pt.3 - make 'Merica 'great again'

Interviewee: Shireen Liane
Interviewer: Marta Santambrogio

Shireen Liane - Altered States

Shireen Liane - Altered States

MS: What about your work - Pretend I didn’t see the show, what is your work about?


SL: The Altered States series was looking at flags which are very much branding, the symbol which we are supposed to be marching underneath, but the general election in 2015 and this Brexit circus... I see people wrapping themselves up in the flag and talking about 'Americanness', ' Britishness' and yet selling us something that is not... wholesome, to use an old-fashioned word. Something that is not good for civilians, good for the populace. You know, a real bait and switch, using nationalism to sell corporatism. Particularly in America a lot of the show was around Donald Trump. I haven't lived in America for 20 years, which gives me a very strange view of it - I kinda go back and think, “What fresh hell is this?” ...but “Make America Great Again”, what does that even mean? I don't know what that means! It's selling the notion of 'exceptionalism' but the people that it's selling it to are the most disenfranchised people, the people who actually have never got - or at least not since the 1980s, with the battering of the unions [...] The decimation of what Welfare State we had - which was never that great... These are the people that are being wound-up with this notion of the 'American Dream' that has never matched their reality! 

And again the same thing happening here, especially with the way the Brexiters wrapped themselves up in the flag and talked about Britishness, what were they selling? What. Were. They. Selling?


MS: ...tea?


SL: Yeah, which is from India or Sri Lanka! 
As I worked on the flags for this project, one of my pieces of research is that the design of the American flag - the nine bars with the little logo in the top left corner - is actually from the East India Trading Company. So when we accuse America of being a corporate whore or whatever... it was always thus! It was set up as a corporate exercise. So expecting it to behave differently is probably delusional. It breaks my heart for the people, say, in the North East of Britain, which was gutted by Thatcher and never got back on its feet again.

I used to live in Liverpool and at that time in the 90s it had like 60% unemployment! It was just absolutely decimated between the miners, the dockworkers, unions being smashed up... they were economically destroyed. And for those people to be manipulated to think that the EU is the bad guy.... is horrific! 

I believe Nissan and Toyota both have factories in the North East. Those cars will now have extra tariffs in Europe, become more expensive to sell and manufactures will probably up-sticks and move to continental Europe... and leave more unemployment... for the very same people who voted Leave.

I have a very good friend and she has her industry wage undermined by foreign workers and I do understand that. But the next day she called me up and apologised -  and I would admit I was kind of hysterical, I was in tears and she called me and said, "I am really sorry, I just didn't think this went through" and... what are you gonna do?


MS: Why do people say 'America' and not call it "The United States?'


SL: I wouldn’t be able to tell you really. Why Italians refer to 'Italia' but we call it 'Italy'? Or 'Deutschland' we are calling it 'Germany'? I don't know!


MS: That's a translation... but 'America' means the continent. You have North America, South America. Canada is America. Colombia is America....


SL: Yeah... I don't know. The way 'America' came about was an Italian mapmaker, Amerigo Vespucci, who essentially branded his maps in Amerigo's Land. So it just rolled off of that, so pretty random. 

Shireen Liane - Altered States

Shireen Liane - Altered States

MS: I think he was an explorer, not really a mapmaker. 


SL: I don't know really much about it, but no I do not have the answer. But one part of this project started to lead me into colonialism and how that works. It occurred to me that in school we learn about dinosaurs and the name of Greek Gods... Did we learn a lot about Empire? How it was built? What went into it? Even a glossed-over kiddy version of it... We are not really taught any of that.

It was one of those things on the Life in the UK Test which is a multiple choice. It was something like, "How many Ugandans came to the UK in 1971?" And it would be like 2000, 25000, 28000, 30000. I happened to know it's 28,000. But the important part of that question should have been why did 28,000 Ugandans feel the need to up-sticks and get out of Uganda at high speed in 1971? How is this the fallout of Empire? And that's where it gets 'lalala we can't hear you'.


MS: Isn't it the same about Syrians?


SL: Exactly! These things have consequences and nothing just happens in a vacuum. And so the project that I was doing underneath the American flag - you might have seen the table and the sewing machine - I was taught nothing about the British Empire expect something like, "England had an empire and then it lost it"... So I thought with the help of Wikipedia (because of course Colonial Studies is a four-year degree in itself) I am going to sit here with my sewing machine; I have got a bunch of cheap Made-In-China flags (which is not irrelevant!) and I am going to try and sew together the British Empire, just as a giant stitch-up. But of course the first people that are thrown under the bus are the native Americans and they don't have flags. So I thought, “Right I'll get some stamps and stamp the names of the tribes of native Americans.” Six days later I thought I would be buried under this pile of flammable Chinese flags. But six days later I am still stamping the names of native American tribes. Many of them were just wiped out by the American Genocide. And that's a moment of clarity. A moment when you try to acknowledge and embody how these things happen.

In the wake of this Brexit nonsense I am thinking of doing a piece. I live in Holloway and I have lived in Holloway for almost 19 years now. It's great and so far it's been pretty good in rejecting gentrification. It's still beautifully unfashionable. I am thinking of setting up a table, an English flag, a stamp kit and a little sandwich board that says 'Come tell me where you, your parents and your grandparents are from.' Let's see the makeup of the glamorous Holloway Road. Because I know some people that are English or British going back few generations, but most of the people I know - when I start to think about it - you know... the very least is gonna be an Irish granny. And if not, people from Jamaica, Africa or India. American is privileged, but is an eeky kind of privilege, because I am a white native English speaker. People would come up to me and feel free to bitch about those god-damn-immigrants and I kinda wanna say, “You haven't noticed my accent?!” So if you are complaining to me about immigrants, it's kind of obvious that your problem is a little bit deeper than immigrants. I am invisible to you because I am white, English speaker and what you are really talking about is something entirely different. 

I am an immigrant so of course I am a big fan of immigration...
...and I am American. We are a nation of immigrants!


MS: ...which is what I find hilarious in the whole "Make America Great Again" thing! The 'Greatness' of America was build off of the backs and blood sweat and tears of 50-60% of the world, so it's like...?! 


SL: [Knowing laugh] Yes, we have been the largest recipient of the largest immigration around the world. Whether is a forced immigration of slavery or... you know - when I got myself prepared to explain why America is so full of crazy loud mouths: we are the sons and daughters of the people who looked at their situation in Italy, in Germany, wherever - and decided to take a chance jumping on a ship. We are the crazy uncle that ran away, we are the sons and daughters of them. In all the arrogance. There are some beautiful things about the American character – that we can be stupidly optimistic and that can do things like put a man on the Moon, but it can also do things like completely destroy the stock market. It's the crazy arrogance - let's put it this way: I love visiting America, I have no desire to go back. No way.


pt.2 - "it's been the worst week for British politics"

Interviewee: Shireen Liane
Interviewer: Marta Santambrogio

Shireen Liane - Altered States

Shireen Liane - Altered States

MS: Let's discuss your work. It seemed to click with quite a few people during the Degree Show. It surely clicked with me, first and foremost because it was straightforward. I was not quite sure what had led to it, or the thinking behind it, but it clicked, it makes you think, makes you react.


SL: Yeah, I had so many people - you know I was making the piece live during most of the Degree Show and really the making of the piece was about generating the conversation - and I had so many people come up to me. I mean like, dads being dragged around the degree show going, "Thank you! This is the only piece I understand!" and you know what, I really took that as a compliment! It is not a competition, but I thought maybe there is a time for art when you have to sit and digest for two weeks and still being not sure you get it, but I was glad it went straight to the point.

There is a Sinclair Lewis quote that says something like, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross" and I feel like we have come to this point - and you know I have been guilty of it too. This point where discourse has just collapsed on itself, it feels like democracy is collapsing on itself - if that does not sound too doom-laden.


MS: Well I mean it's been the worst week for British politics...!


SL: Oh-my-fucking-god! As an immigrant, it has been just sitting here watching. I have indefinite leave to remain, I have lived here for 20 years. Go home? ...I don't have a home to go back to! It has been a terrifying couple of weeks. 


MS: What do you think about the Chilcot Report?


SL: Well, my Facebook posts were counting down the days to the Chilcot Report, because watching the Labour Party set its hair on fire and act like a bunch of entitled 3-year-olds (actually 3-year-olds have better manners). Stabbing a man who was elected with a mandate with a capital M who does not play politics the way they play, watching them all try and push him out... it's been embarrassing! It's been disgraceful! It's been really upsetting. I don't know about anybody else but I haven't been sleeping well as a result of this. And in this last week we have had the Labour Party gain 60,000 new members. And I do wonder, which ‘Labour Party’? The Labour Party of the PLP, the Parliamentary Labour Party - who are acting like a bunch of entitled fucks? Or the CLP, which is the Community Labour Party, the members, you know folks on the ground who actually cast ballots and vote. So the Labour Party has gained all these people but which one? Who are they voting for?

The Brexit thing... just watching people who don't spend a lot of time decoding media, who don't sit around reading three papers a day - and that's absolutely fine, I don't feel I have the right to judge these people...but I would feel bloody free to judge the media, who were winding those people up, with no idea of where they were going to point them. It was just getting that ‘if it bleeds it leads mentality’; getting people mentally excited about something. Then they all voted for Brexit and the next day as the stock market crashes and the Pound falls, it suddenly occurs to them oh they won't be able to work and study abroad – [the media] left them going, “Well, what now?” Of course the main architects and the people who pulled the trigger on this shit-show have all backed-up at high speed...

Have you wondered if a year from now, next summer, we are all going to be sitting around going like "Brexit? What was that about anyway? [Laughs] ...I don't know! Remember 2K was supposed to be the end of the world...the Digital Armageddon... and then afterwards everybody is just, "Ummmmm..." It wouldn’t surprise me at this point if nobody pulls the trigger on Article 50, if everyone goes like, "Actually this was kind of a bad idea let's just sweep this under the rug and pretend it never happened!". I don't know - it was a real show of bad faith...I am most embarrassed of what the rest of Europe must be thinking of us right now.


pt.1 - The Fine Arts Club

Interviewee: Shireen Liane
Interviewer: Marta Santambrogio


Shireen Liane: My experience at CSM was not necessarily an easy linear path. I felt like I spent two years trying to learn how to speak this very coded fine art language, it becomes some kind of sign language that the people in the very narrow educational bandwidth can send each other signals and it doesn’t necessarily translate outside the fine art practice.


Marta Santambrogio: Is that a feature of it or a limitation of it?


SL: For me it’s a limitation, but I will freely admit.... I come from a rock 'n 'roll background and I was a musician before I decided to move into visual arts. I always understood my role as trying to communicate, to change somebody's body chemistry for those three minutes that a song goes by; give them goosebumps. For me as a songwriter in the past my goal was never to impress other songwriters - if I heard my friend the waitress humming the song, that's where I was like YES! Score! A bunch of songwriters sitting there stroking their chins going, "Oh, I really like the way you have transposed that bridge…" Who cares?

I think it’s very much the same for fine arts. I shouldn’t slag off the people that have very intellectual and theoretical practices but, sometimes I see certain pieces of art where I think "Gosh, I think I need a PhD for that to speak to me" – and I am enough of an old-school pleb [laughs] that I just think, “That's nice; that’s for the PhD crowd... but I am not sure that moves me.” You know, when you go to art school you suddenly spend a lot of time going through galleries and walking into things and thinking, "I am not entirely sure I understand this, but I am going to keep a straight face", because that 'Emperor’s New Clothes’ thing starts to take over and there’s an insecurity that’s built into class; all sorts of things make you sit very carefully and look the people that are looking with you, “Do they understand it? Am I the only person sitting here [who feels] this isn’t doing it for me?! [Laughs]"


MS: You nailed something that I have personally experienced through Degree Show 1. I am a designer, so I come with the inevitable mind-set that I need to make sense of things. As a designer you are trained to start with an intention and you do not carry on with a project without that intention. But, I like to think that I am sensible to art, I enjoy it and it moves me quite often. Also, these days, the design industry and the art industry are overlapping to an extent...

SL: I agree!

MS: So I thought: is it me who lacks the means to understand but also to approach this? If I could approach it, then I could say, "Ok I get it. I do not understand it, but it's fine". I really felt like I had a problem. But perhaps that is part of the plan?


SL: I agree! Maybe it's because I am entering my grumpy old woman phase – I intend to rock that shit! I am at the same time very suspicious of the dumbing down of culture across the board, especially when we get into the political realm; it’s not being used well. But there is definitely something there when you think, "I have no idea how I should be approaching this stuff that is so coded." Before I came into art school, I used to look at this supposed wall between fine art, graphic design, design and just think... that’s bollocks!  You know, I understand the difference between doing things for your own motivation and doing things for a client but I kinda reject a lot of that separation of arts and craft - in fact that was something that really disappointed me - the way that craft was almost seen like a dirty word in fine art. And I thought that’s a shame because you could be actually teaching people something useful.


MS: That is an even bigger conversation, but you tapped into a very interesting point. As a designer, I was trained that the difference between art and design is that art is about self-expression. So you would have an individual, or a group that observes society and makes a comment through their work. That is quite cool and when you go to blockbuster places like the Tate Modern, even the recent stuff... I get it! Calder, it is just wire... but I get it! And it is not an intellectual understanding, but there is something that happens on another level.


SL: I had a real moment of clarity when I went to the Tate Modern for the exhibition The World Goes Pop. I walked through it with my partner in crime. I understood what that was referencing, I have enough of an history vocabulary to understand what strings that it’s pulling etc... So we walked away thinking, "Yeah, I get it" but we were also – not disappointed but – not exactly inspired, [so we] hit the Calder and that was just like a punch! There! Here it is! We were pushed back by the force of the originality and the way he uses the poetics of space - look I have got goosebumps talking about it now.


MS: See? There, even if I do not have that vocabulary to translate that art coding. I didn’t see those puzzled faces. I feel the crowd was getting it, there was a kind of energy. Is this because this is the ‘blockbuster’ Tate Modern so it is a type of 'lower level'? Almost as if contemporary art is not for the public but for the arts? What is your opinion?


SL: I wonder and worry about that question. I wish I had an answer. The way I look at it is again in terms of music. There was a time in popular music (sadly not now) when there were some really interesting risky experimental stuff going on, that still made the top 10 and sold shitloads of records. The Beatles' White Album is not an easy album to digest the first time around but that sold zillions of records. Both the industry that gave them the money to make that and the buying public were willing to support that kind of risky experimental stuff. Now in music we don't have an industry that supports it... and I am not sure we have a public that supports it. You could discuss all day about what happened to both music industry and music consumption and with fine arts it’s kind of similar - it's a difficult one.


MS: Why do you do art then? What drives you?


SL: Because we have to do something with our lives before someone throw us in a hole! [Laughs] This is one of the reasons why I have real difficulties calling fine artists this rarefied bandwidth of human beings that speak funny codes. Cause some of us when we were five were the kids that were making things, and then when we were 10 we were still the kids that were making things, drawing, making noise, whatever - we were just the people that were investigating. Maybe it's because we were socially uncomfortable. For me I was a lonely child with a very rich inner life and didn’t know how to deal with people. So, dealing with pens and paper, or writing or music was just my way to live really, to be in the world. You look at cave paintings and see that there's certain human beings, certain members of this species who always have that way of coping with the world. Maybe somebody else is a really good cook. And who is more valuable?


MS: So then perhaps this is the answer to the initial question: there is a group of artists who might as well be geniuses - but because it's about their own way of 'being in the world,' they don't necessarily acknowledge or take into account how that reflects or how far that reaches when it goes 'outside of them'. Maybe that is the way of looking at it - but then it opens up a new range of complicated questions: how do you evaluate that particular piece of art, ...its price and all?


SL: Yeah. That is a whole other story. I do not understand the fine art market. I look through big art magazines and I think, "Wow, this is again that kind of speaking in code.” Is it supposed to be purchased by me as an artist or to speak to people in that very high income brackets that throw shapes at each other that signify - "Look I understand, I made enough money that I can understand this very obscure thing and buy this now"? I do not know who's that for! I am not going to say it's worthless but I don't yet understand what it's supposed to do. Whereas, you walk into the Calder set and I saw kids that were blown away by it. Now, of course we shouldn’t be judging fine arts only by its ability to communicate to three-year-olds... but the three-year-olds kinda have good bullshit detectors!

That was one thing that I started thinking during my degree. That if a theory could not be understood by a very intelligent 15-year-old - because you know supposedly that's when our brains are at our best - perhaps we should look at why that is. But then again I would admit that there is a part of me that is probably really defensive, because I feel there is this constant attempt to say "you don't understand this" and if feels on a gut level [it is communicating] “you are not worth this.” It's like an axis, the fine art tipping point, where does it just tip over into exclusion?

Yet I am sure we have all seen something like ...’not-sure-I-get-it-but-that’s-kinda-cool’. And maybe the point is just, "wow that's kinda cool!"


machines as artisans


From an efficiency standpoint, automation and machines will render artisan work progressively obsolete. If we are overcome by a wave of severe ‘crafts nostalgia’, we can always go back to handwork, but to have the option of greater efficiency sounds like a step in the right direction for mankind.

What happens however, when ‘intellectual work’ is also rendered obsolete? Algorithms are becoming increasingly sophisticated and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is a widely explored field of research. Are we about be stuck in a paradox of telling machines what to do, so that they can tell us what to do?

Facebook’s recent incident demonstrates this. The social media platform has become the world's largest distributor of news. Its Trending news module was initially curated by a human workforce in charge of editing popular news for Facebook users. Based on accusations from users of potentially biased news (as well as plans to scale the service globally), Facebook immediately fired the team in late August - moving onto a predominantly algorithm-driven service. In the following days however, the algorithm’s moderation feature failed and the system published potentially offensive and false stories - which were then removed. Despite the unpleasant situation, Facebook declared that the algorithm had been learning from the dismissed human team and would still progressively move towards a fully automated news service.


Designer Charlotte Normoen tackles the delicate topic of automation as applied to craftsmanship in her project humanMADE, "The project aims to go beyond the practical aspect of technological unemployment and to ask what happens if a robot takes on the role of an artisan." Over the next couple of decades, increasing shares of the labour market could be automated. Is it possible to automate any and all human skills and abilities?

Charlotte Normoen - HumanMADE. Photo Credit: Tom Mannion

Charlotte Normoen - HumanMADE. Photo Credit: Tom Mannion

"Most experts agree that there are certain human qualities - like creativity, intuition and interpersonal skills - that would be difficult to recreate in a machine and therefore, jobs that require such skills would seemingly be safe from automation."

- Charlotte Normoen


However, when it comes to design, what would automation mean for authorship? In what ways can design and A.I. coexist?

Normoen’s video seeks to encourage the debate surrounding ownership, man and machine, "By using machine-learning and a genetic algorithm I have created a robot designer that generates new pottery designs. An industrial robot arm throws the designs on a pottery wheel using a silicon human 'finger', thereby eliminating the need for the 'human touch'. The human's role in the production is demoted to menial tasks such as preparing and carrying clay and looking after the machines."


designing the process


In recent years, young designers have benefitted from incredible possibilities, far beyond simply doing things faster and more efficiently. Digital technologies for manufacturing have cultivated a risk-free environment, where machines can be viewed not only as tools, but also as partners in the creative process. Every day, young creatives worldwide explore this paradigm and they seem to shift focus from designing the final outcome, to instead, designing the process that will determine the outcome. In the arts, this is the case of the so-called ‘generative art’ wave. Pieces of process – often strings of code – are created then set in motion with a certain degree of autonomy which contributes to the end result.

There are many ways to embrace machines as a part of the creative team. One is the playful approach, where the designer engineers the process - including system errors - then enjoys the spontaneous effect of the machine responding to the confusing input; a method explored by Mark Laban, a Central Saint Martins graduate. 

Mark Laban - Rough with the Smooth Bench

Mark Laban - Rough with the Smooth Bench


Mark is interested in the immersive design process and the idea of approaching wood-making in a ‘plug-and-play’ context. With a background in Fine Arts, Mark was inspired to embrace woodwork by figures like Sebastian Cox, seen as an example of 'modern craftsman'.

His series comprises of benches and stools inspired by antique Japanese woodcarving techniques which are then exposed to digital fabrication techniques. He enjoys the immersive process and the intuitive element - the idea that you can 'launch' the carving pressing a button, but then you can always intervene and edit as you go. Thus creating a continuous exchange with the machine. To give a level of near-total control to the machine is a form of liberation that allows for unexpected outcomes to occur, without reducing a designer's 'creative authority'. It is difficult for him to name such relationship, but he makes an interesting point questioning what 'mastering the technique' can mean in such a context. The result is a hybrid aesthetic that suggests both the eternity of wood and the styling codes of contemporary digital culture. 

Mark Laban - Rough with the Smooth Bench

Mark Laban - Rough with the Smooth Bench

Mark Laban - Rough with the Smooth Bench

Mark Laban - Rough with the Smooth Bench


Welcoming machines as part of the design process could be fun - as long as they do not surpass our progress. We want them to do things for us – influence the project, even surprise us – but not to fully design for us. We do not seem to want machines to become designers. But isn't that inevitable? What does 'designer' even mean in 2016?


it's what you do with it


The fact that a form of technology is widely available does not automatically make its user an artisan or a designer. Technology dictating the final piece makes it an expression of that particular technology, rather than an innovative design. Take 3D printing: ring designs can be downloaded from the internet, customised and printed. But that doesn’t necessarily signify a meaningful evolution in jewellery. Instead, it is more likely to re-establish the typical 3D-printed gadget aesthetic, increasing the number of short-lived, unnecessary goods present in the world.

In contrast, there are many inspiring cases where 3D-printing provides the sole solution to an otherwise unsolvable design challenge. For instance, Gaudì’s Basilica Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

3D-Printed Ring generated by Elements Lab app. Courtesy of

3D-Printed Ring generated by Elements Lab app. Courtesy of

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez


In 1882, the ingenious architect knew he was not to survive the completion of, what is to become, the tallest church on Earth. Gaudì was aware that he had envisioned and designed incredibly complex shapes, impossible to construct without clear instructions. He therefore spent all of his time crafting accurate plaster models for future generations to use as a guide. It so happens that the site was hit during the Civil War in the 1930s and all the models were destroyed. Fragments were collected and painstakingly mapped, but no significant progress seemed to be made in piecing together the overall puzzle – until the 1970s. A young, New Zealand architect called Mark Burry undertook the task of reverse-engineering the fragments, using state of the art 3D-modeling and computer graphics. Over the last twenty years, the switch from using handcrafted plaster models to 3D-printed prototypes has occurred, enabling construction work to speed up significantly. There is hope for the completion of the building within the next ten years

It is argued that Gaudì was a century ahead of his time and that computers are allowing us to get closer to his vision – more than any other artisanal means he might have used. The overwhelming power of Sagrada Familia's disruptive architecture is tangible to anyone confronted with the colossal building. Even if those who experience it are not devote Catholics like Gaudì, a sense of divinity seems to emanate from its walls and technology has played a key role in enabling such vision to become a reality, 140 years later.


every copy is an original: what about cloning human skin?


The feeling of rarity is another crucial element in determining the value of something. The luxury industry bases its premium prices on the idea that the goods being traded are extremely costly and precious; therefore, are exclusive in number accessibility. What is the outcome if new technologies have the power to eliminate rarity as we know it?


Tina Gorjanc’s Pure Human project had been a popular highlight at Central Saint Martins’ Degree Show Two. She created a ground-breaking leather accessories collection using in-lab grown skin as opposed to skin from the slaughter. The cause for recognition? The skin was human. Whilst the project is conceptual, it is theoretically grounded on the availability of someone’s hair (dead or alive), alongside the technologies able to extract and reproduce the DNA, manipulating the genetic material. Imagine owning a biker jacket formed from your grandma’s hair or Beyoncé’s skin! All at once, exciting and endless potential applications are sparked; we might resurrect our loved ones or literally wear our favourite celebrities’ skin.

Tina Gorjanc - Pure Human

Tina Gorjanc - Pure Human


But what about the implications?  As of now, there is not any legislation in place that seems to prevent anyone from practicing genetic manipulation. This initiates new complications in terms of business ethics, tapping into issues that are not yet fully covered by conventional commercial regulations. Gorjanc’s project aims to generate debate around the potential consequences of current legislation which do not limit the commercial usage of human genetic materials. One of her research areas exemplifies this; leukaemia patient John Moore filed a lawsuit in 1990 after his doctor had removed and patented tissue samples from his body. The court’s verdict however, was not in Moore’s favour. They had ruled the tissue samples as property of the institution that had extracted it and therefore, had not considered the ‘theft’ a criminal offence.

Tina Gorjanc - Pure Human

Tina Gorjanc - Pure Human


On what basis should the ethical debate arise? It might sound easier to take a stance on the gun control debate, but what about when it comes to genetic technologies that have the potential to save and destroy mankind?


multiple originals: digital copy… or visual evidence?


First, a quick trip through image-making in the last couple of decades.

Not long ago, when traveling, a photograph would capture a visual experience and be kept for sharing with others or as a reminder. Google arrived and the world could view anything instantly and remotely. As a result, pictures became marks of authenticity and evidence of being there. The smartphone was born and cameras became accessible to all, generating fierce lifestyle comparisons between users. Finally, Instagram ignited a wave of beautiful and perfected pictures. In response came the hashtag ‘#nofilter’ because overwhelmingly consistent perfection is unrealistic. We advanced from observers to editors. What’s next?

Nils Braun - Staging the Archive

Nils Braun - Staging the Archive

“We now live in a time where image-making is constantly available.” 

– Nils Braun


Nils Braun is a communication designer interested in the relationship between what is perceived as original and their digital copies. Many of his works explore our, “contemporary fragmented vision” and the tension between the tangibility of original(s) and the intangibility of the digital space. His works reflect on how we might value or perceive the ‘digital version’ of things around us,Images are frozen moments, fractions of time.

Visual evidence provides clues for our memory [...] Ubiquitous image-making […] changes the way we look at the world. In many ways, it leads us to perceive, consume and interpret everything around us in fragments.”

The millions of images we take every year cluster our digital archives and social media profiles. But we hardly look back at them, let alone print them. Our relationship with images, especially photographs, has changed. We seem keen on documenting anything, regardless of if it is extraordinary or memorable. Thus, creating a parallel, digital world of images that almost work as the evidence of our ‘real life’, in real time. From this perspective, it sounds a bit reductive to consider such images a ‘copy’. They certainly carry too much value for that.

Earlier this year, Nils created a digital copy of a physical, installation piece by Nicola Lorini in collaboration with Central Saint Martins’ Museum and Study Collection, “While it's referring to an object existing in the physical world, it is more than a mere copy of it – it acts as an original in its own right. What we see however, is not the recreation itself but the visualisation of it. The digital reproduction is in fact the underlining code.”

Nils Braun - Staging the Archive

Nils Braun - Staging the Archive


So, back to the original question: are these ‘multiple originals’ mere digital copies, or a form of visual evidence of the ‘real thing’? Although we are capturing moments through images, we don’t really use them as tokens. We would rather indulge in the constant update of our ‘life in images’. According to Jean Baudrillard, our world generates simulations and imitations of reality which are more real than reality itself. This condition is referred to as ‘Hyperreality’ or ‘the authentic fake’. We might be shifting our focus from the value of a single image (original or copy) towards the act of image-making, as this is the territory where relevance is generated.