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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.

JOSH SPINDLER, MARGARET GALLAGHER IS REAL, 2021

My name is Josh Spindler. I'm an artist and RCA Viscom graduate living in London. I am currently finishing up my first feature moving image piece, Force Eject, an experimental essay film focusing on the relationship between the physical placement of the internet and the climate crisis. I am also building my ‘dual device technique’, using NFC tags and phones, to change the way we experience documentary moving image in a public space.

In this speculative future the Internet is now the biggest machine on planet earth and the climate crisis has been pushed to a tipping point causing a planetary reaction that has covered the landscape in a viscous shadow.

Margaret Gallagher has lived ‘off-grid’ her entire life with no access to running water, electricity or the Internet. ‘Withdrawing’ is growing in popularity across Europe and the US. We see her quiet way of life forced through the normalised viewing format of the infinite scroll with multi window interruptions throughout, cramming the message into a limited duration that we are so accustomed to. I’m a big fan of traditional filmmakers like Patrick Keiller, Adam Curtis and John Smith, who use intriguing, sometimes meta, techniques to subvert how we experience documentaries.

I am using a singular human experience from a darker future to pose questions to our instant, global community today which has affected this very relatable person's way of life. Community moved online and it needs infrastructure to support it, when 5g masts began arriving on the horizon people began to notice the encroachment. When witnessed in a public space this work creates a moment of communal reflection.

Margaret found communion in being withdrawn and will leave us a blueprint to adapt to the end of the world...which has already happened.

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

JOSH SPINDLER:
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 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 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 merging 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 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.

What inspires you to make your work?

JOSH SPINDLER:
I want to show how physical the internet is; made up of undersea cables, points of connections, internet masts and data centres. The internet as we know it consists of a series of tubes, but everyone seems to find that funny when you tell them. We essentially exist in two places at once but are yet to really have a mass understanding of the repercussions of this. Our digital selves are not flat, they are not frictionless and do not only exist on screens. It takes an extreme amount of energy for us to exist and be a part of the global village, which is now a sprawling metropolis, one that affects the climate crisis as much as and soon to be more than the parts of us that drive our cars to the shops or take a plane on holiday. The decisions we make on how we consume data will soon become unfairly individualised, dependent on personal privilege and location, much like what we are seeing with the phasing out of fossil fuel. Video art, reliant on technology to create and the internet to distribute, cannot escape this scrutiny either. So I am passionate about highlighting the hypocrisy we can no longer escape as digital artists. Our work can not help but harm the planet in some way, even if the irony is that work itself is trying to assist in the healing of it. I’ve always wanted my work to raise awareness and inspire discussions about big issues and there is now no bigger issue than our climate.

What inspires you to make your work?

JOSH SPINDLER:
I want to show how physical the internet is; made up of undersea cables, points of connections, internet masts and data centres. The internet as we know it consists of a series of tubes, but everyone seems to find that funny when you tell them. We essentially exist in two places at once but are yet to really have a mass understanding of the repercussions of this. Our digital selves are not flat, they are not frictionless and do not only exist on screens. It takes an extreme amount of energy for us to exist and be a part of the global village, which is now a sprawling metropolis, one that affects the climate crisis as much as and soon to be more than the parts of us that drive our cars to the shops or take a plane on holiday. The decisions we make on how we consume data will soon become unfairly individualised, dependent on personal privilege and location, much like what we are seeing with the phasing out of fossil fuel. Video art, reliant on technology to create and the internet to distribute, cannot escape this scrutiny either. So I am passionate about highlighting the hypocrisy we can no longer escape as digital artists. Our work can not help but harm the planet in some way, even if the irony is that work itself is trying to assist in the healing of it. I’ve always wanted my work to raise awareness and inspire discussions about big issues and there is now no bigger issue than our climate.

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

JOSH SPINDLER:
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 ‘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.

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

JOSH SPINDLER:
If my work inspires people to engage in difficult conversations about the footprint that occurs when we live online and its subsequent impact on the environment, then I consider that a positive social impact. I don’t believe this is a topic that has arrived in a common arena just yet, but clearly, as more cables are laid under the ocean and more 5G masts pop up across the landscape, it’s one that needs to be broached.

I also want to illuminate the work of pioneering off-grid communities as they adapt their lifestyle to attempt to greatly reduce one’s carbon footprint and attempt to slow down if not reverse the devastation of the climate crisis. These communities and individuals like Margaret have always been looked out voyeuristically or sceptically as the outsiders, the odd ones out, but I think we should see them as ahead of their time. By withdrawing to exist solely as the individual, the self, their actions are anything but selfish.

The impact I am trying to highlight is best summarised by David Wallace Wells’ book The Uninhabitable Earth. He explains that when you withdraw, “a lot of people will call you a defeatist or a doomer, or claim you are burnt out. They will tell you that you have an obligation to work for climate justice or world peace or the end of bad things everywhere and that fighting is always better than quitting. Ignore them, and take part in a very ancient practical and spiritual tradition: withdrawing from the fray. Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questioning mind. Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance, refusing to tighten the ratchet further is a deeply moral position. Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction. Withdraw to examine your worldview. The cosmology, the parading, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal.”

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

JOSH SPINDLER:
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 an infinite 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.

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

JOSH SPINDLER:
I am in the early stages of what I am considering my true practice and am working towards creating not only short form moving image work based around the topics mentioned throughout this application but also finishing my feature length experimental documentary trilogy to act as the work that will secure me funding for grander projects based around my research. I aim to have an independent body of work that I can use to push towards creating an all encompassing solo show, to present myself as an exciting, innovating artist working today.
This year I was shortlisted for the Natural Connections exhibition curated by Northern Ireland based Belfast Exposed Gallery. It was a tangent of my current body of work, still using my UV/Full Spectrum camera set up to show off the ways my techniques can be applied to different mediums, concepts and projects whilst still retaining its core idea.

Also this year, I was chosen to take part in The Holy Art virtual group show earlier this year, with another tangent of my video work looking at 5G masts and their existence on the horizon on the everyday landscape.
In 2017 I was chosen to create a new moving image piece for the opening of a brand new art space in Sheffield.

Sheffield contemporary was a group show showcasing brand new contemporary art in a previously unused space.

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

JOSH SPINDLER:
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 #CIRCAECONOMY prize I could pursue new grounds within my practice and complete the next installment 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 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. This will act as a spiritual sequel to Margaret Gallagher is Real (5g) as we will be introduced to multiple characters some of which have left their online selves behind.

After all, who hasn’t considered going into the woods to get away from it all?

What would you do with the money?

JOSH SPINDLER:
I would commit a lot of the money to my next project so that I am constantly pushing myself and my work. I would use some of it to alleviate financial pressures, given that I currently work full time to support my practice. I would put some towards building on my current camera set up, pushing my already unique visuals into a place that can become synonymous with my work. I want to add a Dream FX lens and potentially add a UV light to my camera set up so that shooting in dark scenarios is made possible.

I would also like to offer a donation to Margaret Gallagher for her to use how she sees fit. Her cottage, as well as being a historical relic, is her pride and joy. Its traditional thatched roof alone cost £5000 to fix up. Whilst Margaret received a grant to help fund this, thatching is a rare skill, and even this is being attacked by climate change, currently lasting around two years let alone the five it should. It would be unjust not to contact her and show that creativity is a two way street and that without her generosity in accepting me into her community, albeit briefly, my work would not have flourished. I am still in contact with her and would discuss more with her about her life, keeping the connection we made as I’m sure she would love to be somewhat of a specialist consultant at this point.

I would also factor in ways to offset the carbon footprint of the new project, through helping the communities I document themselves, in ways they see fit. I can estimate how much extra energy I have used in creating the new project and then find the best ways to offset it, so that I can at least try to minimise the hypocrisy of creating technology based work, whilst criticising technology in some way. I hope this outlook will be something that will be factored into budgets in all art in the future, especially when working heavily with video, the internet and digital art.

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

JOSH SPINDLER:
It will shine a light on the off-grid communities in an accepting, celebratory way, unlike the way they are portrayed most often today. Winning the prize with this piece would show that Margaret’s slow, sustainable way of life may become the new normal at some point in the future should we continue to consume at the rate we do. This will hopefully create a respect and new found intrigue with these kinds of communities, who may then be able to offer help and assistance for anyone who may feel they want to pursue a life like theirs. I want the people I spotlight to be able to express themselves honestly about the current state of our always connected society. They may soon be the best people to learn from regarding how to exist differently than most of us do now.

I also want it to affect how artists think about their art, how they sit with the decisions they make, how they must start to think about the repercussions of bringing their art into existence. Moving image makers must understand and respond to the fact when we decide to make work that may continue to exist and be streamed online for years to come, or that uses the internet for hours of research, or downloading or watching clips for inspiration that we cannot escape adding to the growth of data usage, even if our work discusses the downsides of this.

I want art to enter a more transparent space, where we understand that it can no longer sit above questions on climate and consumption because it can be used in attempts to heal whether that be the individual, communities or life threatening planetary catastrophes. Hypocrisy is still a dirty word, but I feel as we continue to progress people will have to accept that we are all hypocrites, even if we feel it’s an unfair title. Creativity should never be questioned into submission but it cannot escape the fact that it also exists within the hyperobject. This is not a tirade on art, or on creation as escape, because I am very aware we live in a time where eccentric billionaires fly to space for a laugh and then flaunt it in the faces of the people they exploited. Instead, take my work as something simply trying to show that we have to make it count, because if you bring it into existence, it’s affecting our planet in some way, you just have to hope that what’s left of it at the end did enough to push us towards a brighter future.