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Art and technology

Art and technology have been intimately intertwingled from the earliest days of human tool-making. In fact the word ‘technology’ comes from the Ancient Greek tekhne meaning art or craft. In this article - commissioned by DesignSpark in response to international digital art exhibition humansbeingdigital  - I'm going to give you a whirlwind tour of technology uses within contemporary art.

Throughout history artists have always exploited the newest technologies. This is because a primary role of the artist is to reflect on and question the world they see around and ahead of them. It's also because - just like engineers - artists are typically fascinated by new possibilities, new ways of doing things. If we now consider the extent to which technology saturates and continually redefines modern society, it's hardly surprising that technology is also an important factor in the work on many contemporary artists.

Within contemporary art, technology can be both subject matter and enabling toolset. Frequently it's a combination of both. The artworks in humansbeingdigital are extremely varied and I want to highlight a few pieces from the show and their relationship with technology in order to demonstrate the sheer range of approaches artists can take.

Black Hole Horizon. Image couresty of The Lowry

First of all, Thom Kubli's monumental work Black Hole Horizon consists of 3 sculptural ‘horns’ which emit a randomised pattern of sounds while at the same time blowing giant soap bubbles. As the soap bubbles form they fleetingly adopt the form of the sound waves which created them. The action of the horns is driven by an Arduino, demonstrating how these flexible electronics platforms are providing artists with the means to explore new ideas of sculpture and art object making.

A Hipster Bar by Max Dovey is technologically driven, while at the same time wittily critiquing our relationship with big data and analytical algorithms. Dovey uses a facial recognition algorithm which he has trained himself in order to assess how 'hipster' someone is. Only those lucky people receiving a hipster score of over 50% are allowed into the bar.

Lady Chatterley’s Tinderbot by Libby Heaney is a bot masquerading as a Tinder profile which communicates entirely through quotes from Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Heaney is using technology against itself in a playful subversive way, exploring the way that its changing human relationships.

Housewives Making Drugs by US artists Mary Maggic, Mango Chijo Tree and The Jayder plays with software development models, imagining an open source approach to the hormone drug treatments becoming increasingly restricted under the Trump regime.

My installation Backdoored is part of a software-system-driven project, which explores surveillance culture and the vulnerabilities arising from the growth of the IoT. There is a software stack at the heart of this artwork, although its not shown in the gallery. The environment that I've created within the gallery is a presentation of some of the system output and the ideas generated though working it. The installation uses a bank of Raspberry Pi 7” screens (generously donated by DesignSpark - thanks guys!).

humansbeingdigital draws on an international selection of artworks that bring us to the touch-point between human beings and being digital. Please note: This exhibition includes some adult content.

The exhibition is on at the Lowry in Salford until 25th February 2018, and entry is free. For more details visit The Lowry website

You can also check out jimmyf's recent review of the exhibition: On Nye Thompson's Backdoored, Accessibility and Anxiety

Artist turned software designer turned artist again.

8 Dec 2017, 14:14