Q&A with Tracey Moberly [Speaker, YAIC 2012]

Tracey Moberly at The Tate, by Johnny Green

You seem to do an awful lot of things. How do you describe what you do to people at dinner parties?
When people ask what I do, I begin by saying I’m a Welsh artist, author & activist, lecturing in Fine Art, Interactive Arts, Communication Media design and Politics living in London. If people are interested I’d go on to say I’m an interdisciplinary and cross-platform artist, radio show producer/host; regular guest on BBC Radio London and was co-owner of legendary art and music hangout, the Foundry, in Shoreditch, London. If there are any questions I’d speak further about my art, practice and theory and would describe it as Socio-political. The conversation then switches to different projects and campaigns I have realised with my art practice. My website is www.text-me-up.com
Can you explain Text Me Up a bit?

Text-Me-Up! is a book that has been recently published and available on Amazon. It is also a large arts project with regular exhibitions I have been working on. I have saved every text apart from the first one since 1999. The book is split into 3 written narratives. The text messages I have received begin and end every chapter – selected randomly and written chronologically; the second narrative is autobiographical woven around the selected received texts and the third is an on-going i-Phone narrative from different people who were texting me as I was writing the book – sometimes changing the flow of the story. There are 2,500 photos/images in the book.

What excites you most about Twitter/social media today?

The social and political structuring being formed by social networking  – along with the psychology behind individual structures, the speed and immediacy of it is what interests me the most about Twitter and social media currently. Everything from the use of this technology in the Arab Spring to the organising of a school reunion. I am very interested in how ‘text mining’ the content within social media can predict real-world outcomes. For example how the content from tweets can forecast cinema box office revenues and how this too can be manipulated to dictate music due to be released. Within the making of new work I also like the mix of mediums incorporating the power of social media networks and the new boundaries that lay as yet unchartered.

My last two art projects were based on social networking and Twitter, also incorporating other traditional media. One was in Manchester with students from the Politics Department of Manchester Metropolitan University and the other in London at Tate Modern as part of the launch of their new space The Tanks.

‘TWEET-ME-UP! at The Tate Tanks is an extension of Text-Me-Up! It is a mass participation installation and exhibition generated by social networking sites. I included work from 160 artists and musicians who responded to a request I put on my facebook page. I included at least one piece from each submission – and exhibited it in The Tate Modern. As the project grew through social media I only knew about half the people. Contributions came from Uzbekistan to Eastern Siberia via New Jersey. I hope to tour this show – the work can all be seen and heard on www.tweet-me-up.com and an app is currently under construction which will invite more people to contribute as it tours.

Do artists have a duty to explore the digital domain? Are there enough artists doing so or should there be more?
I don’t think artists necessarily have a duty to explore the digital domain as different artists work within different mediums of their own choosing. I do however think that the digital domain is like a vast virtually uncharted new universe on offer to many artists. It offers both traditional and new tools affordable to the majority of those established and those just starting to explore this as a career path. The mobile (i-Phone) is my pallet and paint for
canvas and print; a recording device for producing my large scale sonogram canvases; also the pen and paper for writing and researching my new book, along with documenting aspects for it. As my digital camera and computer it provides me with the tools to sustain a regular income further allowing me explore new unchartered territories with my phone. Many artists are starting to work in this way. Speedy advances in new technology are inviting more artists to work in this way in a cross-platform and internetworked format.

Any predictions for the (short term or long term) future in the overlaps of technology and art?

New movements within traditional arts fields expressing alternative perspectives and re-exploring how we originally perceived a particular scene or event that the artist captures and represents. More people creating who perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have without these new digital devices with their advancements at their fingertips. I think that the development of ‘peer to peer social networking’ groups will start generating new domains and work. There will be a need to employ reforms and reviews in galleries and museums focused on the overlaps of new technology and art as people are gravitating to cross platform formats. New subject matters will be explored and different ways of viewing these through new technology.

For example a recent project I have started contributing to with physicist Lily Asquith uses data from the Large Hadron Collider at Cern to generate images and sound. Another example is the sculptural artworks being produced using Fortus production systems which were designed for engineers. When utilised by artists works are being created from perspectives that were previously unable to be worked by the human hand. Cheap desktop 3D printers are going to make this practice commonplace. The manufacture and production of the Raspberry Pi open computing platform with downloadable Linux distributions will also revolutionise work in the overlap between art and technology as these systems are cheaper than most mobile phones and are being introduced into schools in huge numbers.

What will you be talking about at YAIC 2012?

The challenges and opportunities that our economy and the human race will face in the next ten years. This will look at the environment, population growth, the increase of digital communication and personalities – focusing on how creatives will be able to help solve problems that occur within these subjects. Also looking at whether it is the responsibility of the creatives to contribute with solutions.

Have you been to Iceland before? 
No I have not been to Iceland before so very much looking forward to my first visit there. The main reason being the geography and geology of the Island and the visuals this produces. I’m looking forward to observing the socio-political dynamics of the country and the effect this has on the social fabric there. The fact that it is one of the most technologically advanced and digitally – connected countries in the world and the effect this has on it’s community being part of the latter. It’s reputation proclaiming it to be the most ‘female friendly country’ on the planet as well as the world’s most feminist country also sparks much interest for me on gender equality, making it very different from any other country I have visited. It is being currently dubbed the ‘possible hipster capital’ of the world with a vibrant cool music scene – which again really interests me following living and working in Shoreditch, London. I’m also very much looking forward to experiencing the arts and architecture of Reykjavík.