Slade School of Fine Art

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Sculpting the Web

PI: Jon Thomson

This investigation aimed to contribute to our understanding of how global communications systems like the worldwide web are transforming the way we perceive the world around us. It also sought to push the boundaries of what constitutes an art object, while exploring how to make broad meaningful representations of something as large and fluid as the internet, to a collective audience in a public space rather than to individuals using a computer. In doing so it aimed to reveal something poetic about humanity's collective similarities and differences.

This investigation's objectives were to:

For this proposal Jon Thomson researched, developed, built and tested a mechanical means by which a random selection of web searches being made by people around the world could be intercepted then broadcast live as an endless 'poetry' for a viewing public. It was realised in collaboration with Eddie Berg, Artistic Director at The British Film Institute (BFI Southbank).

I looked particularly at flap sign technology, which was commonly used in the twentieth century as a way of displaying travel information in stations and airports. My aim was to repurpose this kind of analogue technology to display the live virtual data, to offer up a persistent snapshot of humanity, and its needs and wants as played out at every moment on internet search engines.

The resulting monumental artwork is a silent witness but also something, which a passing audience can engage with in an immediate and meaningful way, either fleetingly or for longer periods. It was staged at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool and then at the BFI Southbank in London in 2007, both venues offering exciting contexts within which this semi-permanent artwork could be tested and evaluated. Artwork emerging from the research has also been shown at Friends of the Divded Mind, Royal College of Art, London and Timecode, Dundee Contemporary Arts in 2009.

For additional information, see www.thomson-craighead.net/docs/beacon.html

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