Friday, 22 June 2012


‘Belief’ all images courtesy Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, 2012

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 trilogy, 'Belief'.

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 and remade.

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 'Belief':

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.

‘The Travelling Gallery crossing at the Corran Ferry, West of Scotland 2012’ image courtesy of the Travelling Gallery, Edinburgh

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 scale.

‘Belief’ all images courtesy Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, 2012

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 communication.

‘Belief’ all images courtesy Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, 2012

WM: Could you talk a little about the practical logistics of working in an online environment and with a so-called virtual community?

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?

Installation shot of Belief, Inspace, Edinburgh, courtesy Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, 2012

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 online?

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)


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