UA1-WA:P3-p2-Ex A symbol for the present

I’m not confident that I understand the requirements for this exercise. We are asked to return to the idea of art as a symbol, choose a symbol “for this year” and consider what is being symbolised, the symbol chosen and who I’d choose to design/make it. The course notes illustrate this with an image of The Long Man of Wilmington by Eric Ravilious, so I’ve decided the requirement is steps towards an artwork incorporating the symbol rather than a graphic like a company logo.

What I’m symbolising
My symbol for the age is the smartphone and the access to communication and information which it offers. It has transformed the way people interact, keeping in touch with frequent and brief calls and texts, simplifying arrangements to meet. It makes it easier to find others with similar interests and views, and to participate in wide-ranging group discussions. It allows for greater mobility for both business and personal users, providing a continuity of connection. The many apps available simplify and support busy lives, a trivial example being one that records one’s yarn stash and keeps impulse buying focused and effective. It allows fast and easy access to all the resources on the internet. It supports better health with exercise-tracking apps and access to information on pharmaceuticals. It impacts the way we access news, and the news available (not just that filtered by major newspapers). I use mine to take photos of great textiles I see being worn on the streets, to record oral history of WWII with my mum, to set alarms, listen to educational talks (eg http://www.cofa.unsw.edu.au/events/cofa-talks/listen), check how long to the next bus, send a grocery shopping list to my husband, and sometime even to talk to people. All that and my younger work colleagues tell me I’m only scratching the surface. It’s been used in art works – in the 2013 Bondi Sculpture by the Sea Simon McGrath provided an “augmented reality app” which allows users to “view” a melting iceberg in the ocean (see http://simonmcgrath.com.au/sculpture-by-the-sea-bondi-2013/). There is so much more, but the two fundamentals are communication, in particular social networking, and information.

There are certainly negatives, but there are overwhelming positives and the positive is the focus for this exercise.

The symbol I’ll choose
This is where I’m a bit shaky on the requirement. There’s the slim rectangular shape with colours and buttons that we use but that doesn’t seem very interesting. In any case the focus is the facilities the smartphone provides, in particular communication, networking and information. So my symbol should be realised as an installation that allows people to use their smartphones to interact with the artwork and each other, with results that surprise, delight, inform and challenge them – that presents the world in a way that they hadn’t thought about before. It should be multi-faceted and distributed because that’s the smartphone experience. Perhaps people could send photos and soundclips to a central system where they are organised and combined according to a sequence designed by the artist.

While thinking about possibilities I imagined the final sequence displayed in lights on a building, like Vivid Sydney – http://www.vividsydney.com/ – a site which seems to offer more possibilities than I can take in at the moment. It’s much more than I realised. I don’t know what’s possible or what’s already been done. Perhaps my smartphone symbol could involve people providing their input, then while watching the output on a huge building the crowd could hear and share music on their phones. Many, many years ago I went to a prom (music concert, not a coming out dance) and one piece used the audience as a huge choir. The conductor taught us sounds – one section of the audience hissing, say, another a short sequence of wowing or whatever – then conducted us through the piece and it was exhilarating. Could the technology send different sounds to different phones so the audience becomes a huge orchestra?

I can imagine a kind of feedback loop over a festival period, so people take photos one night which feed into the next night’s performance. Or perhaps smaller groups could collaborate over their phones to create something that goes into the mix.

I can also see these ideas being integrated in a gallery setting, or at specific locations or at indeterminate locations depending on those interacting.

I think it would be important to have a conceptual edge, a theoretical underpinning to make the total thing a work of art and not just a lot of stuff.

Who I’ll choose to design/make it
I need an artist with the skills and the artistic vision to take all these elements and create a work which both uses smartphones as a material and symbolises all that smartphones mean in our society. As already mentioned it needs a solid foundation of theory and concept to make the whole more than the parts.

I don’t have any specific artists to suggest since I’m imagining beyond my knowledge or experience. A good place to start in identifying an artist or group of artists would seem those who have participated in past Vivid programs, or similar events in other locations.

I seem to have strayed well beyond course concept in writing this – but really it is a logical progression from my choice of symbol. If it’s a symbol for this age it ought to create art which uses the technologies of the age, which stretches boundaries.

UA1-WA:P3-p2-Ex A symbol for the present
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part three: Modern art and still life
Project two: From 1945 to the present
Exercise: A symbol for the present

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