Modelling Reality for Art's Sake

A COLLABORATION WITH ARTIST,  JOHN GERRARD

If you follow contemporary art at all, you will know John Gerrard's work through pieces such as "Infinite Freedom", as seen at The Manchester International Festival this year. This piece is typical of Gerrard's commitment to the creation of sculptures taking the form of 3D, real-time computer graphics. Borrowing from the video-game industry, Gerrard excels in creating hyper-real, cinematic-style experiences. The creation of which is dependent upon the careful direction of many groups of people who will take the work through a series of labour-intensive steps. This  involves  production teams in Vienna and across the globe carrying out photography, video, 3D scanning and motion capture in order to bring the works to fruition, which can take anything up to six months to complete.

"Infinite Freedom Exercise (near Abadan, Iran)", by Irish artist John Gerrard.  On an LED wall in Lincoln Square in   Manchester, the work portrayed a contemporary Iranian landscape remade as a   virtual world seen in real-time, 24 hours a day.  Manchester International Festival, 2013

"Infinite Freedom Exercise (near Abadan, Iran)", by Irish artist John Gerrard.  On an LED wall in Lincoln Square in   Manchester, the work portrayed a contemporary Iranian landscape remade as a   virtual world seen in real-time, 24 hours a day.  Manchester International Festival, 2013

When John Gerrard arrived in Guangzhou, during a humid, airless week in April this year, the team at ITR Space studio were under no illusions that task he would set for them would be anything less than complex. In fact it was nothing short of  full-on and involved very carefully-planned logistics and thoroughly well choreographed, repetitive steps. His vision? To create a piece of work which uses Chinese migrant workers from a factory in Dongguan, responsible for the manufacture of Apple Macintosh products as the subject matter for his next piece.

A Dongguan factory worker being "processed" for a new John Gerrard piece.

A Dongguan factory worker being "processed" for a new John Gerrard piece.

Each of the 45 invited factory floor workers ( a logistic nightmare in itself) had to be dressed in their factory floor uniforms and individually shot 15 times while striking  2 particular  poses. They were each rotated around on a lazy Susan-style plinth to achieve this. Individual portraits were taken from all sides and finally their shoes (removed from their feet (because they  were the only non-uniform aspects of them) were also photographed from all sides on a specially created platform). Once this step was over, each of the workers in turn was then escorted across the road to another venue to be videoed doing a series of walks. In what turned out to be an absurd parody of a factory process - each of the workers was "processed" in this manner. I don't think I have worked so hard in a sustained 4 hour period and I wasn't even shooting but assisting ITR's Hitomi by turning the plinth through its 15 increments for each of the poses.

Snapshots from John Gerrard directing proceedings in Guangzhou at ITR Space.

Snapshots from John Gerrard directing proceedings in Guangzhou at ITR Space.

Like an unruffled film director, the tall figure of  Gerrard, signature green baseball cap upon his head, gave orders to the assembled cast of workers and er - more workers. He  had already recruited a Chinese team of incredibly patient facilitators to assist this process. 

Similar to  a typhoon blowing itself out suddenly, the intense activity, amidst the miles of masking tape, checked sheets of data, empty takeaway food containers and packets of spare AA batteries - was all over. The confused looking factory workers were dispatched, happy to earn some extra cash, but puzzled by the whole experience.  Gerrard and his team squeezed themselves into a minibus bound for the airport and, presumably, for Gerrard, the next burst of activity awaiting him in Vienna.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how all of these terabytes of digital imagery end up being used but I know it will not be for a few months yet. Watch this space.