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Final weeks of 'humansbeingdigital' digital art exhibition

As The Lowry Gallery's landmark international digital art exhibition 'humansbeingdigital' enters its final weeks, I asked the Lowry to reflect on the show and its impact.

Artwork exploring the touch-point between human beings and being digital

The Lowry’s current digital exhibition, humansbeingdigital (18 Nov 2017 – 25 Feb 2018), presents works that contradict the idea that digital technology is cold and inhuman by drawing on a selection of international artists whose works bring their audience to the touch-point between human beings and being digital; engaging a range of senses and prompting physical and emotional responses.

While the nine artworks each utilise digital technology in either their development, production and/or installation, the use of and comment on digital technology varies hugely, prompting an immediately fascinating juxtaposition within the gallery. Thom Kubli’s Black Hole Horizon invites visitors to physically touch the giant bubbles it blows whilst Thomson and Craighead’s Apocalypse is a perfume designed to smell like The End of Days, each eliciting immediate bodily reactions. There is also Max Dovey’s A Hipster Bar and Libby Heaney’s Lady Chatterley’s Tinderbot, both of which use social media – Twitter and Tinder respectively – as a catalyst for their more contemplative observations of current social politics.

Another artist harnessing digital technology to address incredibly current issues around surveillance, online identity and narratives around what we value and why, is Nye Thompson. Thompson’s Backdoored is a mock domestic dwelling featuring twenty screens displaying images scoured from the internet by algorithms able to access unsecured CCTV networks. Some of the scenes captured are banal wastelands, some seemingly non-descript domestic corners, and some incredibly personal snapshots of the private lives of families – bedrooms, sleeping homeowners and even children.

Though on the surface Backdoored conjures concerns about private versus public, our online presence, and surveillance that breaks through domestic walls, this work is more than that. After this anxiety the audience is lured into these curious settings and stories – Why has someone directed a CCTV camera at an ironing board? What is that child running from/to? – experiencing feelings of guilt that proceed as they realise their own invasion of others’ private lives from this slightly seedy, bamboo-wallpapered surveillance den. Then comes another layer: what is that screen showing? – It looks like…  Yes, one screen shows a live feed of visitors entering Backdoored – you might see friends, strangers or, due to the delay, yourself. Or at least a previous version of yourself, before you were immersed in this faux-space of multiple readings and emotional responses.

From November 18th to January 31st, humansbeingdigital has seen 12,514 visitors, plus hundreds of children and school groups. It has been toured in British Sign Language, and spawned a programme of performances, workshops and an upcoming informal debate, continuing many of the themes broached by Backdoored. Though some of the topics considered in humansbeingdigital are intense and at times adult, the digital, interactive elements have aided in engaging a wide demographic.

Thompson’s work has not only initiated debate between visitors but also prompted engagement with Gallery Invigilators and proved of interest to New Scientist, London Metropolitan University, Manchester’s Finest and Twitter users. By cleverly combining sensitive topics, striking visuals and layered narrative, Thompson has created an environment not easily characterised nor forgotten.

humansbeingdigital is showing at The Lowry in Salford until 25 Feb 2018. Admission is free. My installation Backdoored was produced with the generous support of RS Components - thanks guys!

All images: Nathan Chandler courtesy of The Lowry

Artist turned software designer turned artist again.

9 Feb 2018, 15:14