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The public call out for the inaugural CIRCA x Dazed Class of 2021 initiative asked audiences to submit a 2.5 minute film in response to the theme ‘Communion’ set by interdisciplinary artist and lecturer, Angel Rose. After receiving 2,000 applications, we are proud to present the 30 finalists who will each receive access to the Dazed Space and have their work exhibited as part of the CIRCA programme, appearing across public screens in London, Tokyo and Seoul this September.

Expanding on their commitment to help support the talent of tomorrow, CIRCA and Dazed appointed a community of jurors including Cauleen Smith, Frank Lebon, Hugo Comte, Simone Rocha, Dexter Navy, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Michele Lamy to select their top 5 submissions. From this, one lucky finalist will be selected by world renowned performance artist Marina Abramović to receive the #CIRCAECONOMY cash prize of £30,000.

With public art spaces diminishing, investment in arts education being cut and artist communities at risk, this joint initiative aims to empower the next generation of artists working in moving-image by platforming new voices and points of view from local communities on a global level, giving them unrivalled media exposure and the tools to help kick start their careers.

How did you become an artist and what was your route to your current practice?

BEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: I originally studied architecture before deciding to study sculpture: even though I am fascinated by the discourse around architecture, I was slightly frustrated by the current practice of architecture, I needed something more immediate and responsive. So much of my practice is rooted in the conceptual fundamentals of architecture and its concerns. My working practice as an artist has been punctuated by numerous different stints in a range of architectural roles. These have bled into my work, each one a technical learning experience with skills that can be directly applied to my practice. This led to my interest in exploring the intersections between technology, space and landscape – I interpret each of those terms literally and conceptually. Much of my work revolves around collaboration, building teams or contributing to teams to make large, ambitious works. I am increasingly interested in work that exists outside the conventional notions of art practice or the art object.

What inspires you to make your work?

BEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: I have to constantly be making, it’s like an itch that needs to be scratched, a constant gnawing. I find myself questioning everything; what’s in that lamp, how did they lay this carpet etc, really mundane things, to larger questions about our body’s chemical make up and its atomic relationship to the seemingly static structures that house it. So my inspiration is continually around me, wherever I go there is a project in there somewhere. I think, on some level, I find the world intensely confusing, so making it helps me understand the world and understand aspects of the world in a conscious or subconscious way.

Can you identify any elements of your community or collaborators that have had a strong influence?

BEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: Within my work I am fascinated by our relationship to space – we can question our environments or systems that we inhabit. However, the self needs to be located within there somewhere; either physically or conceptually. Furthermore, when I create work I feel it’s necessary to consider the idea of a human body in relation to the work – the work is suddenly animated and brought to life when it is viewed. In 2016, I was wonderfully honoured to be asked by the choreographer Wayne McGregor to collaborate with him on his latest contemporary dance at the time. I was a fan of his work for a long time prior to collaborating with him, so watching him work was a joy. His understanding of the body and the body’s relationship to space is incredible, so the time I spent in rehearsals watching him work completely made me change my understanding of the body in relation to work and the spaces that are formed around bodies.

Would you consider your practice to have a positive social impact, and if so in what way?

BEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: I would hope that all art has a positive social impact to some extent, bringing texture, colour and thought into our world. In regards to my practice in particular, at its core there is a concern about our ability to dwell and exist in our quickly changing world and indeed our ability to do that in a human way. As we all live our lives within different spaces, structures and landscapes, these questions are universal, so if these issues can be brought to the fore, perhaps our environments can enhance our ability to dwell. On a more literal level, within the conversations of environments, I am concerned like many at the rate that our natural world is changing, increasingly before our very eyes, alongside our technological world with the introduction of new technologies. Recently, I have created some projects that are explicitly born from these concerns, deliberately to provoke conversation, with the conversation generated being part of the work itself. I would hope in this respect that some of these conversations encourage positive change.

How is your project tied to the Circa x Dazed Class of 20:21 theme of ‘Communion’?:

BEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: Cold Flux is an AI generated video created from footage I filmed of the Larsen-B Ice shelf whilst on an expedition to Antarctica with polar explorer Robert Swan. The ice shelf splintered off from the Antarctic peninsula in 2002 and has been disintegrating since. The ice connects us all, our fate is completely linked with the life of the ice. The footage of this fractured ice shelf was used to train machine learning algorithms to generate the video landscapes which visually seemingly exist within a state of melting and freezing, forming and un-forming. The video is comprised of different stages in the machine learning process, some learnt and some yet to learn, this relationship of knowledge and non-knowledge, mirrors the crystallising of the water into ice and thawing into water. To rebuild the ice through the use of technology, the very thing that has led to its current destruction. Cut into this video landscape is AI generated video of the surface of the sun; synthetic and uncertain. Our communal life giver and also our life destroyer. Accompanying the video is a haunting audio track by musician Gaika. The track is delicate, yet strong, digital but also human. The work maps the complex network between technology, environmental change and our understanding of the world, something I think we can all relate too.

Cold Flux is an AI generated video created from footage I filmed of the Larsen-B Ice shelf whilst on an expedition to Antarctica with polar explorer Robert Swan. The ice shelf splintered off from the Antarctic peninsula in 2002 and has been disintegrating since. The ice connects us all, our fate is completely linked with the life of the ice. The footage of this fractured ice shelf was used to train machine learning algorithms to generate the video landscapes which visually seemingly exist within a state of melting and freezing, forming and un-forming. To rebuild the ice through the use of technology, the very thing that has led to its current destruction. The video is comprised of different stages of the AI machine learning process, some learnt and some yet to learn, this relationship between knowledge and non-knowledge, mirrors the crystallising of the water into ice and ice’s thawing into water. Cut into this video landscape is AI generated video of the surface of the sun, synthetic and uncertain. Our communal life giver and also our life destroyer. Accompanying the video is a haunting audio track by musician Gaika. The track is delicate, yet strong, digital but also human. The work maps the complex network between technology, environmental change and our understanding of the world, something I think we can all relate too. Our world is all of us.

Has your work been recognised by any public bodies or organisations in the past?

BEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: In 2017 my stage design for Wayne McGregor’s contemporary dance won a yellow pencil at the D&AD awards, I have also won awards from the RIBA. In 2021, I represented Antarctica at the London Design Biennale.

How would the #CIRCAECONOMY prize of £30,000 impact your future practice?

BEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: Finance is always an issue with my working practice, since selling art objects isn’t at the centre of my practice, it often revolves around raising the funds in order to develop the work I wish to create. Within my practice I aim to present my work in numerous different settings, so it isn’t exclusively consigned to the gallery and the world that revolves around it. The prize would allow me to push forward with the collaborative model that I am trying to work in and develop it further. I would be able to build out a team in order to work together to achieve a body of work that I (and hope others also do) deem of importance. Hopefully, I could use this collaborative team structure as a template to build other projects from. I would be granted the space to focus, away from other distractions in order to be in a mental state to create clearly. The ambition that I have in regards to questioning our relationship with technology could be pushed, bringing in the correct people from a range of disciplines, from science to literature. I want to form a model of working that isn’t about the individual, but a mode of collective projects that a number of people can take ownership of.

What would you do with the money?

BEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: I have become increasingly concerned by the high levels of deforestation in Central and South America, my mother was born in Panama and my grandmother in Mexico so I have a cultural connection with the area, and therefore also a sense of personal connection to the region. The actions within these areas send shockwaves across the world. As we have seen with the recent turbulent weather in London, the issue of environmental change is all too pressing. I have been planning to create a body of work around our relationship to these changing landscapes, and destruction of forest. The relationship between our viewing of these moments of destruction through drone footage and the intimate details seen on the ground, which are missed by these grand swooping cinematic shots as seen on the news, almost the glamorisation of destruction, fascinates me. I have been speaking with charities and organisations to bring them, if possible, into the work, not only looking at destruction but also at rebirth through the planting of virgin forest. So with the money I would fund this project, it would allow me to build the correct crew, equipment hire and travel logistics.

If you are awarded the #CIRCAECONOMY prize, how might this affect your community?

BEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: I see my community as being a global collective of people that have a preoccupation and a concern about our ability to live within contemporary landscapes humanely, taking into account effects of technology, scale of construction and environmental change. I can imagine that if I was awarded this prize it would perhaps put a focus on the environmental vast shifts, away from individual preoccupations, focusing on issues that we find too huge to grasp. These conversations are pressing, if we delay it might be too late to reverse them. Fundamentally, conversations that affect each and everyone of us.