Bob is a London based artist working in moving image, installation, sculpture and other digital mediums. Surveillance, the internet and the consumer capitalist culture within today’s society are the main issues surrounding his work alongside an intense fascination in the various cultures associated with video games and online communities. He explores these themes using tools and technologies, which are relatable but not restricted to art.

Bob is the founder of isthisit? and a director at A217 Gallery

post 9/11 (2017)


Digital print on ply wood

 

120cm x 20cm x 1cm

Speaking of privacy and the 'online self' - I recently applied for a visa to America and was asked in the application for all of my social media accounts.  An article I read yesterday spoke about how people can now be asked for their passwords to social media accounts on arrival to America and denied entry for refusal. How do you think this affects the artists presence and production, especially with a practice that engages with the internet and the digital predominantly ? Do you ever feel a need to censor your work for these reasons ?

It’s like we’re already in the dystopic vision of the future portrayed in that Black Mirror episode, where your access to goods and services is dependent on your social media rating, although in this case I assume it’s less about how many followers you have and more about whether you’ve been involved in any illegal activity and flaunting it on social media. I’ve been reading those same articles, which are all incredibly unnerving, although for me this is simply a more physical, obvious version of what’s been happening for years, governments and corporations accessing your devices without asking permission. Everything that occurs online, from talking ‘privately’ on Facebook to sharing an image publicly on Instagram, has had the ability to be monitored for some time, so at this point you’re too late to worry about what you’ve been doing on the internet, as your entire web history is probably in a file somewhere deep within GCHQ. I think everyone censors themselves to some degree, especially on the internet, and this recent example is simply raising the bar of self-censorship higher. It’s obviously a concerning idea, and contrasts with how we as a society are moving towards being more ‘open’ and ‘transparent’, ultimately leading to our ‘real’ selves hiding behind a false persona which is continually oppressed by our peers and the government.

Guided Representation - detail (2017)

One of your recent works 'Automated Compression' deals with elements of censorship/security/privacy/ technology in a very comprehensive way. Maybe we can talk about how such a works is manifested, what is the starting point ?

Automated Compression (2017)


Clear acrylic emoji pillows, 22 inch television screen, media player, vacuum compressed storage bag, extension cord

90cm x 78cm x 15cm

I wanted to make a piece of work that considered how the world has changed since 9/11, which is generally talked about as the event that triggered the huge increase in online/offline surveillance that we encounter on a daily basis. The idea of security, and specifically airport security, also seemed pertinent due to Donald Trump’s travel ban and the increased security measures that have been, and will continue to be, implemented during his administration. Whilst browsing through YouTube I discovered a deleted scene from the show Friends, where Chandler jokes about bringing a bomb to the airport and is taken into a back room to be questioned. This was originally part of an episode that was meant to air about a month or so after 9/11 happened, so obviously the scene was taken out and replaced. In ‘Automated Compression’ I begin by utilising this short 4 minute clip as a turning point, probably one of the last times that airport security was shown in the media as relaxed enough that you could joke about a bomb and be released from custody without any real abuse or serious questioning.

What do you think about the relationship between art and such subjects ? Art and politics has a dense history, I'm thinking particularly about audience and engagement - how do these notions feed into your practice ?

I think everything has a political intention, whether intended or not. I wouldn’t label myself as a political artist, more of an appropriator and commentator, in this case documenting how security at airports has changed over the past few decades. Although I am considering these ideas from an inherently negative/political position, looking at how the internet and the world in general has become an incredibly corporatized, centralised space where free will is being reduced with various acts being passed and more terms and conditions to sign on a daily basis. I guess I am political, with the current climate of alternative facts and twitter trolls affecting myself and my practice regularly.

Let's Be Friends (2016)

Steel, Television screen, media player, kindle fire, iPhone, t-shirt, tablet mount, phone mount, extension cable, media player, USB flash drive, miscellaneous cables
 

Dimensions variable

Data Tower II - detail (2016)

Rules of Engagement (2016)

Television screen, Rubik's Cubes, media player

Dimensions variable

                        
[15:51, 4/19/2017] +353 85 : How did your approach to the magazine differ from online/offline exhibitions ?                        
[16:01, 4/19/2017] +353 85 : did making the magazine allow you to think differently or be more critical about the online/digital medium ?

It was a similar process, although the idea of the magazine feels a lot more permanent than an exhibition; it's a physical document that encompasses so much information. Literal information in the form of essays but also in a more conceptual way with regards to how I've designed the magazine and the curatorial decisions that have been made, from choosing the artists to the placement of work. As with most things, the artwork and the overall design has to be immediately aesthetically pleasing, as magazines are inherently made to be ‘flicked through’. The money aspect is also interesting, charging a fee for a product constantly made me wonder whether there was enough content to warrant someone paying for this thing that I’d produced.

 
Rather than being critical of the online, the magazine became a bit of an ode to the aesthetics of the digital, with all the different artworks being embedded within different computer windows, the interviews laid out on iMessage and the essays as if they’re being sent in emails. Rather than being critical of this medium that I was disregarding by making the magazine a physical thing, I found myself wanting to go back to the digital because of how throwaway the medium is, which comes back to my concerns of whether there’s enough content in there. Online, everything is free, easily obtained and forgotten, whereas in the offline space it’s there forever, becoming a commodity to be bought and sold.
Yeah the financial aspect of making a publication was something I was going to bring up as a whole lot of other things also arise. Do you think the publications could be an avenue that could support, financially the online projects ?
I think that’s definitely a possibility, one that I wouldn’t be opposed to. I’m also developing a series of isthisit? merchandise which will hopefully enable me to fund a few upcoming projects, although right now I’m focusing on ways to pay the artists that I’m working with, so in the upcoming show at Serf in Leeds there are a few prints on sale, with some of the proceeds going to the artists. The second issue of the mag is going to be sold on custom built 3D printed USB sticks, with most of the profits going to the commissioned artists. At this point I want to look into different ways of funding, enabling me to fully compensate artists involved in all my future projects.
So the second magazine will be digital ?
I think so, for me it was important that the first issue was conforming to the magazine stereotype, establishing it as a 'proper' publication and proving to myself that I could produce something like that before experimenting with more contemporary ways of showcasing content that's usually associated with a physical magazine.

Data Tower III - detail (2016)

That makes sense. How did the merchandise come about ? Is it the start of the brand isthisit?

It's a lot to do with some of the work I make in my artistic practice, utilising online printing technology to create commercial products, imitating and critiquing that consumer culture that we all passively participate in. So the merchandise is an extension of that, whilst furthering the isthisit? brand and investing in a money orientated experience that's slowly becoming more important within my curatorial practice.