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Packet Switching


“Ultimately there are only two basic states or basic phases and everything of interest takes place on the boundary between them: on the boundary between chaos and order, on the boundary of water and ice, on the boundary of finite and infinite computer process.” Tor Norretranders*

Kate Southworth and Patrick Simons have been creating audiovisual artworks, output in Shockwave, for exhibitions, projections at public gatherings of various kinds and for distribution across the Internet since the year 2000.

They live and work in Cornwall, under the name Glorious Ninth, which they describe as the space between their different approaches. Tor Norretranders, in his book, The User Illusion, tells us that when you have both ice and water in the same glass, complexity occurs at the transitional point between solidity and fluidity. It is on this boundary that really interesting things happen. By tracking back through the history of the evolution of human consciousness, he suggests that consciousness and culture both exhibit this common quality with matter.

Packet Switching is described by the artists as an encounter with the “liminal space between ocean and land, between emotions and thoughts, and between reality and virtuality”. It exists simultaneously in two forms, as an online work and, for the next two years, in physical space as part of the touring exhibition, net:reality. The first venue is 20/21 Gallery in Scunthorpe, in a deconsecrated church.

A fine mesh screen of 4′ x 5″ is suspended in the nave of the church, above visitors’ heads, with a moving image back-projected onto its surface so that it can be seen from both sides. The audio plays from speakers situated on the floor on either side of the screen forming a triangle measuring about 18 feet, on each side. The sound creates a focal point that positions the viewer in front of the work. The moving black and white image consists of a cascading repeated text “we learn to love within the womb” which ebbs and flows in waves from the top of the screen over a series of images, abstracted through the application of image filters. Unlike the Internet version of this piece, that allows the viewer to “enter” the work at the “beginning”, in the physical space one is never sure how close one is to the start or the end of the 37 minute cycle. This sets the work in infinite time-space.

Online, some minimal colour is introduced and the first image, a flickering (wild open) eye, fills the screen for a number of minutes before being obscured by the text. This image strongly influences the way in which one experiences the rest of the work. The eye is eventually replaced by increasingly subtle imagery: of foliage, of the sea against the rocks, solarised, in negative. These are in turn masked by text which flows and drags across it like black oil across glass. Combining the visual qualities of an all-over, expressionist painting and a long film loop, it is a continuously moving, pulsing abstraction.

The sound track is created from a series of field recordings. We hear a collection of mixed sounds, many of which are produced by walking: foot-fall, clothes brushing against clothes, ambient reverberations from coastal walks. The raw sound is cut, layered and serialized to suggest the whooshing rhythms of the sea or the ocean, even a locomotive train, in an imaginative recycling of the sounds of natural and mechanical motion that exist in the artists’ everyday locality.

Imagine sitting on the rocks on a beach in Cornwall, together with a friend or lover. Surveying the shapes and rhythms where waves repeatedly meet the slopes of a beach- the ocean, alive, resonating its presence, you watch the chaotic coordination of dancing droplets, spraying and dragging shells and varied life forms across the surface of the sand. Here, the longer and more closely you observe, the more strongly you can recognise the complex audiovisual, phasing patterns that evolve in Packet Switching.

Southworth and Simons create the audio and the visual elements of the piece independently. They negotiate the content, structure, texture and the feel of the work through conversations and by creating collaboratively drawn spider diagrams. Neither strand of the work is there to illustrate or to constrain the other. One might expect this process to lead to either long periods of disjunction in the work or to an undifferentiated sameness in the relationship between audio and visual tracks. But instead it offers a demonstration of the inevitable emergence of a new complex strand arising from the dynamic interaction between established, distinct forms.

This work does not reflect one individual’s internal psychology or singular skill, but declares the artists’ mutual way of working as two individuals, exploring their experience of the world, between and around them. In the current theoretical debates surrounding media art practice there is a growing interest in the potentials of digital media to facilitate collaboration. These can range from the abstract to the ideological and claim to do some of the preparatory work for artists- to create the field. Packet Switching is an explicit examination and imaginative response to love, landscape and liminal space; rather than relying on already constructed theories or prescription it develops through process as an actual manifestation of collaborative creativity.

*The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders
Published 1991 (in Danish), 1994 in English by Penguin Books

NET:REALITY is a touring exhibition
currently on show at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre, Scunthorpe, UK”