14 May 2013

First up is Jon Astbury. His work Domestic Telepresence is a video diorama and miniature simulated meeting place created using dismantled LCD screens.

Jon Astbury's love hate relationship with technology underpins his interest in the dialogue between the screen and our increasingly mediated experience of the world. A fascination which began in childhood, his work also provides him with the perfect excuse to pull things apart to understand how they work.

John O'Shea, artist and Co-Director of Re-Dock asked him more about his work.

Tell us about out what you have made for Can You Hear Me? I Can See You!

Effectively this is a video diorama and miniature simulated meeting place. It is a tool to visualise recorded or live human action and interaction; allowing people separated by distance or even time to occupy this same simulated space. In this instance the device has been used to store and display modest manual tasks of some of the residents involved in the project; simple everyday actions which may well become redundant and forgotten about overtime. People can use a telephone-exchange type connection panel with plug-in cables to bring up a different image feed.  

You met with the residents and showed them an early prototype of the device you have made - tell us about that experience

It was fantastic and refreshing; it was a pleasure to spend time with genuine and experienced people who have lived through vast amounts of technological and cultural change. They weren't afraid to say what they thought about my work or anything else for that matter. We ended up talking politics, the pros and cons of technology and all sorts. 

We also showed the residents this short film from 1980 by Polish artist Zbigniew Rybczyński: http://video.mail.ru/mail/baks-show/zdig/100.html

Did the residents give any specific feedback? Did the piece change as a result?

Yes. The initial user test was really interesting. This was done without any explanation or context given for the piece. Some people I spoke to couldn't see where I was coming from or what it was they were supposed to be looking at. Some felt that they could look at the display from a distance like you would a television (but this impacts on how well the thing works). After that session we decided to use a smaller viewing window to draw people in closer. Another thing was that at least one person wanted more action to be going on inside the device: I think in the end though I wanted to keep a focus on the small; those minor human actions which often get overlooked but can communicate a lot. 

How did you feel about this kind of user-testing / consultation process in making the work?

Really useful. It threw lots of unexpected things in to the mix and took my thinking in different directions both in the ideas which underpin the work but also in how the thing has been put together.  

How does this work connect to your existing practice?

My interest is in screens (computer screens, phones, TVs, tablets and so on) and the impact of their presence in all areas of life - and our dependence on them. I try to view screens just as another material or form of stuff and pay less attention to what's actually displayed on them. This project has really changed the way I see this; it has probably been quite a therapeutic for me. It gave me the chance to experiment more with one particular technique but it also meant that I could engage with people on the debates around technology and the screen.

What will people experience in the gallery?

People will be able to look closely at recordings of human movements displayed in this mini three dimensional space. There's something innately interesting to me in the miniature and seeing things in small scale.  Using an old telephone exchange style connection panel, people will be able to physically pull out cables from a socket and insert another to display the image of another person. 

Can you hear me? I can see you! opens this Friday as part of Light Night 2013. The exhibition will run until Saturday 2 June. The artists involved in the exhibition will be talking about their work and the development process at a free event in the FACT Connects Space on Saturday 18 May between 2pm-4pm.