Turner Contemporary Film and Video Umbrella presents: Our Mutual Friends, a Film and Video Umbrella project, in partnership with Turner Contemporary, Margate and Aspex, Gallery, Portsmouth, presenting four newly commissioned online artworks that take Charles Dickens’s allegorical novel and find echoes in the present.
Manifesting in locations both on and offline, Our Mutual Friends connects the contemporary phenomenon of social media with the legacy of Dickens. The project mobilises Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites and apps to consider Dickens’s satire on ‘society’, ‘celebrity’ and the superficiality of friendships in the light of our contemporary cultural moment. The new works by Gayle Chong Kwan, Graham Hudson, Thomson & Craighead and Janice Kerbel will be available online atourmutualfriends.com and through various social networking sites from 30 August when London’s Jerwood Space will host a launch event.
Our Mutual Friends draws on two key themes from Dickens’s tale: the scrapheaps and dustheaps of Victorian London and the superficialities of the salon-society social whirl. It explores how those motifs might resonate today – the dirt and debris of the riverside dustheaps superseded by the virtual/digital junk and clutter we carry around in our heads/Blackberrys/phones, and the social whirl extended and accelerated by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc; a never-ending source of that very same disposable but insidiously cluttering material.
Gayle Chong Kwan’s The Golden Tide peruses the flotsam and jetsam of the River Thames, and traces how the images of the objects that she finds there later wash up online. Following the course of the river from London to Margate, Chong Kwan records small-scale, everyday beachings – each item adding to a stream of digital snapshots uploaded to the digital photo app, Instagram. Chong Kwan selects images, which she collages together into a panorama (or ‘myriorama’) – its antiquated form echoing the muted ‘archival’ patina of Instagram’s trademark look. These images will be printed as a series of posters, and fly posted on the outside of London’s Jerwood Space, where they will be left to weather over time. During the month of September, a narrative around the images will also begin to unfold through Twitter and Instagram.
Making a series of imaginary incursions across London (that correspond to six Dickensian walks that have been devised for Our Mutual Friends), Graham Hudson’s Works in Progress echoes Dickens’s own way of observing overlooked details of everyday London life. Rather than recording the people who make up the capital, Hudson’s focus is on the marks they make – in particular the intrusions and disruptions of road works. In an escalating almanac of images, accessible from his Facebook page, Hudson meticulously documents these outbreaks on the surface of the urban environment – each temporary roadblock providing a pause for thought, and an opportunity to photograph what surrounds it. Fascinated by the way these public works leave rubble behind them in random sculptural arrangements, Hudson celebrates each makeshift ‘installation’, piling image upon image, and, in a special satellite of the project in Dickens’s birthplace of Portsmouth, gathering together actual physical debris from local sites.
The hard-luck stories and heart-rending pleas of Thomson & Craighead’s More Songs of Innocenceand Experience have been lifted from examples of that contemporary symbol of mounting junk, the spam email. Taking their place in a long and inglorious history of scams and schemes and unreeling like a karaoke autocue, to an electronic soundtrack, Thomson & Craighead’s reworking of this material prompts us to look again at these lurking presences in our lives. With online scams often parading a back-story as pitiable and poignant as any beggar on the Victorian streets, Songs of Innocence and Experience serves to remind us how, in over a century of technological change, human nature has stayed pretty much the same.
Janice Kerbel will blog about a fictional character called Doug. Part innocent fool, part hapless fall-guy, Doug is no stranger to the streets of the city, yet seems oblivious to its perils and pitfalls, which conspire to trip him up at every step. Without friends and with no special talent to make him stand out from the crowd, Doug is forced to live on his wits. Kerbel’s blog records his adventures and misadventures – each episode following a familiar pattern, in which Doug’s good-hearted nature leads him into a succession of scrapes, which usually end with him finding himself in mortal danger.