At its base, ‘The Weight of Data’ is an exercise in negotiating and consolidating the distance between the changeable virtual landscapes of the digital age, and the less elastic physical landscapes of the present moment. Featuring four artists, and curated by Lizzie Carey-Thomas, the works on display here touch on the emotional and psychological distance between the digital and the physical, as well as the way narrative arcs can cross and weave through both. There is a common thread throughout the show where these two worlds are often presented as being unequivocally fractured, even when intersecting at multiple points.
Eloise Hawser’s work Sample and Hold (2013-15) is a good case in point. Installed across two video screens, Hawser’s work features the artist’s father being scanned, and the corresponding animation of his figure alongside it. The gap between the somewhat tense and almost forlorn appearance of the man on the left with the clearly digitised model on the right shows the disconnected duality of the exercise. The scan is technically accurate, down to the ruffles in the man’s shift and the shape of his paunch, while being totally devoid of the humanity in the man’s expression. The artist reportedly refers to the result as ‘dad skin,’ a tag which hints at the idea of the surface resemblance that lacks the actual depth of the figure himself.
In Charlotte Prodger’s installation work, the artist has sought to mine the space of the internet for moments where the distance is closed, in some ways appealing to the way the web can be used to house a dynamic record of human development and artistic practice and research. In Dacite / Basalt (2014), the two videos on show (effectively installed on two small monitors mounted to a sort of grim steel shelving unit like an old library archive) are culled from Youtube and the Electronic Arts Intermix website, speaking to things as disparate as the process of flintknapping (shaping flint for the purpose of making tools or mechanisms) and Dennis Oppenheim’s experimental films. Even with this move to close the gap, so to speak, there is something disjointed evident, while the juxtaposition of Prodger’s selections proves inimitably engaging.
Katrina Palmer’s work The Quarryman’s Daughter is actually part of a larger commission for Artangel, which possibly accounts for the way it seems to stand almost separately to the rest of the work on show. Palmer’s piece here is about the way narratives can be constructed, in this case set on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. Here the work here is less concerned with digital space, instead focussing on a dramatic story arc explored through an audio work, which acts as a kind of virtual sculpture that goes beyond the fixed images of the quarry on the wall. Her work feels more loosely associated with the themes of the show, stretching the premise of the virtual and the real beyond the dichotomy of the digital and physical landscapes.
Yuri Pattison strikes at the heart of the exhibition’s themes with his standout work Co-location, time displacement (2014). His video work is an exploration of a former civil defence centre in Stockholm, Sweden, now repurposed to house a data centre run by an Internet Service Provider. Here Pattison beautifully creates a haunting and entirely fitting physical landscape for the internet, which speaks to its murky and often shrouded workings. There is also something brilliantly appropriate about the sense of crisis evoked by an underground bunker in an age of cyber terrorism, information leaks and mass surveillance. Pattison augments this landscape with the somewhat bizarre words of John Titor, who claimed to be a time travelling solider from the future, sent back to retrieve obsolete technology to help debug computer programs from his own time (2036).
‘The Weight of Data’ is part of the Tate Britain’s Contemporary Projects series, “focussing on new and recent work by emerging artists.” At a time when the gallery seems to be coming under criticism by some, either for its limp offerings or it’s irrelevance as part of an outdated art establishment (see the frequent criticism directed at it over the Turner Prize each year), this series offers the gallery an opportunity to restate its claim as a relevant, modern museum space. In this respect certainly, ‘The Weight of Data’ is a resounding success.
By Will Gresson