Robert Good | Contagion 2020
In observing what is in front of us, the human conscience absorbs text and graphic more quickly than the speed at one can comprehend. What do the things we see mean beyond what they have been presented as? Artist Robert Good attempts to decipher the ways in which one may understand these messages through an installation of text animation; newspaper headlines and news broadcasts – the artist inventively recreates the highlights of the world’s happenings. The online exhibition held by the Science Gallery Bengaluru shares a multiplicity of voices and perspectives, both contemporary and historic, artistic and scientific, individual and collective in order to support better understanding of the present pandemic and its circumstances. ‘CONTAGION’ examines the transmission of emotions, behaviours, ideas and diseases, their fascinating and occasionally frightening spread and the why of it, why it matters to our lives and how we lead them, how we imagine the future to be. Curated by Danielle Olsen and Jahnavi Phalkey the international exhibition aims to create a platform that is inspiring and informative, a notion to implement a space for better understanding and through the works of artists, we witness these answers unveil and unfold.
‘How can we make sense of the digital world as information multiplies exponentially?’ is the question that ‘2020 Vision’ begins by. The content conveyed and presented online proliferates hurriedly, swiftly – a series of headlines frequently and constantly appearing in sight. Through ‘2020 Vision’, the artist attempts to externalise this information – he begins by asking, ‘What is the future of - ?’ Robert Good’s animations sequentially escalates, text blinking in and out of curated grids meant to represent TV screens and CCTV Cameras. In our conversation with the artist, we discuss the weight of these words, what they mean in a time such as now amidst a global pandemic and their influence on society, we explore his journey in art and what of his experiences impact the way he perceives the world.
Q | Can you talk about the concept behind '2020 Vision'?
A | 2020 Vision is an attempt to make sense of the deluge of information that has become the backdrop to our lives; and also an attempt to convey the way in which news is packaged up into snippets of tantalising curiosities that we are meant to be invested in. How can we make sense of the world around us? How can we possibly have an opinion on all these subjects? What is even important and what is frivolous? These were some of the starting points for the animation. The grid of rectangles references both a bank of TVs in a newsroom and a security guard's screen with CCTV cameras - we are being fed information that we are being asked to process.
Q | In creating '2020 Vision', what was the thought process behind the curation of titles to convey the message?
A | The year 2020 was one starting point: '2020 Vision' is the name for perfect vision, and so the sense of looking forward with perfect clarity was in my mind. But of course we can't see into the future, we can only speculate about what might lie ahead. So I decided to collect headlines which started with the phrase 'What is the future of...?" as a way of expressing the unknowability of the future, and yet the way in which we are asked to have an opinion about so many things, even if we have no such opinion, or indeed have better things to do with our time than to speculate on some of these unknowables.
Q | What inspired your journey in the art industry?
A | This is a long story, but essentially I became interested in art at around the age of 18, but had no knowledge of art and no training or facility in it. I was inspired by my uncle who took me out painting one day, and suddenly I saw everything in a different way - I really started to look at the world afresh. I had a long career in IT but I always wanted to pursue my art, and finally I went back to school and studied for an MFA (Master of Fine Art).
Q | You often converse with experimental artists about their work; can you tell us how this experience and your interest in the definition of art as a whole has contributed to your artistic expression, work and creative processes?
A | Yes, I am fascinated by the possibilities for art and the reasons why art is important. Scientists learn about the world and provide us with medicines, vaccines and technologies; engineers construct amazing buildings and infrastructure; politicians hope to change the world - so what does art do and why make art when you can be a scientist? So I collected 3000 online definitions of art for my book 'A New Dictionary of Art' and I hold conversations with artists for my podcast 'Something To Do With Art' as a way of trying to map out what are the possibilities for art and why people choose to be creative rather than practical. And also because people have such strong opinions about what is and isn't art! AndI have come to realise that art allows us to ask questions in a different way, and is an arena in which ideas can be discussed without needing to provide any answers. And this is important.We need to be able to explore ideas without any boundaries or conclusions in mind.
And so in my own work, art allows me to explore the problems of knowledge and the way in which knowledge has migrated from books to bytes, from analogue to digital, in an open-ended way. I want to reflect back the world as I see it and use my art as a starting point for conversations and discussions about how things are and how they might be.
Q | What of the UK art scene do you most admire and are inspired by?
A | We are very fortunate in the UK to have a very vibrant and diverse art scene, and what I like in particular is the way in which it continually challenges me and asks questions. It is important to stay open and reflective and this is what art can do. There is so much to learn from others and their experiences, so I admire anyone who expresses themselves in a creative way - we can always learn from acts of creativity. So personally I don't have any particular or specific artists that inspire me – although I must admit the late American conceptual artist John Baldessari is a big favourite of mine – it is more that I am energised by acts of creativity in whatever form they may take.
Robert Good is an artist based in Cambridge, United Kingdom. He is the editor of A New Dictionary of Art and founder and director of the artist collective Art Language Location. His podcast, ‘Something to Do with Art’, features discussions with experimental artists about what they do and why. Recurring themes in his work include the limitations of language, the problems of knowledge, and the transition from analogue to digital. He has an ongoing interest in the astronomical sublime. His previous works include 3000 definitions of “Art” for A New Dictionary of Art and 13,000 news headlines for BREAKING. Future projects include ‘Dr Good Investigates... What Is Reality?’at Science Gallery Rotterdam in November 2020, and Bookworks at UWE, Bristol in 2021.
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