Can you tell us a little about your work, Storm in a Teacup?


The piece was commissioned by the Hastings Pier Charity, with the following task requirement: to help people fall in love again with the recently renovated Hastings pier. However, there was a modern twist – I was asked to use digital technology to help that process. Storm in a Teacup bore out of this.


It is a tea ceremony where the human has left the room – the movements of the tea bag, the bourbon biscuit, and the teaspoon all correspond with the movements of the sea at the real Hastings Pier. This was done through creating a simple sensor at the end of pier using a range finder that was looking at one point, and then transmitting this data over the internet such that it may feed live into the bizarre tea ceremony. This is the digital, technological side of it. In attempting to make people fall in love, there is, of course, a more emotive aspect: for me it was drawn out of a memory of having tea and breakfast by the sea; it will be sure to evoke a lot of different emotions from different people, and this slow emotional journey is what I want to take people on.


I noticed a lot of your work is concerned with the emotion of thrill (hence your title, thrill engineer!)– what is it about thrill that intrigues you, and, do you feel Storm in a Teacup draws on this theme in any way?


Yes, I do feel that Storm in a Teacup demonstrates a thrilling experience; but in order to explain why, the first question demands an answer first. I first became interested in thrill over ten years ago, when I was making kinetic sculptures. Through that process, I became interested in watching people watching my work. That’s when I started thinking about thrill - how is it that this emotional process comes about? I did quite a lot of research looking at people’s thrill experiences and how you might elicit this emotion. What I found was that it was not necessarily about the more physical aspects that we typically associate with thrill (going higher, faster etc.), but it’s also about more about more subtle aspects of interaction. What I do then, is attempt to set up a certain form of social dynamic and interaction, and through doing so, engineer those delights and thrills.


In this sense, Storm in a Teacup does fit this category – for one, the teacups are very personal – there is a setting up of a relationship there. Less abstractly, there is also a sense of tension of over the work, particularly the bourbon biscuit which hovers over the tea… there is a tension as to when it will enter the tea, and there is a moment of relief – of thrill - when it does.


How did you make the transition into art from your career in engineering?


It was always with me. As most school kids are, we were encouraged to go down one stream or another. I pursued engineering, but became disillusioned. I worked with military aircrafts, where each project can take up to 25 years – which meant that you could start a project but never see it completed, and this, for someone who wanted to create things and wanted to see what they had created, was torturous.


I ended up doing a one year art and design foundation. I only did the foundation to try to get to the Royal College of Art, but it was the foundation that really blew my mind. Later on, I was made to realise that I did not have to give up my engineering background and I could do a ‘mash-up’ of my skills. It’s only been five years since I’ve decided that I could describe myself as both an engineer and as an artist.


Given that so much of your work utilises the technological medium, has the advancement of technology affected and informed your work?


Going back to what we talked about earlier: it’s about the social interactions and dynamics we can create. One of the things I’ve just made, I realise now that I could have made it - a real time chair that monitored people’s brains and then made the chair move in the way that it was moving - up to maybe hundred years ago – so, I suppose, no.


Brendan Walker exhibited his work as part of The Performing Data Project in FACTLab.