Friday, 21 June 2013

Thomson & Craighead: Never Odd Or Even

London Wall W1W, 2013

Twitter, spam emails and the other flotsam and jetsam of the internet all make an appearance in this fascinating survey of the work of Thomson & Craighead.

Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead have been exhibiting together since the late 1990s. Their work explores the influence of the internet and digital technologies on our lives, making this exhibition at commercial gallery Carroll/Fletcher both a retrospective of their work to date as well as a look at the changing technologies of the last two decades.

The show opens with two works that showcase very modern phenomena – the spam email and life on Twitter. The former are displayed in the form of a karaoke machine, set to a soundtrack of elevator muzak. As the texts, full of bizarre requests often involving vast sums of money, roll by on the machine, the emails take on a more plaintive and humane appearance than they do in real life, becoming more endearing than annoying.

Installation view, Carroll/Fletcher
BEACON, 2007

Displayed across the wall next to the karaoke is a wall of comments taken from Twitter. In keeping with the nature of the social network, this part of the exhibition is a ‘live’ artwork, updated during the course of the show and featuring remarks taken from Twitter feeds local to the gallery. Presented as Barbara Kruger-esque red, white and black slogans, these comments are far removed from the flowery language employed by the spammers, and are instead, in their brevity, a kind of concrete poetry.

Something happens when the digital is transformed into analogue – words that are throwaway online seem profound when set in the context of our ‘old’ world. Thomson & Craighead also play with this effect in Beacon (2007), which displays live Google searches on a railway flap sign. When I visit, the sign whirrs round to reveal the searches ‘Shreve Coalition Oil’ and ‘Amanda Beard Nude Photos’, proving that in this form, even the basest enquiries appear more meaningful.

Trigger Happy, 1998
The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order, 2010

Zooming back 15 years, the show also includes Trigger Happy from 1998, a modified shoot-em-up arcade game, which features an enemy in the form of a jargon-heavy piece of criticism. Presumably a witty riff on the impact that critical thinking can have on art, the piece still feels fresh today. And is also fun to play with.

Alongside works that explore our relationship with the net, Thomson & Craighead also display a number of pieces that explore the basic systems that underpin our lives – time and distance. Flipped Clock (2009) is a modified digital clock, which turns time on its head, while the film The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order (2010) sees the artists rework the 1960s version of H G Wells’ sci-fi classic, ordering it by letter. These works, while clever, somehow lack the soul of the previous pieces (perhaps due to the lack of random input from the public?), and feel a bit like one-liners, despite that fact that The Time Machine must have been a real labour of love to complete.

Belief, 2012

The final installation in the show sums up both the wonder and the nuttiness that the internet offers. Belief (which is the final piece in their Flat Earth trilogy of films) features a series of YouTube films of people espousing their world views teamed with a projection of a compass, showing the geographical location where each film was recorded. Whereas the players in the films may once have shouted their opinions from a soapbox on a street corner, to a small local audience, the internet offers the opportunity for them to share them with the world.

The piece makes fascinating, if at times painful, viewing, as philosophy clashes with mental disorder in a cacophony of views. It is a summation of what is both great and distressing about human nature, illustrating that the intense need to believe – in what, it does not seem to matter – is a basic human trait, shared throughout the world. In this context of extreme and at times disturbing opinions, however, this fact is both comforting and terrifying in equal measure.

Thomson & Craighead: Never Odd or Even is on show at Carroll/Fletcher until July 13. More info is at

No comments:

Post a Comment