Sunday 10 July 2011

The speed of movement

Tony Langford

Change occurs constantly. As our view of creativity is becoming all the more democratised and fluid, then so should the practices that supports this view. What constitutes "art" – and perhaps "good art" in general – has been set in the public consciousness for generations: driven by a naturalistic beauty in sculpture and in landscape.

Many practices are clearly and unrelentingly aiming to change these views. From the recent work undertaken by Folly to acquire a piece of digital art (won by Thomson and Craighead) through to the Turner Prize and to the V&A's Decode exhibition last year, there is an opening up of these perceptions which is gaining public acceptance and inviting wider dialogue, consideration, and appreciation that substantiates the work to more people in more ways. A long-standing example of art which is part of this artistic permeation is kinetic art, with Kinetica being one of the country's most active organisations in terms of its exhibition, commercialisation, and support for the practice.

Kinetica's own journey is one of movement. Founded by Tony Langford and fine artist Dianne Harris, the original space was created in order to unite artists who were certainly showing work that was kinetic and used new media, but it was more than that: it was planned to show works which were exploring scientific and universal concepts under one roof. It took the duo two years to bring the concept to life, and in 2006 the first Kinetica space opened, launching an exhibition with 15 artists, Life Forms.

The evolution of kinetic art is somewhat part of our own evolution, within the contexts of media and of creativity. "The way in which people consume information... it's no longer necessarily in a book or on a screen. That information is now more inclusive; it's all around us. People are absorbing these messages in so many different ways; they are all around us. People are becoming used to absorbing that information through many different media, and society is more open to new and more and dynamic ways of portraying information and art. It's a subconscious thing. People have always been particularly attracted to the kind of work that we show, but there historically have been barriers in terms of people showing it."




Langford sees Kinetica's origins as going back to the pioneers of kinetic art, Marcel Duchamp and Alexander Calder. While Duchamp used found objects: an object, such as with Bicycle Wheel (said to be the first kinetic sculpture) relocated into a different context, it's Calder's mobiles that are an example of kinetic art in its purest sense.

Prior to Duchamp's overt reworking of form and context, Langford cites da Vinci as perhaps a less identifiable, but still heavy influence on this field, due to his use of scientific principles. As Langford admits from his own experience, "I had always thought myself of the arts and sciences as being separate, until 20 years ago. Science was a language that I found difficult to learn. But, more and more, I have come to see how close they are."

Between da Vinci and Duchamp comes 1851's Great Exhibition - effectively a exhibition of art and science. With Britain showing off to the world, the exhibition featured many new developments and exhibits borne out of the industrial revolution: "... and it's interesting to compare that time with now, when there is a lot of talk about how Britain is losing out to the rest of the world in engineering and manufactiuring, and invention. Our fair feels exactly like that - people are showing off their new inventions; there's a real pioneering spirit."

Following on comes what is perhaps the first golden age for kinetic art – the 1950s and 60s, notably for one of the reference points for many kinetic artists and students: Cybernetic Serendipity, a 1968 exhibition at the ICA featuring, among many works, examples of algorithmic music generation; programmed structures and choreographies; and the machine production of text. It was Sound Activated Mobile and Rosa the Robot by Edward Ihnatowicz and Bruce Lacey respectively, that have bridged Cybernetic Serendipity and the Kinetica Art Fair by appearing in both.



In the past few years, the organisation has produced events in different venues and spaces, culminating in the Art Fair that runs to this day. "As far as we could see there was nowhere, certainly in London, that brought this work together in one space. [Kinetic art] was very under-represented in the big traditional galleries."

Some immediate elements of this under-representation are the costs and logistical issues which are associated with kinetic works. They suggest an entire new subsystem within a commercial market: in principle, it costs more to transport, store and exhibit it; and for collectors, to maintain it. The costs can be absorbed into a kinetic art market, as long as all concerned are aware that the commercial realities are very different than other forms. "A lot of institutions have been put off, and there's a view of the traditional art world, and art collectors, have taken in terms of the value of that kind of work. All of those things are changing. It's a slow process, but they are. For us, we're trying to build that economy. We're slowly building up collectors who come to our events and buy the work." As one would expect with the flexibility required of many markets in this age, Kinetica is different to a traditional gallery; it has a number of diverse income streams and so is less prone to market forces, and perhaps needs to have such a level of resilience, given the complex and individual nature of the works.

That said, Langford is confident that kinetic art is now enjoying a serious, considered and sustainable reputation in the artistic community, although maybe not in the traditional model of art collectors going to exhibitions and buying work. The admission is made that perhaps as kinetic art doesn't have a formal "label" – is it performance? Is it live? - then it can be hard to explain what it's about. Kinetica's Art Fair aims to address this, by showing kinetic and other art in the flesh, so to speak.

In being a commercial enterprise, Kinetica cannot afford to be seen as a niche player in media art. The Art Fair brings in around 10,000 people. It means that Kinetica needs to collaborate with a wide range of co-ordinators in order to show new work. Langford accepts that the traditional "art in your home" collector remains in kinetic art, but clearly their approach is very different. "The work that they might buy from us is alive. Yes, maybe you have to maintain it, more than a picture that you put on your wall, but what you get from that is so much more. You get a living, breathing piece of work that maybe does need occasional TLC to keep it alive, but the return is all the more rewarding for it." The idea of the Kinetica Art Fair is to bring people to kinetic artworks, and to offer artists something more than just a display-and-purchase platform: "Sales have definitely increased, but it's the contacts and connections that people make. People who exhibit come back to it."

The increase in digital technology's access and sophistication has led to incorporation into many kinetic works, as we have covered on Imperica in the past. "In the past you could say that there were certain barriers to that. Computing or programming was inaccessible... artists have always had to collaborate, to some degree, with people coming from a different skillset. Some of the things that artists in the past would have found very difficult [to achieve, was] because of a technological barrier. It isn't really there any more. It's so much easier to do so many different things and to experiment with different technologies."

The future is bright for kinetic art, and it's the ability for Kinetica to exhibit and to commercialise it on significant scales, that suggests a greater acceptance of its wider viability. "There is so much more work there, and there are more artists over the world who are saying something about the universe, and they are using new technologies to do it. It is about that scientific and universal exploration, and now... there are so many more artists that are doing that."

There's still so much more to explore.


Tony Langford is the co-founder of Kinetica.

Next year's Kinetica Art Fair will run from 8th to the 12th February 2012, and will be held at Ambika P3, 35 Marylebone Rd, London. The deadline for exhibitor applications is 30th September 2011. For further information, visit the Kinetica Art Fair website.

Our extended thanks to SameAs.

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