Funding, Drone Strikes, Control and Naruto
Another month and a bit, both nothing and everything has changed. London continues to be in lock down and I’ve basically been in my flat for however many weeks, going on walks and bike rides with my partner that I live with, who is still going to work Monday – Thursday. I’ve been applying to lots of art based things, sold a number of small works as part of the #artistsupportpledge, have made a new video for an upcoming online exhibition that I’m really happy with, alongside successfully receiving Arts Council funding.
At the moment, my situation is actually quite positive. Oddly enough, for the first time in my life, I feel like a full time artist, having sold a number of works through the pledge, and having been awarded emergency Arts Council funding, money which will literally allow me to live and pay rent whilst my two monetary jobs are no longer in motion. It’s interesting to reflect upon, especially to think about how, if it weren’t for the pandemic, I would still be working in my two jobs, 4 or so days a week, wouldn’t have sold work and wouldn’t have applied for funding for my practice. Obviously I always go back to thinking about how many people have been totally fucked by this, how people are dying, but I still think I’m allowed to be positive about the things that are happening in my own life, and how my art career seems to be slowly moving forwards, even when galleries are closed and the world has ground to a halt.
Another thing to reflect on during this time is living in London, and whether it’s actually worth it or not. London without its galleries is like any other place in the UK. Well, obviously it’s not, but going to exhibitions is one of the main reasons why I live in London, alongside seeing friends. However, right now none of that can happen, so this is like a taste of how it would be like to live outside of London, simple going for walks and bike rides in your free time and not having to work in a job that you mostly dislike, to live in a city that isn’t that pleasant. It’s important to think about, and something that I continue to reflect upon as I get older; the point of living in London.
A few weeks ago I also bought a bike, so I’ve been cycling around London a lot, which has been a lot of fun. In the many years I’ve lived in London I’ve never had the confidence to cycle in it, so I’m really happy that I’ve finally gotten into it. I’ve also started doing Yoga every day, which has also been enlightening, and an activity I’ve never really done before. So that’s two more positive things in my life at the moment.
Anyway, that’s enough reflection on my life, now is the time to reflect on my art practice. My exhibition in Letchworth would have ended by now, although it’s still up, frozen in time. Apparently, once all this over, it’ll be opened for another two weeks or so, but in reality who knows when that will be? The more I think about it, the more annoying it is, as this was my largest solo exhibition I’ve had. Anyway, that’s not that interesting to speak about anymore…
So, as I posted last time, I made a number of new small works in the trophy hunter series for the artist support pledge, many of which sold. I then made a bunch more, continuing to add to my ongoing project. I think I’ve finally worked out how to make them quite well, and do enjoy how they turn out. As I’ve mentioned before, I’d love to do a solo show on them. Anyway, here’s a couple of the new ones, most of which are still available if you’re interested.
My interviews with Anna Meinecke and Eleonora Angiolini were both released online, with the latter being a more in depth, interesting look into the work I do with isthisit?. Links are here, if you’re interested - www.gallerytalk.net/nie-wieder-triste-viewing-rooms/ and www.rotundamagazine.com/en/isthisit_bob-bicknell-knight_online_and_postinternet_art/
I was also invited into this online group exhibition, Well Now WTF?, curated by Faith Holland, Lorna Mills and Wade Wallerstein. I’ve known Wade for some time, and love what he does, both his curating, writing and general attitude. Although this show, which included something like a hundred artists, felt a little much, accompanied by asking artists to provide a – not necessarily new – but basically new piece of work for the show for free. They do have a donation button on the website, and are continuing to keep the artists updated with news and other details, but generally I’m not that into the massive online group exhibition attitude, and especially not into asking artists to make new work for free. I dunno, I said yes, I made a new gif, so I am part of it, but I dunno. Like all art events and exhibitions with a large amount of artists, the question is who is the real star, with the answer being the curators. Here’s my gif.
I continued to make new work about drones, specifically making a number of small paintings for the pledge, all depicting various animated drone attacks assisted by fictitious future technologies. I think they’re all quite beautiful and haunting, but none sold so what do I know.
I made the works and will continue to make a few more drone based paintings, as an accompaniment to a new video that I’ve just finished. I was emailed recently by Anne from Office Impart, who I have worked with curatorially in the past (on a mass curated group exhibition in New York - magazine.artland.com/pablosbirthdayxofficeimpart_herenow/) to be a part of an exhibition she’s organising which will be in two parts, the first as an online show at https://left.gallery/, a fantastic space run by Harm Van Den Dorpel, and the second being at their office/gallery space at Office Impart in Berlin. Anyway, the idea was to have work in the online show, and corresponding work being shown in the offline show. For the online show, which is yet to be published, I made a new video piece called I Wish I'd Been Born a Balloon. The work centres on the life of a nano drone, a tiny unmanned aerial vehicle that is primarily used in military operations. Throughout the video, the device reflects on its own existence and laments its primary purpose, wishing to be played with rather than deployed in combat zones, and speaks about the history of drones in relation to various wars. The work utilises footage captured from within the world of the 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V, widely renowned as one of the most accurate digital simulations of the physical world. I’m really happy with how it came out, and haven’t really made a video for a while, not since Sleep Made Simple (I’m not counting the video produced for Bit Rot, as those were more like moving paintings than anything). The piece will be sold through Left Gallery, I assume for a low price as the whole point of the gallery is to be low in price but high in edition number, but we shall see. Anyway, you can see it here as an unlisted YouTube link, please watch with headphones - https://youtu.be/k--2_dmffSA
So, happily I found out on the 1st May that I was awarded money from the Arts Council, money given to artists to support them and their work during this downtime. It’s the largest amount of money that I’ve been paid/given through my art/curatorial practice (£2,500), so is quite a milestone for me. I'll be using the funds and time afforded by them to learn how to use Unity proficiently, a software used for game development that, if you’ve been following this blog for some time, I have experimented with in the past but never actually made a fully fleshed out work with I’ll also be continuing to run isthisit?, as well as dedicating some time to writing a new book of fictional science fiction short stories, which will eventually be accompanied by new work produced using the game engine. So yeah, this is what I’ll be concentrating on for the next few months, alongside other bits and pieces. I’ve felt quite tired and just generally quite stressed over the past two months or so, so this is both a motivator and a boost to my confidence.
I’ve also been planning two upcoming online exhibitions on the isthisit? site, again something I haven’t really been doing recently. In all honesty, I think my art logistics job has been draining my energy since I began work there in March last year, slowly reducing the amount of effort I am able to put into my artistic practice. I dunno, maybe it’s just me. Anyway, on the 15th May, later this month, I’ll be launching the next isthisit? show, with a group exhibition that I’m currently organising, featuring work from John Butler, Stine Deja, Emily Mulenga, Tamsin Snow and Petra Szemán. I’m super excited for it, with all the works being truly outstanding. As the Daata Editions proposal (the one I mentioned in my last post) didn’t move forwards, I thought I’d just curate the show myself on isthisit?.
Then in early July I’ll be launching a solo show of work by Petra Szemán on the site, who makes fantastic video works blending digital animated illustration with physical world video footage. I’m currently conducting an interview with her, that will go alongside 3 or 4 videos on the site. I’m super excited for these shows.
Other than this I’ve been invited to be in a few other shows, mostly online of course now, just what is it that makes AI so different, so appealing?, curated by Off Site Project at Exposed Arts Projects, which will be a solo show by Jason Isolini with a group show embedded within. It’s a really cool idea that I’m happy to be a part of. My curated show in Brussels is also very much postponed, until when I’m unsure at the moment, alongside the group show in Seattle and another group show in Istanbul.
Alongside all this, today I was invited by Dirk from the artist duo JODI to co-curate an upcoming online exhibition on the Upstream Gallery website, which is super exciting. I’ve really admired the gallery, their artists and programming, for some time, so co-curating this show would be a super lovely move in the right direction. That will be in June I think, so fairly soon!
I think that might be it for my art practice, potentially, I’ve been thinking a lot about new ideas, and what work I will make within the video game software. I plan on starting to think about this in the coming weeks. Normally, next I would talk about the exhibitions I’ve been to, however obviously everything is closed, so I’ll move straight to films, TV and video games.
Let’s begin with Vivarium, which was a fantastically concise horror like sci-fi starring Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenburg as a couple buying their first home. They’re brought to a Truman Show like suburb by a creepy real estate agent, who then abandons them in a maze of identical and abandoned homes. It was a truly fantastic and incredibly creepy experience that I would highly recommend.
Dark Waters was a sad true story, detailing how a chemical company knowingly poisoned the water of a town in America over the course of many years, with the film focusing on the attorney who fights for the people who have been affected. It was good.
A good accompaniment to this 2019 film would be the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, which also looks at a true story, where a power company was polluting a city’s water supply. Again, a solid film, although this was a little lighter than Dark Waters.
The Banker was a surprisingly fun experience, another true story, focusing on two African-American entrepreneurs in the 1960s who began buying property, and banks, in America, in order to rent and give mortgages and loans to fellow African-Americans. The whole film was very light and fun, which is obviously not what you think it’s going to be when provided with the premise. There is of course the ever present threat of racism and violence towards the two main characters, but it’s a lot less insidious than other films have portrayed in the past. I’m unsure whether this is a good or bad thing, probably the latter…
Another film inspired by a true story in the 1960s, Seberg, starring Kristen Stewart as the actress Jean Seberg and Anthony Mackie as the civil rights activist Hakim Jamal. Now this was a little more insidious, with the film looking into how the FBI basically destroyed Seberg’s career because of her support of the Black Panthers and various civil rights movements.
Love Wedding Repeat was quite trash, but there was one scene which made me howl with laughter, featuring Tim Key talking with Olivia Munn about being a war correspondent. Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you want to watch just for that moment.
I finally managed to watch 1917, which was quite fantastic, although the cuts were incredibly overt, and kind of pulled me out of the action whenever they occurred, as they were so obvious. I kept thinking back to Victoria, a film that is truly shot all in one take, and is so much more intense and stressful because of it.
Euphoria was fine, well produced, although whenever I watch TV shows or films about young people taking drugs, having sex, beating each other up, etc, I find it incredibly hard to relate, as my own experiences don’t quite correspond to how hectic and turned up to 11 their teenage lives are. Obviously, it’s a TV show, so maybe that’s why, but still, it just pulls me out of it and makes me wonder who these horrible people are, or just to never visit/live in American suburbia, where everyone seems to be incredibly boring and wrapped up in tedious problems.
I truly loved Portrait of a Lady on Fire, from beginning to end it was really a perfect film. Incredibly sad and just a fantastic watch. I would highly recommend it to anyone who might be reading this.
I fully regretted Too Hot to Handle, not because it was trash, as I watch Love Island and that too is trash and in the same league of similar TV shows (a dating show where attractive young people all live together and are encouraged to get to know each other), but the problem I had with this was that lots of small details felt like they had been skipped over. The show is 8 episodes long, with the viewer not knowing how long the contestants have had to live in this villa. Is it a month, is it a week? They also seem to all be from different countries, if the show was truly interested in the people forming serious connections, surely they would all hail from the same county/city? The rules imposed on them, by the various obvious robot that’s not really a robot, are incredibly vague. Also, the people are so much worse than those on Love Island, they're just the worst. I dunno, I have now wasted a whole paragraph speaking about this show and how trash it is, I should really have never clicked on this show.
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, a 30 minute animated short, made me cry. It was a truly lovely short film that I would recommend to anyone, although specifically parents.
Alex Garland’s Devs was fun, although I think I probably ruined it for myself by watching the entire series in one day. I’m a big fan of Alex Garland and his films and did really enjoy this series. It felt very Circle inspired, with sci-fi linked with espionage. Yeah, very good.
The Midnight Gospel was disappointing, the animation and over-arching story was well done, but the actual epoxides and talks within each episode were so boring. The show is basically a guy, going into different simulations to interview different people about various things, with the interviews being taken from a podcast. The conversation was just a bit too dull, hastily spoken and wanky. The animation was good, and of course I love Pendleton Ward and Adventure Time, but it was a bit of a miss for me.
I felt that Chernobyl was fantastic, and painful to watch, of course. Also, it's the weirdest experience, having this show in English with many of the actors having American actors, especially in the scenes where they're saying negative things about America. Where are the Russian actors, or Russian accents at least?
I started watching Dispatches from Elsewhere when it first started coming out, and continued to watch week by week, and slowly it actually became a very good show that I would highly recommend. It’s hard to describe what it’s about, but if I had to try, it focuses on a group of people playing a city wide puzzle game, akin to a LARP, but aren’t sure whether the game is real or not. It’s a bit of a head fuck, in a very enjoyable way. It’s definitely recommended.
The Willoughbys was fine, a little bland for me.
Where to Invade Next, a documentary by Michael Moore, was saddening, and made me want to move away from the UK, to a country where employers value their employees mental health.
I had the same reaction watching Sicko, another Michael Moore doc, although more to do with making me never want to live in America, as their healthcare system is truly fucked. Something I knew before, but not really to the extent of it.
Allen Gregory, a very odd animation about a seven year old who acts like a forty year old starring Jonah Hill, was trash.
I’ve been wanting to watch The Hunt for some time, but have never gotten around to it as I knew it would be quite painful to watch, with the subject being paedophilia. It was very well made, with fantastically visceral acting and a very distressing story. Yeah, very good and painful.
Never Have I Ever was a nice, very teenage/kid friendly, show about teenagers growing up. A lot more teen focused than Euphoria was.
Train to Busan was fantastically trashy, in a great way. For me it was more of a comedy, as the characters were incredibly stereotypical, but in a truly fabulous way. So, even though the film was focused on zombies, it felt a lot more like a comedy action film, than an action horror.
I really loved Little Joe. The atmosphere, from beginning to end, immediately puts you on edge and keeps you tense throughout. The acting was super eerie and very creepy throughout, wrapped up in a fantastic ending that actually did the film justice, rather than taking a different, potentially easier approach.
At around the beginning of the lockdown in London I started watching Naruto, and have watched over 100 episodes so far. It’s an anime that follows a group of young kids training and becoming ninjas. It’s both amusing and incredibly painful to watch at the same time, I both love and hate it. There are some moments that make you just want to throw something at your computer, not because of the content, but because of how slow the show is. Some fights, and by some I mean the majority, take 5 – 10 episodes to finish. That doesn’t mean that they’re fighting constantly throughout these episodes, it means that one opponent will try to attack the other and fail, and then will subsequently explain their move, and be explained to about why their move failed. This will go on, and on, and on, and on, sometimes for literal hours. It’s the most painful TV show that I have experienced. In spite of this I have continued to watch, partly because my partner loves Naruto and is watching it with me, for the third or fourth time, but partly because the characters do, after many episodes, start to slowly develop and evolve, and in turn do become interesting and enticing to watch. I guess I’ve bought into the entire process now, and have gotten used to how incredibly slow paced it is, but I’m not sure that I would recommend this show to anyone. It’s like when people recommend you a series, or a video game, and say ‘once you get through the first 30 hours it gets great’. I don’t want to be that person, so please don’t watch this show.
I also watched Upload, which had such a terrible trailer that I nearly didn’t watch it. The show is based in a future society where people, if they’re wealthy enough, can have their minds uploaded to a variety of different simulated worlds when they die. The trailer portrayed it as a straight up comedy sci-fi, when in reality it’s a little more serious. The idea is fun, with the protagonist being a young man who may or may not have been purposefully killed in order to stop him from creating a free version of the simulated afterlife. It’s fun, like a lighter version of Altered Carbon.
I think that’s everything that I’ve been watching. Now for the games, which there are many. I played Wattam with my partner, a video game made by Keita Takahashi, the creator of Katamari Damacy. If you know their games, then you know that they’re all quite hectic and generally weird and wonky, unlike any other game you’ve played. In Wattam you’re basically a block person, with arms and legs, who has a bomb under their hat. Slowly more people join you, in this tiny block world, and you change between various characters, slowly bringing them back to this version of ‘earth’, which is bascialyl composed of floating island like environments. It’s well worth a play, although the actual gameplay mechanics are incredibly painful at times.
Wheels of Aurelia was a super short indie game, which sees you driving a car in a 2.5D world, picking up different passengers and driving through Italy in the 1970s. It’s fun, although as it’s a choose your own adventure type game, each ending is different. This would be great, but, at times the game assumes/thinks you have done or experienced different things than you actually have experienced, so when you complete the game again, it mentions elements of the story which you may have not encountered, leaving you thinking ‘what the fuck is going on?’. It takes literally ten minutes to complete, with over 10 endings, but it just felt very disjointed, although it had nice graphics.
I’ve slowly, over the past however many months, been steadily playing Party Hard. It’s an interesting game, with the premise being that you are a disgruntled man, whose been woken up by his neighbours in the middle of the night. Instead of asking them to stop, he simply picks up a gun and decides to kill everyone at the party, slowly and methodically, utilising traps and stealth mechanics to kill off the party goers. There are a number of levels, steadily getting harder, accompanied by a not so compelling story. It’s fun and very basic, and not something to play all at once. I’ve probably played one level per month for however long. Yeah, not great but satisfying, a little similar to Hotline Miami, although that was amped up madness.
I also played Control, which kind of hooked me in with it’s obsessively crafted and well created world building. The basic premise is you enter the Bureau of Control, basically a secret government department which explores, investigates and works with supernatural oddities occurring all over the world, many of which they themselves don’t quite understand. The building itself, which you basically spend all your time playing within, is like a massive office, which continues to evolve and change as you play, like a living supernatural being. The gameplay mechanics are fun (with the protagonist basically having the basic supernatural abilities) but what you’re really invested in is the world, the little notes that give you more details about a supernatural object, it’s origins and how it came into residing within the bureau. It was very satisfying to play and complete, with the story and world staying with me, with many unanswered questions. Very good.
I’m currently playing through Knights and Bikes with my partner, which is very cute and fun, created by some of the developers behind Little Big Planet, a very child orientated co-op/multiplayer series of games. You play as two young people, riding around on bikes and fighting knights on an island with a mystery. Yeah, it’s a solidly nice game.
Whereas I am currently playing through the 2016 reboot of the Hitman game series, which is very fun. I’ve played a couple of the previous games but never truly got into them, perhaps it was the graphics, or me not being old enough to appreciate the intricacies of the game. Either way, after continuing to watch Killing Eve, the idea of being a hitman infiltrating various areas within a video game has been incredibly enticing. The reboot is fantastic, although the story is quite trash, that’s not really why you play a hitman game. You play for the level design and well built worlds that you inhabit, which this game does very well. There are so many different ways of approaching and killing your targets, really breathing life into the world and making the experience feel very real. A really great game that I’m enjoying, wading through slowly and methodically.
Hmm and I think that might be it for everything. It’s weird, everything has stopped, but I feel incredibly busy still, with a lot going on. Perhaps I just need to get out of bed earlier every day, seizing this time and utilising it properly. Let’s see what happens over the next month or so, fingers crossed for my applications.