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James Irwin

James Irwin is an Artist, PhD researcher at Kingston School of Art, Lecturer at UAL and Digital Media Tutor at the Royal Academy Schools. He works with web technologies, AI systems and digital sound and image to investigate the notion of a vital life force inherent within digital media.

By creating cognitive assemblages - made from a combination of networked digital hardware, software and human wetware - his work builds from new materialist ideas around recentering the human, undoing our role as autonomous individuals and pointing to the ways in which the production of subjectivity is offset to forces outside of our bodies; the posthuman is biological, but also networked and dispersed through machines.

Web projects include surfacecollider, New Art City Festival 2023, (2023), To Spawn a Door in the Land of Broken Mirrors, New Art City Festival 2022, (2022), You’re in a Computer Game, Max!, (2020), SurfaceCollider (23032020), (2020), and Could Ecopsychology cure my Cyberchondria, (2016). Solo exhibitions include Listening to Xanax, Gossamer Fog, London (2018), Binary Translations, Space In Between, London (2013) and Hopeless Communication, Space In Between (2011). Group exhibitions include The Terminal: Human Shaped Whole, Anonymous Gallery, New York (2021), Terms and Conditions May Apply, Annka Kultys Gallery, London (2018), Home Alone, Dateagleart, London (2018) and How the mind comes to be furnished, Space In Between (2016).


When Code becomes Image. Tapping the Digital Black Box for Signs of Life

My research tracks the resuscitation of dead, flat digital sounds and images through the latent potential of electronic systems. If silicon-based life is evolving, and we are forced to widen biocentric definitions of what constitutes living matter, then what do we look and listen for to identify digital life? Which processes provide digital media with vitality? Through web-based artworks, artificial intelligence and computer generated sounds and images, the project works to probe at the aesthetic potential for silicon-based system-objects to inherit, from us, a life-like force.

I take a cybernetic approach throughout. When making digital sounds and images, I mine the black box of the machine for flickers and tendrils to hook onto as pathways of emergence to follow. In this sense, vitality is characterised by how it is channelled as visual and audio output through computer displays and audio speakers. These are the surface effects of complex underlying processes and interactions.

I've chosen the text-based language of computer programming to form and shape these electronic entities. Working in this way allows me to work with the building blocks of digital life in a similar way to how biological life can be modified through genetic engineering. I see the use of code in this context as intrinsically physical — code embodies matter in action. As scripts compile within machines, chains of physical processes are enacted that bring about the emergence of electronic beings as tangible, sensory forms through digital sounds and images. There is no software. The artworks that emerge can be seen as the flowering or fruiting of these inner, hidden workings; outward facing signifiers of inner electronic vitality. Like mushrooms to mycelium networks.

I work according to a cyborg methodology. As I work, the boundary between my body and the machine dissolves. In place of discrete, separate entities, a recombinant body is formed that merges human wetware with different forms of hardware, their mechanisms, and their combined intelligence. Within this cyborg body a transaction occurs between the wetware and hardware that channels the production of electronic life. At this vital time within the development of Artificial Intelligence, this project uses the critical time and space offered by Contemporary Art to meditate on the inter complexities of our relationship with machines. The carbon-silicon-based artworks that emerge from the project are born from these ways of working.

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