TECHnique – Artists, Practice and Technology

technique arts technology

Exploring how technology is affecting the arts

At TECHnique 4 artists told their stories, explained their choices and the lessons that they have learned when using technology.

How have artists changed their methods over the last 5, 10 and 20 years? This was the question on the lips of those that attended Create Hub’s first ever event – TECHnique.

Held at Google’s Campus London, TECHnique featured four artists who discussed their approach to using digital technologies, in particular focussing on a project that they have worked on. The speakers were Richard Adams (Royal Shakespeare Company), Deborah Davies (Dd) (International Artist), Bhavani Esapathi (The Invisible Labs) and Fiddian Warman (Soda).

Traditional and digital approaches to art

The obstacles that prevented artists from working with digital technologies in the past have mostly disappeared, so the aim was to understand why some artists stick with traditional techniques, while others turn to digital options.

Samuel Fry introduced the event, explaining that this is “where artists talk about technology and how it is affecting their practice!” before stating that it “is the first event that we have done, so it’s a bit of an experiment.” However, the experiment seems to have been a success as, of those surveyed after the events, 78% of the audience described the event as Very Good or Excellent and 100% said that they would go again.

Richard Adams, one of the speakers and co-organisers of the event said afterwards: “The point of the event for me was to actually hear artists talk about their choices as practitioners. There are few events where this happens, most are dominated by the tech and everyone coos at the amazing things that can be done, not why they are being done. I think the event very successfully addressed this gap.”

The event was live streamed on Create Hub’s Youtube channel, plus the footage of the event and photographs are available online. However, we thought we would summarise each of the speakers talks here…

Fiddian Warman

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Fiddian Warman gave the first talk of the night.

Fiddian began life studying sculpture, which encouraged him to set up his own furniture design company. A few years later he was still interested in creating artwork and so he took an MA in Digital Art at Middlesex University and began working with robots. In 1997, he started Soda.

Soda mainly work on projects that bring together the physical and digital. One example that he gave of this was “Web Story Box” for the Information Age Gallery, which worked with Tim Bernards-Lee and Josie Long to explain how the internet works. While, the project that Soda are best known for is Soda Constructor, which is an online construction kit for building animated models.

Neurotic – Robots and Punk

The focus of Fiddian’s talk was on a performance piece called “Neurotic”.

Having received support from the Wellcome Trust, the idea behind “Neurotic” was to create pogoing robots who stand amongst the audience – in the mosh-pit of a punk gig. Fiddian and the team at Soda used a neural network for this project, which recognises the patterns of music. The idea was that the robots could recognise the difference between different music types (e.g. punk or classical) and they would listen to the music played at a live punk gig and bounce accordingly.

Bhavani Esapathi

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Second up on the stage was Bhavani Esapathi.

Bhavani is currently the Director of the Goethe Institute’s MOOC and she is the Founder of The Invisible Labs. However, she began by describing the difficulty in explaining what she does. “Any time someone asks me what do you do? Either I could talk to them for the entire day – or I tell them that I am a writer. As that shuts them up.” “If you don’t want to say what you do, say that you are a writer.”

Chronically Driven and The Invisible Labs

Bhavani started her career by creating a project that called for writing from anyone with a chronic, incurable and invisible condition. The project, called Chronically Driven, is hosted on Medium as it’s a platform that is naturally suited for collaboration. Since it started, Chronically Driven has grown into a larger project called “The Invisible Labs” where the goal is to focus on bringing artists and scientists together and making invisible and autoimmune diseases visible.

She asked the audience, “Feel free to be honest – do I look normal to all of you?” before adding that “I have about four auto-immune diseases and we are building a digital sculpture to illustrate this.” The Invisible Labs aims to create systemic change by bringing people with similar diseases together.

Richard Adams

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Richard Adams explained, from the beginning, that he was being asked to speak about something that he does not usually speak about – himself.

Like Fiddian Warman, Richard studied an MA in Digital Art at Middlesex University. When he left, he found himself working in Interactive TV. “22 years ago I found myself making Interactive Emmerdale Farm, straight after making an interactive cubist portrait machine.” He described the Interactive TV industry at the time like “The Wild West” as their was a lack of knowledge in the industry and “no examples of anything to look at” when trying to solve a problem.

What got him through that experience was being an artist, not a technologist, as “Artists are driven by frustration and disappointment.”

The role of an artist is to question

Richard explained that computers can only give you answers, where as the role of an artist is to question. Talking about his own work and his experiences in the cultural and technology industries, he explained that the boundaries between artists and people who can create things out of digital tools is becoming very blurred.

Richard Adams is a writer, painter, photographer and musician. However, he stated that some of his work, such as photographs run through pre-created filters, would not be considered Art – where as the work where he has more creative control does.

His message was simple, “We can all make sound, image, video – etcetera – to a decent standard. The challenge is to take it further and to move people.”

Deborah Davies (Dd)

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The final speaker of the night was Deborah Davies (Dd).

Dd graduated from art college and went into the television industry. “I never ever saw a female camera person as the cameras were too heavy. Plus, everyone was a specialist.” Deborah compared this to now, where she has just filmed some footage as part of one of her own projects, which will be re-used as part of Robot Wars. The industry has changed.

Leaving the Television industry, Dd went on to become the Artist in Residence at the University of London’s Centre for Creative Collaboration (C4CC). She was inspired by those with a range of skills at the C4CC, so much so that, in her words: “Having no real practical skills, I decided to create a sculpture for the Burning Man Festival.”

The sculpture that she created was Luma Module, an interactive ‘spaceship’ that explores the ideas around false scientific claims (often referred to as Cargo Cult Science). As someone interacting with the sculpture, the machine reads your “inner light” status and delivers a verdict of  Devil, Demon, Angel, or God.



Thank you to Campus London for providing the venue and to Glaceau Smartwater for providing drinks. All photographs are courtesy of Sara Bianchetti.

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