Thomson and Craighead at the 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival
One of the more unusual places I've exhibited - and one of
my real favourites - is no fixed space at all. Often, even in the
space of one day, it can trawl the remote islands and mainland of
Scotland. It joins the ranks of perfectly portable exhibitions
which - like Duchamp's Boîte-en-valise - predate that portable
gallery par excellence - the internet-linked computer.
British duo Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead showed their
2007 work 'Flat Earth' in the Travelling
Gallery this spring and now come back to Scotland to New Media
Scotland's venue Inspace to premier the last work in this
Working against the narrative arc of traditional mainstream
cinema, Thomson and Craighead have been instrumental in the
establishment of what they describe as 'desktop documentary.'
Their 'low-fi' movies are often made up exclusively of existing
data appropriated from the worldwide web. Like many of their works,
'Belief', both uses and critiques the web, exploring the ways in
which ideas and information are exchanged and translated, distorted
As in earlier works ('Flat Earth' was made up of the
disembodied voices of bloggers overlaid on images from public
domain satellite technology, 'Several Interruptions' was made up
exclusively of Youtube clips) 'Belief' too is constructed in its
entirety from material available online.
Last week, I spoke to Jon and Alison about
Wendy McMurdo: Why choose belief as the central
focus of this new piece?
Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead: It follows on
from 'A short film about War' where we try and use an enormous
subject as a way of glimpsing the world as mediated and distorted
by the worldwide web. It's not possible for us to go into the
subject of war in any depth in just ten minutes, but we try
and infer the enormity of the subject, while considering more
specifically how the meaning of information is altered by globally
distributed decentralized communications networks like the web.
It's similar for 'Belief' - it's a keyword for us really, that
let's us consider how video bloggers represent themselves and their
beliefs whether it be religious, spiritual, self-belief, economic
belief, a vector for racism, a belief in the afterlife, satanism or
even belief as a meme in popular music. We also have a second
screen that projects a compass onto the floor, which points where
each movie clip originated in the world as it plays while telling
us how far away that location is from the artwork.
We do this for two reasons; firstly as a way of reminding us how
the web is a layer of information that relates ever more to our
place in the physical world, and secondly as a way of placing the
viewer at the centre of the work, thus making a direct spatial
connection to each movie element and the viewer/artwork on a 1:1
WM: Was there one particular event - or series
of events - which inspired this piece?
JT/AC: Not exactly. 'Belief' and 'war'
are complementary keywords that connect two of the three works in
this series that we call our 'Flat Earth Trilogy' ('Flat Earth',
2007; 'A short film about War' 2009/2010; 'Belief', 2012). We
do use a clip in this piece at the end taken from one of the videos
made by the Heaven's Gate cult in the mid-nineties, which is
something that really struck us at the time as being one of the
first cults to really use the web as a platform for
WM: Could you talk a little about the practical
logistics of working in an online environment and with a so-called
JT/AC: When we made 'Flat Earth' and 'A short
film about War', we had quite a bit of contact with bloggers and
photo bloggers whose posts we were using and they formed a
participant audience for each work. This is one reason why we
post versions online so that they are persistently visible to our
participant audience. More recently though, we've noticed that many
of our attempts to contact video bloggers (in particular) are
ignored. At one level we can well understand this
indifference especially when a clip has already been cloned many
times across the web, but we also wonder whether it reflects a
younger digitally native demographic who see their blogged material
as disposable and in the public domain right from the outset?
WM: 'Belief' is premiering at EIFF. Many
of your works are available to view online - is this a strategy
that you follow for all of your works? Will 'Belief' be available
JT/AC: We try and post versions of our work
online not least because we both lecture part time in London art
schools and understand how difficult it can be for students to see
artists' work (especially video). However it is no substitute
for encountering the works installed in galleries, because
everything we post online is subject to technical constraints
whether it be downscaling video or lower resolution imagery etc.
A single screen version of 'Belief' will be hosted by Animate
Projects and will have an accompanying text by Morgan Quaintance.
This will appear online in July 2012.
You can see more of Alison and Jon's work and also other
web-inspired projects at the wonderful Mini Museum of XXI Century Arts.
Wendy McMurdo (Foam Magazine #10/Stories)