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Interview with artist James Ravinet

Vist Emily Godden's Profile

Interview with artist James Ravinet

Currently showing a series of works at Firstsite in Colchester, and ahead of his artist talk on Sunday 16 August, IP1’s Arts Editor caught up with James Ravinet to find out more.

So James, tell us a bit about yourself
I currently have a show on at Firstsite called Web-driver Torso. This is a series of works that I’ve produced during the first year of my MA at the Royal College of Art on the Moving Image pathway. I was selected by ENAS and Firstsite to present this work throughout the gallery space. However, I must stress that I’m strictly undergoing a transitional period and I don’t consider myself to continue with making work remotely like that you will see in the show. I’ve used this opportunity as more of a reflective time to see how I wish to proceed with my practice, so it’s been really important for me.

Can you talk about your latest body of work?
My latest body of work is in relation to the specifics of user mediation in aggregate devices (i.e. smartphones) that deploy moving image as a principal tool of post digital capitalism. This is with regards to the transparency, or rather, invisibility of production, labour and design value in ubiquitous hardware that form a fundamental element of contemporary living. I am also considering the notion of such hardware to be understood as a prosthetic: allowing us to see, access or navigate a site, time or volume that is physically or digitally unattainable. However, paradoxically, it allows us to maintain a distance through the proximity of a flat and compact surface: the geography of the screen (i.e. post-retina vision). 

Connected or disconnected?
Connected. I don’t particularly agree with the sentiment of renouncing network technologies (assuming that you are referring to on/off-line statuses) for the sake of invoking communication skills, for instance. There are of course vastly misunderstood elements of network culture that I believe could justify favouring disconnection. Surveillance and exploitation could stand well in this. There are also numerous layers of functionality, design and production that users have very little knowledge or consciousness about. It is the point at which this becomes utilized in political systems that it poses a danger. I suppose I’m particularly interested in how people adapt to this. If a government is able to block the use of a camera on your phone as you enter the site of a protest by tracking geo-location data on your phone, is it safer to be disconnected? Well, the origins of network technologies (the internet) are routed in military surveillance, and the intensification of capitalism. It’s difficult not to think of it in a politicized sense.

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Web-driver Torso, 2015, Installation view

What’s the first thing you like to do when you get in the studio?
I don’t tend to remain in a fixed space. I suppose this is quite a favourable aspect of working digitally, and to some extent, with ‘intangible’ works. I think it can also encourage you to push your work into other fields or spheres that are outside of the studio-to-gallery remit. I genuinely think this is very important in terms of considering who can actually access your work and to ensure you’re not bound to an audience that is familiar. I think this is something I am really coming round to, particularly in light of this show. It seems all too easy to subscribe to the validation of an art community. However, I would much rather produce work that could be utilised to empower, educate, or provide a pretext for action that would go beyond representation.

You work a lot with screens and monitors; ever read the destructions aka instructions?
No, I usually watch instructional videos on YouTube. I think much more user autonomy or unorthodox methods can be explored and shared in this use of technology in this way. This is another reason why it’s beneficial to be connected: network technologies are a catalyst for the exchanging of ideas and innovation. At the same time, it can also be utilized to create terror, or to govern. Troubleshoot forums are also intriguing to me for this reason. I did actually go through a phase of researching supposedly mythical antidotes for broken technology. For instance, blasting a cracked LCD screen with a hair-dryer in order to ‘resuscitate’ dead pixels. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work.

What do you think life would be like without the internet?
We don’t need to imagine that, although it seems implausible given the inevitable nature of dependence and how embedded we are within it. For one, global economies would virtually collapse, or at least, growth could not be generated at a rate that the instant exchange of data allows for. Critically, this also applies to the exchanging of ideas or information across numerous fields. Shared knowledge is fundamental to innovation, and the internet has transformed the speed at which this can be achieved for the better or worse of humanity.

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Web-driver Torso, 2015, Installation view

Any advice for local yokels wanting to explore the crazy world of art?
Sure. Don’t be disheartened or discouraged by the prospect of comparison. Don’t seek the validation of a gallery context. Be prepared to receive criticism. Be open to the idea of fundamentally changing how you work. It’s absolutely fine to make bad work: I make plenty of it. Obviously, there is no trajectory to follow within this field so it’s helpful to surround yourself with similar practitioners should you feel comfortable with that. This is all, of course, anecdotal; there is no right or wrong way to do it.

Ok, you have 5% battery left on your phone, what do you do? Run for the charger? Relax – phone boxes still exist, right? Chill – what’s the worst that could happen?
I have to say I’d most likely opt for a charger. I think it’s fairly indicative of a contemporary standard of living that numerous uses of a device become conflated: work and social aspects aren’t easily distinguished. Having said that, the gap between your phone dying and recharging can be quite reflective, providing you aren’t already anticipating messages that might have reached you in the time in-between.

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Web-driver Torso, 2015, Installation view

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, ENAS (Essex Network of Artists’ Studios) and Firstsite have been very supportive throughout this project. They are great organisations for artists to work with and I encourage it. I particularly think their associate artist/maker schemes are really worthwhile for artist development. I’d like to especially thank Jane Morrow for her relentless support and attention to detail.

James, thanks for speaking with us. All the best for the exhibition and we look forward to your artist talk: 2.30pm on Sunday 16 August at Firstsite, Colchester.

Follow James on Twitter

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Web-driver Torso, 2015, Installation view

Words: Emily Godden
Images: © James Ravinet


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