“A diverse and thoughtful exhibition” INTERFACE @ neo:studios

‘Angie and Me’ from the ‘Removed’ series, by Eric Pickersgill. Pic courtesy of neo:studios

Interface, noun. 1. A point where two systems, subjects etc. meet and interact. 2. A device or programme enabling a user to communicate with a computer.

neo:studios in Bolton seems almost built to house this collaborative exhibition. Tucked away in the thronged Market Place Shopping Centre, it is a slice of creative calm, itself an interface, inviting shoppers as well as dedicated pilgrims in to counter the sensory overload of the retail rush.

The exhibition aims to interrogate this idea of “interface” – and more specifically, the impact of contemporary technologies on our understanding of our environment.

Some of the pieces function as critiques of the dominance of technology at the expense of (organic, free-range) human interaction. Eric Pickersgill‘s photographs (which were familiar – they have attracted attention from the Atlantic among other publications) show couples and families ministering to their smartphones rather than each other.

Except, however, the devices themselves have been removed, leaving the subjects staring into empty palms. Pickersgill asks what we are missing when we stare into our screens rather than lovingly into each other’s eyes – though his evaluation ends there, leaving him somewhat open to accusations of digital Luddism. I wonder how he takes and edits his photographs.

Julie Henry and Debbie Bragg‘s interactive exhibit, where they invited visitors to write their last text message onto a carrier pigeon message template, contemplated similar questions with slightly more nuance. The resulting display was wittily mundane, with the average contribution something along the lines of “I’m at the art gallery, it’s upstairs” (though my boyfriend thought he’d send me a message saying “lard arse” just before I started writing, to shake things up a bit). None of the messages were particularly pigeon-worthy, which I think was the point – though many were loving and poignant.

Among other highlights was a fish-slapping machine, which used an electric pedal system to rotate a giant rubber sea bass around a bike tyre, walloping the willing victim in the face. This is supposedly a comment on the automation of everyday events (the artist must be part of a Monty Python tribute troupe for this to be part of his quotidian routine).

I spoke to contributing artist Elliot Brown, whose piece uses a sensor to pick up on the viewer’s movements and, based on this, rotates small mirrors in a unique pattern. His work doesn’t comment on the use of technology as such; he conceives it as an “apparatus that uses technology to help viewers apprehend ideas around space”. It’s also great for taking funky selfies.

One of the curators we spoke to was delighted that my friend was visiting from central Manchester: “We normally have to go in – people don’t tend to come out and see us!” This is a diverse and thoughtful exhibition which makes fantastic use of the gallery space – well worth a special trip. And you can get your shopping done at the same time.

INTERFACE runs from 31 March until 20 May (opening hours 11.00am – 5.00pm) Thursday to Sunday. A series of artist’s talks will be staged throughout the duration of the exhibition.

Keith Brown. Pic courtesy of neo:studios