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Wednesday 03 September 2014

Evan Roth: network, time, protocol

If you look up Evan Roth's biography on Wikipedia, it will say that he “applies a hacker philosophy to an art practice that visualizes transient moments in public space, online and in popular culture”. The shortened version of that statement, as Roth proudly exclaims on his website, is “BAD ASS MOTHER FUCKER”. As the co-founder of F.A.T Lab and a recipient of awards from around the globe, there's a serious yet playful thread throughout his work.

As Roth's recent work is currently on exhibition in London, we caught up with him down the line from Paris, to talk about the future of digital exhibition, interaction, and theory.

The works, at Carroll/Fletcher in London's West End, come from three different series. Many are from Multi-Touch Paintings, where Roth prepares each painting by performing standard tasks on a touch-senstive phone through tracing paper and an inked finger. Casual Computing #1 record's Roth's capacitive gestures while playing Candy Crush, which, as Roth notes, provides a pop-cultural point of entry.

“The work that I make has familiarity: what does [interaction] physically look like? How would a visualisation of 3 minutes spent with the phone appear on paper? However, it's also about being critical of the way in which we consume media. It's the moments which we end up with... in terms of interacting with these devices. I 'give back' in terms of this interaction; they aren't just moments that come and go. I think that there's something a bit darker behind the piece as well... something that lives on in a longer timescale.”

It's this “longer timescale” which Roth refers to many times during our conversation. He ponders how artistic and cultural commentaries on our networked, multi-device, passive/active, lean-forward/lean-back era will be received in 20 or even 50 years from now. It's practically impossible to contemplate as to exactly how they will be viewed, although it's fun to dream.

Right now, however, Roth is evangelical as to how the potential that contemporary art has in terms of its cultural accessibility. “When I was young, going into contemporary art museums... you're immediately at a disadvantage if you're without a lot of interesting knowledge about the work. It's a feeling that I'm more familiar with now that I'm professionally involved in the arts, but I think that it's something that can put people off in terms of having a bigger relationship with art.” In some of Roth's own art, particularly his in-browser works, he is considerate of two discrete audiences: those who have little time but to enjoy the moment on face value; and those who are more contemplative, able to sit and consider the work for longer. Of course, these two audiences can be within the same person. Roth gladly namechecks his peers in this regard: “In terms of people speaking about what it's like to grow up with a pop culture that's a really different kind than any previous generation have ever dealt with... I think that Cory Arcangel's work does this really well.”

In the last couple of years, Roth's focus has been working more on large-scale pieces to which the gallery, rather than the screen, is the place of exhibition. The point of focus, of concentration, of reflection on the part of the viewer within a gallery space has made Roth slow his own practice down, and become more contemplative of how works are produced. It's an evolution of thought, of meditation, of process, of media. As he puts it, “talking about people is always more interesting than talking about devices”.

This all goes hand-in-hand with the artist's gradual evolving of his own core interests: approaching a deeper focus on our shared cultures. As our collective use of, and participation in, the network matures, Roth's own outlook has clearly matured with it. “What we're going through now is not an artistic revolution. It's really a data revolution. It's understanding how we deal with this massive influx of information and data and, to some degree, power. If everything is a moving target, then how can we freeze pieces of it so we can look at it and be contemplative about it?”


Zoom In Zoom Out (Multi-Touch Painting series)
Lambda print face mounted on acrylic, dibond backing (diptych)
130cm x 120cm, Paris, 2013
Photo by Robin Reeve, c/o Carroll/Fletcher


The issue of power is, of course, in sharp focus when it comes to the mediation of how we interact and what we consume. Roth's many years in Europe do not make him particularly considerate of the way in which global corporations such as Google and Facebook act in given jurisdictions, because their acts are perceived to cross any geographic or political boundaries. Both of these companies, and others, have been the targets of F.A.T Lab's work.

After Carroll/Fletcher comes Snel Hest taking place across the district of Alingsås north of Gothenburg. 11 websites under the umbrella title No Original Research will be composed from visuals and audio found on Wikipedia. Each site is composed from one animated GIF and one audio file. The GIF is copied many times, so the browser displays replicates same image but as an individual file each time without caching it. The effect is that the animations gradually become asynchronous with each other, with the level of asynchronicity dependent on the viewer's computer and connection speed.

Much of what Evan Roth and I discussed was really about time: the time in which he takes to produce new work; the longevity of his work and how it will be viewed in decades to come; and how art, politics, and the economic corpus will change between those two points. While Roth's work, on his own and at F.A.T Lab, have made him pre-eminent in Internet-based art, the next few years could see many surprising yet reflective revelations coming out of Paris.

Evan Roth's website BAD ASS MOTHER FUCKER contains more information on his work, and he is @evanroth_ on Twitter.

Pencil / Line / Eraser, an exhibition of installation works is on at Carroll/Fletcher until 13/09/14. More info hereSnel Hest, featuring Evan Roth, Jimi Cauty, GOTO80, Alex McLean and more, runs from 06/09/14 – 23/12/14 at Alingsås Konsthall, Sweden. More details here.


Paul is the publisher of Imperica.

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