(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Love, Hate and Ambivalence? – Technophilia vs Nostalgia

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It’s fair to say I have a love/hate relationship with technology. Although I am fascinated by technology, science and the wunders of the universe, I see unchecked technological progress as the single biggest threat to health, wealth and the environment. I consider myself to be a traditionalist, although my chosen media are usually modern and digital.

Given the best part of a generation since I made these images, it’s interesting to think that, at the time, I wanted to work at a higher resolution. But looking at them now, they would not embody the same satisfying contradiction if they did not have the gloopy metallic sheen against the hard, pixellated edge. I like them a lot more now than I did then.

They were made using a graphics tablet and Silicon Beach SuperPaint 3.5 at 72 dots-per-inch, which was a standard screen pixel density at that time. SuperPaint is one of my all-time favourite software painting programs. I don’t know why. There is just something uniquely appealing about its strange selection of tools aimed at expressive creativity, rather than the monolithic blandness of Adobe Photoshop. The two programs are not interchangeable in practical terms, but I hate Photoshop, and have never loved it in the heady, irrational way that I laid my soul down before SuperPaint.

There were a number of other inspiring applications from those days, that were bought out and killed off by software giants, including Aldus IntelliDraw and Silicon Beach SuperCard. But that’s another story.

Technophilia graphics v1.006

A3 composite Retrospective poster of details from all 180 images.

I made 180 of these. I don’t know why.

They are all based upon a grid of 9 x 7. I don’t know why.

I hand-drew them. I don’t know why.

I called the series “Technophilia”. I don’t know why.

Actually, I do know, but I can’t give you any reason other than it felt like the right thing to do at the time.

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One of the Technophilia images at actual pixel size on the 1920×1080 Full HD monitor that I use these days.

So, am I just flogging a dead horse? I think not.

In the period since I made them, we have crossed several interesting technological boundaries. One of them is the ability to shoot and edit Full HD video at home. I was a child in the 1970s and had no access to cameras at that time, and no prospect of it. And then, almost without noticing, I have an HD camcorder and can shoot higher-than-HD time-lapse video using cheap stills cameras.

However, any Digital Cinema technician will tell you that simply throwing more pixels at the screen does not necessarily improve the experience for the audience. Contrast ratios and the relative perception of black are fundamentally important. Also, those edges of perception are significant too, in this case the ability to see the square pixels. This work could not have been achieved at a higher resolution, and it’s unlikely that I would have made them if I was working on current desktop computers. And here is the ambivalence. I love the technology I have now and would never go back to the 1990s, even though it was a highly productive time and I am grateful for it.

So, despite always wanting to hurl myself into the future, there were moments when the technology was just right for the purpose. I still have the software and contemporary hardware and will be revisiting these techniques at some point, but not out of nostalgia, and one day those machines will fail for the last time…

There is now a Retrospective flyer featuring this collection of images. Each leaflet is printed with one of the 180 images, and a composite, fold-out poster of all 180. Collect the set!

(If you live long enough.)


Portrait of the Artist as a Failed Painter (2012) – 20×20 at Access Space, Sheffield, UK

It’s a long time since I painted. Probably 30 years. I did quite a lot in my youth, using oils, acrylics and also oil pastels. In fact, I’ve worked in most media, including video, audio, performance, sculpture, print, drawing and works on paper. Oh yes, and a whole bunch of digital stuff. My entry for the 2009 Access Space 20×20 exhibition was created on computer, printed on paper, stitched together and glued onto the 20 inch square board. It was a photomontage so couldn’t really be produced any other way. The effect was great but the object itself was unsatisfyingly bland. This time, I wanted to make something a bit more “real”. The design was again created on computer, but I decided to paint it onto the board to give it some texture and to add a bit more humour.

Easily said.

I had a brilliant idea (I like to think) of actually painting the monochrome design onto a glow-in-the-dark background. However, the spray paint I ordered just did not go on like I hoped (and yes I did follow the instructions), and was far too expensive for another coat. So, I abandoned the glow-paint, but on my second attempt the black acrylic paint I bought peeled off once I started taping over it, and the masking tape did not give a perfect enough edge either.

I should have known better, of course. If you want a high-quality finish there is no substitute for high-quality materials and a lot of experience of exactly how each medium behaves. All I had was a “brilliant” idea, a wing and a prayer. I’m not really a painter, and now I have the photographic evidence to prove it.

Portrait of the Artist as a Failed Painter (2012)

So, I decided to abandon paint for a more recycled approach, but I still wanted to avoid the print-and-stick approach. Stay tuned for details of the finished work, but in the meantime you can see it for real, along with a great many more 20x20s, at Access Space, Sheffield, UK. The exhibition is free and runs from 15 September – 17 November, with an opening preview event on Friday 14th September.

Access Space is a free, open-access digital media and arts lab in Sheffield, UK, and I am both a regular participant and official “Contributor” to their activities. You can also sign up to their Friends scheme here, to donate a small amount regularly.