is himself a Cretan; therefore he is himself a liar. But if he be a liar, what he says is untrue, and consequently the Cretans are veracious; but Epimenides is a Cretan, and therefore what he says is true; saying the Cretans are liars, Epimenides is himself a liar, and what he says is untrue. Thus we may go on alternately proving that Epimenides and the Cretans are truthful and untruthful.” (Fowler, 1883)

Appendix L:

With reference to President Donald Trump’s Twitter activity, I have noted that over recent days (a period after 15th February 2017) his tweets have reduced on both his personal Twitter feed and his Presidential feed.  Cries of ‘Fake News’ haven’t stopped completely.