Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Student Print Exchange Exhibition: Q&A

As part of the Student Print Exchange Exhibition curated by Dr Paul Laidler, there will be a printed publication titled #LookingThroughTheEyesOfMachinesAsStudents. Below is my full Q&A.

Jono Sandilands

Which course are you studying at UWE and why?
I'm a Graphic Artist making work at the intersection of design, printmaking and screen-based-technology, the relationship between the tangible and digital, and in the process exploring interaction and play.

Currently in final year of studying MA Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking at UWE Bristol (which is best known for its experimental, forward-thinking approach to printmaking). Along with over 5 years experience working as a graphic designer, my practice revolves print, physical objects and materials around digital technology.

How would you describe your thinking and making process? 
I am interested in how the two worlds of virtual and physical meet, contrast and intertwine with one another - questioning our current use of technology in order to create alternative methods of design and image making.

Example page from forthcoming publication

Please describe how the work submitted for the project responds to one or both of the proposed ruminations by Bruce Sterling, ‘Eruptions of the digital in to the physical & ‘Looking through the eyes of machines as humans’.

"Pinball" is a crossover of traditional printmaking and embedded digital media. The artwork consists of a four colour screenprint with a section removed, revealing a neatly concealed digital screen which loops gameplay footage from a real pinball machine.

The physical pinball machine is making a resurgence despite heavy competition from a world of digital games. The beauty is the physicality of the game, LED lit screenprinted playfield and a heavy steel ball hurtling, bouncing and smashing against plastic targets controlled digitally by complex electronics and mechanisms.

Inspired by this unique crossover of components, I’ve been using 3D software as a drawing tool to explore how a digital object can have a physical presence as a 2D print.

The screen is controlled by a Raspberry Pi, setup to automatically loop the video if it is powered on. It’s seamlessly embedded below the mounted print within a box frame.

The use of live gameplay footage is from an observation into how viewers are changing how they consume content online, our real lives are much more controlled by our virtual lives contained within tiny screens. The gameplay video used is from YouTube and Twitch, where there is a phenomenon of gamers who are recording themselves playing. At first it appears strange that people are watching these rather than playing the games themselves, but the growing live streaming audience enjoy watching skilled and amateur game players in order to learn and be entertained just like any other media.

Please describe how you made the work for the project (use images to illustrate where appropriate) and how this making processes relates to the theme of the brief?

Upon receiving the brief I was keen for my contribution to tie in with my current pinball related project and explorations into the presence of digital objects in the real world, as well as push my work forward.

"Soon to see digital screens that can be made into any physical shape"
Elephant, p189, Issue 23

Conceptually I was interested in physically embedding an element of digital into my print, directly answering the ‘Eruptions of the digital into the physical’ question in the brief.

"The seamless integration between the real and physical is still and unaccomplished goal: we can usually still distinguish artificial elements from real ones with ease. But when digital projections are involved the border between real and fiction becomes less predictable"
Neural, p30, Issue 51

On contemplating and researching how to add this layer of digital into my prints - the initial reaction was to use a tiny screen, or digital projection onto a print to create a digital world within the paper. There was obvious technical barriers, it's to be an edition of 6, the exhibition is overseas and will be setup by exhibition staff at the location. I’d like it to be plug and play, no technical setup.

LCD screen for Raspberry Pi - Amazon link

It is becoming more accessible to purchase small screens for microcontrollers. My basic setup only needs to loop a video file, easy to do using a Raspberry Pi.

Floating box frame (glassless) - from Vellum Art

The first obvious barrier to cross is the built up area on the reverse to house the microcontroller and screen, which I eventually decided could be cleverly disguised in a frame. The electronics need to be powered from mains (so making sure the plug is internationally universal).

Cost was always an issue, and it was something that could have stopped the project going ahead for me. Thankfully I was able to focus on completing a limited edition of two with embedded digital screen for exhibition. The remaining four prints are the non-digital version of the same print.

The pinball machine is recreated in 3D from source imagery found online. This translation is a mix of accurate technical drawing and freestyling camera trickery. As I plan to render a certain viewport I only need to draw what I want the viewer to see. A similar method called 2.5D is commonly used in computer games to trick the viewer into believing 2D sprites are complex 3D objects.

The location of the screen is carefully planned out to fit seamlessly into the print.

The artwork is screenprinted using four colour process, to achieve a retro print style in reference to classic pinball machines.

It became evident that sound was a really important part of the print, and since it was something originally overlooked, was a challenge to integrate due to power restrictions. In the end a very simple solution was found with off the shelf USB powered speakers.

And finally…it has been suggested that digital technologies have brought technical innovations to the field of graphic arts practice, but have also and most importantly, have provoked a ‘mental change’ in the creative process. As a student within the Graphic Arts field do you believe this statement to be true and if so could you offer any insights on what this ‘mental change’ could be?

We’re aware how the internet is feeding into research and ability to generate work. In terms of physically integrating digital technologies, I think we’re just finding our feet. It boils down to the fact there has certainly been a gap in education of technology. Thankfully schools have been introducing programming as part of the curriculum at primary school level. A gradual shift will come with a new generation, but it doesn’t leave us sat around doing nothing.

As artists we are free to explore, question, hack, and experiment how we use technology in our work to pave the way for the future.

In the case of this project, I’ve integrated electronics into a screenprint which is bringing up questions about what we call these types of technology integrated artworks. Are they prints? No? Ok, they must be sculpture, right? For now it can be nothing more than a gimmick, I believe it’s an important one, and a stepping stone to working out the next chapter.

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