Patrick Hough and Lawrence Lek were the recipients of the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2017. Each received £20,000 to develop significant new moving-image works with full production support from FVU. The resulting works premiered in an exhibition at Jerwood Space 22 March – 14 May 2017, before touring at a series of screening events nationwide.
Echoing 2017’s curatorial theme of Neither One Thing or Another, both of the commissioned works examine the steadily blurring line between the real and the artificial, and the increasingly intimate interplay between physical objects and their virtual counterparts. In Lawrence Lek’s Geomancer, an emerging artificial intelligence – a computer-generated ghost in the machine – discovers its own autonomy, and ponders the range and limits of its post-human powers of creativity. In Patrick Hough’s film And If In A Thousand Years, on the other hand, forgotten artefacts from the Hollywood Dream Factory – props and décor from abandoned film sets – take on a new life as precious mementoes of cinema history: replicas and fakes that have acquired a strange kind of authenticity. Moving fluently between definitions and across formal boundaries, both works make us look again at the uncertain nature of what we think we know and see.
The artists were selected from over 250 applications by; Steven Bode, Director, FVU; Duncan Campbell, artist and Turner Prize 2014 winner; Cliff Lauson, Curator, Hayward Gallery; Amy Sherlock, Reviews Editor, Frieze; and Sarah Williams, Head of Programme, Jerwood Visual Arts.
On the trends that emerged from 2017’s curatorial question, Steven Bode commented:
“This year’s theme of ‘Neither One Thing or Another’ clearly struck a definite chord with a large number of applicants. The title, for all its overtones of uncertainty and ambiguity, managed to be many things to many people, inspiring responses that embraced key contemporary subjects such as gender-fluidity and migration while evoking the blurring boundaries between offline and online, between the physical and the digital. It was fantastic to get such a range of ideas from so many talented individuals, and the shortlisted artists were again of an extraordinarily high standard.”
Curatorial brief: Neither One Thing or Another
We live in a time of transition: where some of the certainties that used to shape the world around us are starting to blur, or split apart. It can sometimes feel as if we are between one phase or place and another, without fully belonging to either one. As an expression of our uncertain contemporary standpoint, to be ‘neither one thing or another’ can imply a sense of falling between two stools. But it can also be interpreted much more positively: unaffiliated and unattached; resistant to being superficially bracketed, while itching to define oneself differently. Either way, the various meanings of the phrase speak to a prevailing contemporary impulse while hinting at an underlying ambiguity and insecurity that is equally symptomatic of today.
We live in a time when binary oppositions are being seen to be breaking down, and where people, faced with old choices, prefer to place their tick against ‘none of the above’. We live in a time when a growing percentage of the population, boxed in by gender stereotypes or biological ‘destiny’, prefer to designate themselves as ‘other’; and where the prefix ‘trans’ denotes not just transgender, but, as in the case of the cyborg, a transit post to a whole new type of self.
We live in a time when technological changes and advances regularly remind us how the old rules no longer apply. The next predicted revolution in computing is a case in point. Quantum computers, taking their name from the principles of quantum mechanics, will hugely accelerate algorithmic processing power, by not being limited to finite sequences of ones or zeros but mobilising a quantum superposition of those two states, in which bits of data are neither ‘either/or’ but capable of being, or switching between, both at the same time. On a more prosaic level, another term in current technological usage has equal metaphorical resonance. When a video projector is adjusting or calibrating its focus or resolution, it is sometimes said to be ‘dithering’, hovering or alternating between the extremes of ‘off’ and ‘on’ to find an optimal position. Although the term traditionally implies indecisiveness and vacillation, it is one that is very much in tune with how smart technology is being used in aggregated ‘best-guess’ problem solving.
At a social or cultural level, the act of becoming too closely identified with one thing, or allegiance, at the expense of, or in opposition to, another is increasingly unpopular in many quarters. The philosopher Franco Berardi traces a contemporary reluctance to ever make a commitment, political or otherwise, to the cramp it puts on an individual’s perceived ‘pure potential’. If you haven’t ever come out as ‘one thing or another’ you can, in theory, continue to be everything, or nothing, into an indefinite point in the future.
As a theme and title for the next Jerwood/FVU awards, 'Neither One Thing or Another' can (appropriately) be applied in so many ways. It can have a fantastical aspect, alluding to the classical figure of the chimera, a hybrid creation that exists outside classification and beyond category. Or it can address the philosophical notions of indeterminacy, mutability or undecidability suggested above. The criticism of being ‘neither one thing or another’ is often leveled at people who keep one foot in both camps, but do not properly belong to either. Now, though, this sense of keeping one’s options open, and shuffling selectively between the choices that appear to be on offer, seems more emblematic, for better or for worse, of how we live today.
More information can be found at JerwoodFVUawards.com #JerwoodFVUawards