Sunday, 20 August 2017

Dave Evans AIR 2017

The Outlandia residency really highlighted the contradictions within my practice. I’m interested in the role of asceticism, of self-denial in art, so being in isolated from things in the middle of a forest gave me a great opportunity to be away from all the usual temptations. On the other hand, my practice looks at how this asceticism might work within digital networks so is primarily digitally based. Obviously being off-grid, and camping to boot, mains powered working was problematic. To counter this I decided to split each day in the studio into two, half reading and writing and half working to build a forest Wi-Fi access point populated with a video made in response to the site.  This meant I could do some reading writing in the morning and then work on my laptop or out in the forest for the rest of the day.

The essay I wrote was about art and loyalty (I had originally planned to write a digital ascetic manifesto, but thinking about what it means to write rules ended up being more interesting). I did this by looking at contemporary loyalty through the lens of neo-medievalism, as I’m interested in the lives of early monks and holy men. In my original proposal to Outlandia I said I was going to research Simon Stylites, who lived on a platform on top of a pillar near Aleppo in Syria for 37 years in the fourth century. This developed into a broader consideration of how similar medieval loyalties were to contemporary loyalties, and how eremitic ascetics like Simon and their counterparts the cenobites were not unlike today’s artists. Being on a pillar, in the forest, obviously resonated with this and I enjoyed using the peace and quiet to think about what my loyalties were there, at Outlandia, and to read about neo-medievalism and asceticism.

All images courtesy of Dave Evans

Obviously the forest and mountain did not have Wi-Fi, which I am sure is one of the main attractions for people, for people to look beyond their screens at the landscape and get away. That said, I’m interested in how these devices and networks we use came to be such a bind. Why not have Wi-Fi? Why not have access to a network? I decided to set one up, a local Wi-Fi network that just broadcast to the immediate area. To do this I needed two things, a mast and an ‘Internet’. I made the mast from stuff in the forest, rope, string, logs and sticks. The Internet, made from a battery powered raspberry pi, consisted of one webpage showing a short film I made during the week called Tribute. It is quite obvious that the Outlandia location is quite remote, so the chances of anyone accessing the network were relatively slim, but again, why should this matter? The film Tribute, was just that, a tribute to a person I can no longer see. The film was a message of sorts, and as I sat on the side of the hill, with the network invisibly circulating around me, I felt an intimate connection via the network that was contrary to the type of connection that, perhaps, we feel is so onerous at times.

All in all I had a great time at Outlandia, I got a lot done and the location brought up some considerations that would probably not have arisen in my own studio. It was good having to choose carefully what I took each day and I enjoyed how clumsy I felt when working to erect the mast in the forest. It made me think a lot about how important limitations are to artists, how we all incorporate them into our practices somehow.