Towards a Digital Placeness
My ten-year-old son took me for a swim in the lagoon on the island of Fortnite yesterday. After four months I was desperate: it was refreshing. En route, we passed Sweaty Sands and Pleasant Park and reminisced about the Travis Scott and Marshmello concerts that we had attended together in these locations. My son remembered some of his most daring encounters - each had a specific place - on the map and in the mirror of the map within his memory. I asked if we could walk instead of run: his avatar gave mine a look: dancing, swimming, running, flying were ok - walkers need not apply.
I came to this impressive final year online show at the RCA with a mission: to find the artists, thinkers and makers who might become the builders and cultivators of digital ‘placeness’. I was looking for those who might help those in my generation emerge from the shady limbo-land of half-in-half-out, half in the car, half answering emails, half talking to a friend, half flicking through Instagram. I was looking for those who might help us cultivate a more honest, more full-bodied commitment to our digital presence.
Folasade Okunribido, Alice Aires, Farvash and Grace Schofield have each created deeply personal works that are motivated by ancestral histories (Folasade Okunribido, Farvash), upbringings (Alice Aires), and subjective accounts of technology (Grace Schofield).
Each invites us to engage with topics that often feel overwhelming (eco-anxiety, or the future of AI/property) but that are also grounded (using language, colour and geography as starting points for deeper investigations). Each artist works with the tension between familiarity and otherness - scripting the new visual languages we will all need to learn as we begin to piece together a virtual mirror overlay onto the physical world.
Es Devlin is known for creating large-scale sculptures and performance spaces that combine light, music and language including Memory Palace in 2019 which mapped shifts in human perspective over 73 millennia, and the reflective, labyrinthine self-portrait MirrorMaze in 2016.
Her work in collective, AI-generated poetry has been seen at the Serpentine Gallery, V&A and Barbican and is now informing her design for the UK Pavilion for the World Expo 2021.
She collaborated with theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli on a collective reading of his illuminating work on the nature of time and has conceived stage sculptures with Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, The Weeknd and U2 as well as Olympic Ceremonies and two decades of opera, drama and dance worldwide.
Her practice was the subject of the Netflix documentary series Abstract: The Art Of Design, and she has been named artistic director of the 2020 London Design Biennale. Devlin has been awarded the London Design Medal, three Olivier awards, a University of Kent doctorate and a UAL fellowship. She has been named RSA Royal Designer for Industry and was made OBE in 2015.