An artwork created for the opening of the University of Dundee’s LifeSpace Science Art Research Gallery is included in an international exhibition of current digital art practice opening this week at The Lowry in Salford.
‘Stutterer’, created by artists Thomson & Craighead is a two-channel video installation that uses the human genome sequence as its score and take more than 75 years to play from beginning to end.
The work was included in the exhibition ‘Scales of Life’ seen in Dundee from October 2014 to January of this year, during which time only the first 3 per cent of the code for human DNA was read. ‘Stutterer’ will feature as part of the exhibition, ‘Right Here, Right Now’, at The Lowry from Friday, November 13th until the end of February next year.
The internationally renowned UK-based artists Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead are both graduates of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, part of the University. ‘Stutterer’ was made in collaboration with computational biologists working in Dundee’s School of Life Sciences, whose research focuses on the development and application of computational methods to improve the understanding of biological systems.
The artwork presents version 1 of the human genome sequence as a string of letters that spell out the nucleotide base pairs of DNA. These letters are then presented on a second screen in the form of video clips from broadcast television, which the artists have parsed from online sources such as YouTube. The video clips present a picture of the world and its major news events between 1990 and 2003 – the thirteen-year period that scientists spent decoding the human genome.
After its exhibition in LifeSpace, the University acquired the work for its art collection and is now lending it to other venues so that more people can see it and learn about how artists and scientists collaborate to create new understandings of current research.
LifeSpace curator Dr Sarah Cook said, “Thomson & Craighead are artists whose works reflect our current technological condition, of being always plugged in, of everything around us being mediated, and presented back to us online, on screen.
“Stutterer is an amazing reflection of that, and of how we understand ourselves. It shows on one screen the code which constitutes our genetic makeup, and on the other moments in how humanity has defined itself of late -- the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa, the rise of social media, the fall of Baghdad to a US and British military coalition.
“While the DNA code is scripted, the software chooses each video clip at random, so it stutters through its reading of the code. As a kind of performance, the work isn’t designed to play more than once. The one time it will play, will take until sometime around the year 2080. Whichever bit of it you watch, won’t play again. It will outlive you, and almost everyone viewing the work in an exhibition, as well as the technology that it is playing on.”
The work was supported by The Wellcome Trust with an arts award that enabled its creation. After its exhibition at The Lowry the work will tour London and then other art and science venues.
‘Right Here, Right Now’ is a major new exhibition providing a thought-provoking snapshot of developments in contemporary digital art, bringing together 16 international artists who use and explore digital technologies. Together they address how technology affects our lives - be that through surveillance, artificial intelligence, voyeurism or online dating.
Created in the last five years, their critical, playful and illuminating artworks challenge understanding of the digital systems that surround us, while making visible those that are hidden. Many are interactive, while others transcribe data into stunning visual displays or strange music. All invite us to re-think our own increasingly connected and systematised lives.
Sarah Cook is one of six curators who were invited to suggest artworks for inclusion in the exhibition. Thomson & Craighead are also showing ‘Corruption’, a series of light sculptures based on a virus laden computer video file, at the exhibition.
IMAGE: Stutterer, 2014, Thomson & Craighead, installation view from Scales of Life, 2014/15, LifeSpace: Science Art Research Gallery, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee. Photo: Ruth Clark.