For Stuart Ward, art is an ever-evolving process.
Ward was a painter until he came to realize that the idea of creating a two-dimensional, non-interactive work no longer reflected the society he sees around him.
“Making art that’s static or not interactive or doesn’t move doesn’t reflect society as much as I hope it would,” he muses. “It’s about reflecting the world around us.”
Ward is one-half of Hfour, the professional artist team that’s coming to Luminescence II with its video installation, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. Together with Ben Cooper, Ward is creating an installation that will explore humanity’s relationship with technology – presenting both a utopian and a dystopian vision of the world.
Their light installation uses video monitors and a tunnel of mirrors to lead viewers into an infinite landscape. It’s inspired by two artworks of the same title: the original, a 1967 poem by Richard Brautigan; the second, a 2011 BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis. Brautigan’s work is rooted in a utopian vision, where technology and nature coexist in harmony, while Curtis’s work argues that technological utopia has failed us.
“You look into two different portals and are transported – one is a utopian and the other is a dystopian view of reality,” Cooper explains. “Any piece of technology has potential for great good or great evil. It’s all about what you do with it.”
For Cooper, it’s important to have conversations about these issues, and, for him, the logical way to have those conversations is through art.
“I think in images and experiences. To me, I’ve always enjoyed creating experiences and immersing people in them,” he says.
He’s looking forward to taking over the back room at the gallery – a previous storage area that became the site of the biggest buzz around last year’s show when it housed Ron Simmer’s infinity room installation, A Night Walk in Falling Snow.
In fact, it was talking to Simmer about the show that Cooper got excited about the potential for taking part in Luminescence II.
“We wanted to really create an experience in that back room,” Cooper says. “We wanted to create something special for people to step into. There’s a real transformative nature in technology.”
Ward, too, is embracing the chance to create something different than what the duo has typically done.
“It’s a little bit more sculptural than some of the other work we’ve done,” he explains, noting that because of the confined space, they’ve used mirrors to make the space look bigger.
Dealing with the practicalities – how to build the installation so that it can be transported in a van, fit through a doorway and create as little waste as possible – is all part of the challenge he enjoys. That last aspect, reducing waste, is a key part of their philosophy, since their goal is to work as sustainably as possible.
Creating the installation as a duo has been a true partnership, Ward says. Cooper came up with the idea for what to build. Ward came up with the title. Then they worked together to build the concept of what exactly they would create to work with that title and how they would explore the nature of the duality they wanted to portray.
They’re hopeful the end product of their efforts will be appealing not just to those who consider themselves “arty” but to an audience of anyone and everyone.
“We want to have our art accessible to everyone,” Cooper says. “Art has got kind of a bad rap in that it can be exclusionary.”
And it’s important to him that work like Hfour’s continue to be seen – and talked about.
“We should be paying more attention to media art,” he said. “It’s the medium of our times. We interact with technology every day, and we don’t think about it much.”