Yuri Pattison — Enquire to Annotate

The digital media artist explains the creative process behind his sculpture for Second Home’s lobby

Artist Yuri Pattison works in digital media and sculpture, exploring ways in which the virtual world permeates material reality. To launch Enquire to Annotate he presented a new work, comprising a sculpture — installed in the reception area of Second Home — and a new website. The sculpture, titled enquire for lobby work 1, is built using industrial warehouse racking and features an LED screen — presenting an online feed updated with sketches, found data and research materials — running from an exposed Raspberry Pi mini-computer. The screen acts in a similar way to ‘big boards’ or curated inspirational boards, which are often found in communal spaces at brand agencies.

A web server is housed within the sculpture, which uses built-in auto blogging software to pull text and images from countless online sources using an algorithm based on keywords relating to Pattison’s research interests. Conceived as a work in progress, the sculpture acts as a remote desktop, with the server hosting content compiled over the course of the residency. This content is fed into the new website built by Pattison, which can be accessed at www.enquire.work.

“What I’m launching today is two things: one is the website Enquire to Annotate — sort of an umbrella research hub for the project — and also the first of several network sculptures, which you probably walked by in the lobby.

Both website and sculpture are public-facing starting points rather than finalised pieces, I’m hoping they’ll function more like a lab. I aim for them to open up my research and development over the next year. Both will pull in, push out and re-circulate information that I’m looking at, encouraging engagement with my process over the course of the Chisenhale Create Residency. These sculptors I will adapt and reformulate over time, reacting to the environments they are hosted in. They are impermanent and shifting mirrors for the networks they relate to.

Within the residency I’m looking at the spectrum of new ways and spaces for working, whatever you may or may not want to call these, from co-working space is, hacker spaces, community-run workshops, creative studios, start-up hubs, and how these fit into network technology’s wider effect on labour within the city.

I’m looking at the water ecology and communities within the so-called London Tech City, and I’m interested in this area of East London that’s been branded London Tech City, from the so-called Silicon Roundabout — the name of which was sort of a throwaway joke over Twitter originally — to here, and then also to Olympic Park.

So the work that you walked past — enquire for lobby work 1 — was built with Second Home’s reception in mind and the broader context of this space. The sculpture is the hardware that is outputting my research at the moment from the practice and from this website.

“Lobby work 1 — was built with Second Home’s reception in mind and the broader context of this space. The sculpture is the hardware that is outputting my research at the moment from the practice and from this website.”

So the initial influence was early-model computer systems, in particular the Moniac, which is the monetary national income analogue computer, which was constricted by Bill Phillips in 1949, a version of which is on display at the Science Museum in London which I encourage you all to visit because it’s a really weird display.

The Moniac attempted to give a clear and rational overview of national economic process in the UK using a controlled flow of liquid. The Moniac is cited within the sites and from this early rendering you sort of get an idea of how it works maybe [laughs]. It uses sort of volumes of liquids to illustrate the flow of money through the economy, and of course this is a very, perhaps — it appears from our perspective — a very naïve system of illustrating how economic or processes work within the nation. But in 1949 this was like ground-breaking stuff.

The Moniac

So concurrently to the Moniac I was looking at a few other systems, I was also looking at topics relating to transparency and in particular radical transparency. Radical transparency, through our access to data and big data, has become quite a powerful movement calling for openness across government governance and organisation. WikiLeaks is probably the most familiar body that’s sort of calling for radical transparency. Other major corporations have also started to get in on the transparency game.

I was interested in our transparency was being codified in process design and physical spaces. I was further interested in the inherent contradictions to transparency, how power dynamics and networks often enforce unequal transparency. So, for instance, Facebook insists that everyone use their real name and identity, and Mark Zuckerberg believes that if you have more than one identity you’re being deceitful in some way. So that’s sort of a one-way transparency where it is being very much enforced on the user base of that network.

So within the piece I’ve referenced various points, material points, I sort of tried to illustrate these ideas of transparency — switching on and off — one of which is an interesting material which is used quite often in office design.

Basically the piece employs samples of what’s called switchable film to reveal or hide different pieces of information that I will be placing within the work — this is something I’m going to deploy in other works.

Switchable film is used in offices to provide privacy — it famously, in cultural terms, made its debut in fiction in Blade Runner where at the Tyrell Corporation they dim the shades, which is like an electronic dimming, at least that’s what is represented.

So the sculpture aims to make visible the systems within it, exposing beginning and end points to the network it is connected to through three stacked computer systems — a web server, a Raspberry Pi and a Bitcoin mining rig. The web server is hosting part of this website, Enquire to Annotate, and running auto-blogging or web-scripting software. This simple intelligence is actively autonomously searching the web for information relating to my interests based on keywords.

So a lot of this output, this sort of disorientating mess of data, has been produced by this auto-blogging software — it just spits out associations based on keywords that I give it, and I’m hoping to form new associations through it or stumble upon things in a more serendipitous manner through the research of this residency.

These tools have been widely used to create spam websites, the goal with such websites is to create to attempt to appear as a leading authority on a particular subject, at least in the eyes of Google. By searching for an existing mass of contact online on that subject, then replicating, altering, and finally posting it online, they attempt to do these processes automatically while producing the website which is passable as one maintained by human. I’m sort of interested in similar processes in journalism where weather and sports stats are turned into human-readable sentences and paragraphs within newspapers. I’m interested in exploring the symbolism of such practices within my work.

“I’m interested in processes in journalism where weather and sports stats are turned into human-readable sentences and paragraphs within newspapers. I’m interested in exploring the symbolism of such practices within my work”

So this is familiarity breeds contempt, which is a scraper spam site hosted within a form a Google server. It’s meant to question ideas of data circulation, access to data, and particularly Google’s monopoly on information and our access to information.

So the next element of the sculpture is a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, which is hosting — well, it’s driving this monitor. The system that the Raspberry Pi is hosting allows me to update it remotely, so it’s basically functioning like a remote desktop in many ways. So all my practice is very laptop-based, I’m outputting my research materials onto this website, onto this screen. I wanted to reference this within the sculpture as these processes are used in corporate environments using big boards which display the analytics of corporations, and then also inspiration boards which often are curated boards which pull media artworks and so on into brand agencies as a way to inspire the workers there.

Lastly, in the base of the piece is a Bitcoin mining rig, so this is actually actively hashing on the Bitcoin network, producing digital currency which we rolled back into the project. It’s a decentralised and potentially anonymous cryptocurrency, it relies on transparency to work, and all transactions are public and verified by computers on the network such as mine. When the transaction is verified, a small fee is paid to the verifier.

The decentralised system behind Bitcoin — the distributed database known as blockchain — has been promoted as a replacement for many systems, including government’s contracts and ownership of intellectual property.

My interest in Bitcoin as a working model for traditional money is the main one, but I’m also interested in its mirroring of the development of the world wide web. So looking at the history of the world wide web from a deregulated space of anonymity to one that is central to our daily lives and it is very much a direct mirror of what we do in real life.

Enormous amounts of money have been poured into Bitcoin recently and into the blockchain technology, so we are probably going to be seeing a lot more of it in our day-to-day lives. My hope with this website and that the project is that both will develop over time — the website itself currently has an annotation system installed on it, which we are going to develop further, which will allow feedback and communication through the website about the stuff I am looking at basically.

The sculptures will be part of a network which will be all connected via this website, but will be placed in different workspaces around East London. The hope is to deploy more of them, which will then develop over time and they’ll scrape and react and suck up information and references based on the locations.Unknown speaker (U): So perhaps I should explain how I ended up here. Yuri and I started having a conversation not about his work, not about mine, but about contemporary spaces of production in Paris. This conversation steered toward Blade Runner, although unconsciously somehow that created a kind of bond.

Blade Runner as an analogy to understand certain mechanisms of appropriation of which companies have of synergies which occur within urban environments to foster creativity and thus the production of capital. I [compared this] to the work of a scholar called Douglas Spencer, which himself had drawn from work from Michel Feher called Notes on the Sophisticated City, who was also using Blade Runner in a sense to make a point on how capital somehow is more and more becoming imminent to its object of power.

This somehow brought us together even though we’re from very different parts. Obviously with regards to the idea of the replicant I’ve always been drawn through my artistic practise towards how companies appropriate the kind of creative synergies which occur within urban environments, but even more so the decorative tropes of the domestic sphere for example to promote new spaces of work.

A space like Second Home functions like a model in many ways because you have the social space, and then also it’s a workspace that’s open 24 hours. I came into this looking at more peer-to-peer communities, and the first one I started working at — that I had been working at since before the residency through convenience — was London Hackspace. That is a really interesting model because it can be deployed throughout any city — it’s a set formula — but then also through its constitution you can see how it all works and it is a working community in every aspect. All mechanisms are exposed.

In some ways the placement of Second Home is quite interesting because it relates to the art community and its mechanisms, and I think there’s a lot of play in creative spaces within the tech community, within the start-up community. Google is an example of one that uses play a lot in its spaces, but this idea that creativity can never be below the API. So it’s very much separating that out — you have the creatives and then everyone else. I’m interested in that line that’s being drawn.

“Most of these objects such as Bitcoin miners and also data servers are hidden in anonymous buildings, but they very much power the apps and services that we use and we don’t think about the mechanisms behind them in any way.”

Most of these objects such as Bitcoin miners and also data servers are hidden in anonymous buildings, but they very much power the apps and services that we use and we don’t think about the mechanisms behind them in any way. But I think modelling networks also relate to social networks in many ways as well. That point of severing links is that when that server gets turned off or moved or put in storage when an artwork ceases to be on display gets tucked away, and in many ways the components that that server hosts of the website will also disappear and go offline. That’s a very visual representation of those disconnections.

A Google server farm

I think I was also very much playing with what happens in the city when certain communities get priced or pushed out of areas. It only takes one thing for an art community or for a local community to be fragmented and topple. So they are both very delicate things, and I think playing with computer networks as a model, or even just simple web networks, is a nice way to illustrate these things.

The server piece referenced here was a direct development of this previous server piece which was hung at radiator height but was just a server. It played with [the] notions and references of corporate infiltration of the home. With the piece here I was trying to visualise the end points of a lot of stuff that’s happening in this building and place it back within the building itself.

This is a very experimental space which doesn’t have a server room and I thought it would be quite interesting to loop these things back in on themselves.

This talk took place at Second Home, a creative workspace and cultural venue, bringing together diverse industries, disciplines and social businesses

Find out who’s coming to talk next: secondhome.io/whats-on

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