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Josh Spindler

My name is Josh Spindler. I’m an artist and RCA Visual communication graduate currently living in London. For the last ten years I have been creating short form experimental moving images, exploring innovative ways we can experience documentary and essay film, through video and installation within live spaces. I am currently finishing up my first feature length moving image series, Force Eject, an experimental documentary trilogy focusing on the relationship between the history of the physical internet and the climate crisis of the near to distant future. I am also building my innovative ‘dual device technique’, which uses NFC tags to utilise usually dormant smartphones into screens and therefore artwork; this then allows a new way of viewing documentary based video art.

Q: WHAT WAS YOUR ROUTE TO YOUR CURRENT ARTISTIC PRACTICE?

I began studying Illustration at university but realised I needed movement and sound to take my practice to new places. In my final year I completely changed practice to explore moving image, originally influenced heavily by Fluxus artists like Beuys, who really highlighted the do-it-yourself attitude that is still crucial to me today. I finished my Illustration degree with a 1st by presenting a multiple screens experimental documentary about a shadow that traversed the Welsh hills of Merthyr Tydfil. After graduating I went straight into my MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art, where I continued with this free approach to video art. I spent my time creating over 100 experimental short videos, seeing my practice as the equivalent to mark-making in Illustration. I started to explore ideas around the archival nature of the internet and found footage in the age of the internet, using my time to research how we view online video today, meta ideas of audience interaction and my role as an artist outside of the artwork. My MA culminated with a trilogy of experimental video pieces based on the past, present and future of the Battersea Power Station, highlighting the lives lost to its pollution in the 1950s, its dormant state of 2015 and how it might go on to save the inhabitants of South London against future flooding from climate change.

After graduating I realised it’s increasingly harder to make work that exists whilst ignoring the biggest threat to our species — namely the climate crisis. As artists we cannot live outside of the climate catastrophe, and nor can our art, so I have pushed my conceptual way of filmmaking into this area. While I can’t escape the personal hypocrisy of creation while creation contributes, in a small individual way, to our climate catastrophe, I hope that the work I make can highlight the reality of this situation. In particular, I want my work to show the reality of the physical internet, something that is made from bricks and mortar and has been for the entire time. Since reading works by contemporary philosopher Timothy Morton, about the nature of things and ‘hyperobjects’ –objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatial understanding, such as global warming and the internet — I have created a cinematic universe, where I explore a darker future where the climate crisis has been pushed to tipping point and we live inside the hyperobjects, which I hope will highlight questions about our online existence and its connection to our physical one to the global community today.

My latest work, Margaret Gallagher is Real (5g), focuses on an Irish woman who has lived ‘off-grid’ her entire life in rural Fermanagh. The piece explores Margaret’s existence as a withdrawn singular community within herself, and reveals how she personally feels about the advent of the internet and climate crisis threatening her bucolic environs. Margaret has seen what we know as a “community” change in her lifetime, slowly emerging to be understood as an online phenomenon. This and the pandemic — the work was made in early 2021 — has forced her to adapt to accepting technology, whilst keeping it at arm’s length. Despite Margaret’s technophobic way of life she has always been part of a wider community of understanding people in her native Belcoo, and with the people travel from all over the world — whether they’re Japanese business men to weekly American tourists — to see how she lives and learn from her. In that sense she has been always connected way before the internet began to encroach on her land. This piece presents my conceptual techniques and processes that will become my signature way of making a moving image within my current body of work surrounding hyperobjects, the physical internet and the climate crisis. Working with an independent camera modder here in the UK, I’ve adapted a Sony camera to become a full spectrum set up and paired it with a UV lens kit. This is so I can film in full UV to capture what the world would look like if we could no longer ignore the destruction of the climate crisis and placing my audience in a speculative future.

Q: CAN YOU IDENTIFY ANY ELEMENTS OF YOUR COMMUNITY OR COLLABORATORS THAT HAVE HAD A STRONG INFLUENCE?

I worked closely with an independent camera modifier based in the UK, to work out the best way to capture UV light with a HD camera that can be mobile, and usable in not just incredibly bright sunlight. Over a few months we figured out the best settings and equipment needed to get my desired look and allow me to document in my usual way whilst capturing the world through UV light, in a depiction of how the earth might look if the climate crisis continues on its current trajectory.

I have only just returned to London after an extended period of time living in Belfast, where I was able to apply myself to a new community, one that was very welcoming. It is however on the cusp of being infiltrated by the footprint of the internet. This year Amazon is working on a one billion euro, 21,000 square metre, data storage centre in Ireland, and TikTok have just announced their plans to build their first European data centre in the country too, whilst fracking threatens the landscape in Margaret’s native County Fermanagh. Margaret Gallagher herself has influenced me to continue exploring what it takes to live who are ‘off-grid’ and how they feel existing today with the constant connection to a global community forever available and how the climate crisis is shaping their future. She founded the Belcoo & District Historical Society and she’s active in the Cleenish parish in protecting the land and heritage. She also recently retired as the Justice of the Peace and a director of the local community care centre. Her engagement in her local community is admirable and interesting — it illustrates how someone can disconnect from technology, whilst still not rejecting connection with others physically, keeping a strong relationship to her neighbours and to the land where
she was born.

Margaret candidly expressed her desire to help anyone she meets and I was no exception. She opened her home and life to allow my work to grow. Without creating a piece of helicopter journalism (like much of the past reporting on Margaret, and around Northern Ireland more generally) I approached her home from a place of respect, as just another human who wanted to talk about the internet, climate and her practice of living off-grid to preserve a way of life and culture. She has led me to think differently about the impact of climate change in Ireland and in a more localised sense. It’s also inspired me to create further work about off-grid individuals and communities across the UK and Ireland, living, like Margaret, separately from society in order to preserve it.

Q: HOW IS YOUR PROJECT TIED TO THE CIRCA X DAZED CLASS OF 20:21 THEME OF ‘COMMUNION’ ?

Margaret Gallagher has lived off-grid her entire life with no access to running water, electricity or the Internet In Margaret Gallagher Is Real (5g), the audience is forced to view her quiet, slow, sustainable way of life through the viewing format of aninfinite scrolling screen with multi window interruptions throughout, cramming the message into the extremely limited duration that we are so accustomed to. The contemporary idea of ‘community’ has abandoned Margaret’s way of life, her cottage and her village, and has moved almost totally online. That new world and community needs infrastructure to support it. When witnessed in a public space this work creates a moment of communal reflection. Margaret found communion, ironically, in withdrawal.

The irony of Margaret’s life a woman whose whole life has been away from what people consider normal, from what people may consider being part of a community is that she is constantly connecting, educating and entertaining those that come to visit and potentially seek out parts of their own history, whether it be from American tourists, British journalists or a sole artist looking to meet someone who can talk about how it feels to be alive in time when the world is burning and the internet won’t stop growing. I really wanted this project to explore the nuances of what we know as ‘community’, to show one person’s very singular experience of community and how the much larger sense of community, the one that is now instant and global, is affecting it. Community, as we knew it, as Margaret sees it, could soon become something taught in a history lesson and shown in museums. My project forces the grandiose hyperobjects of the climate and the internet through the funnel that is Margaret Gallagher’s unique perspective.

I want the audience to be together in a moment of reflection when they are interrupted by the vertical internet masts that disturb and interrupt Margaret’s voice. It shocks the viewer, like a notification out of your connection and thought process, like many reboots during the limited run time.

Q: HOW WOULD THE CIRCA PRIZE OF £30,000 IMPACT YOUR FUTURE PRACTICE?

It would allow me to have the time and budget to create another breakout piece of moving image. My projects are done exclusively in my spare time and the money would give me time away from my full time job to explore and visit more off-grid communities. It would also allow me to research and visit places where the internet physically exists, like data centres. These goals come with travel and time expenses that I just cannot account for currently. I know that with the support from the CIRCA PRIZE: I could pursue new grounds within my practice and complete the next instalment of the project that got me accepted into the Class of 2021 with less pressure and more time to really capture the places and people I visit. With my next project I am aiming to build on the themes of this piece. In scale, length and production the prize will become the financial support needed to execute this so it can become a film that can act as a catalyst for not only my future practice, but all the growing discussions around digital based art, energy consumption, artists’ morals when creating, the physical internet and flippant data usage, hypocrisy and if withdrawing as a reaction to the climate crisis will be legitimate. My practice is ready to be given the chance to scale up and reach a level where audience interaction is standard with every new piece of work. I am planning to contact Tinkers Bubble, a small off-grid woodland community in Somerset or the community of Scoraig, living on a peninsula in the north-west Highlands of Scotland, made up of crofters with cattle and sheep, a violin maker, a Russian translator, volunteers and a part-time postal worker…maybe both. I want to explore the people who live there and why in connection with their thoughts on the internet and our current way of life through the same conceptual lens I shot Margaret in.

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