FUTURE: OWNERSHIP OF INFORMATION
45x62cm, digital collage print
Click on the thumbnails to view full image
ABOUT THE WORK
In ElMal's own words
Mixed media collage - mix of both analogue and digital techniques including; collaged found materials, paint, digital collage and digital paint.
In the application I wrote about the (future) law being a ship which carries the people through the sea of information, misinformation and data overload which we are currently facing. As I did more research however, particularly into data colonialism, the ship motif became blurred in my mind with the colonial images of ‘adventurers’ ‘discovering’ ‘new’ land (please note the inherent eye rolls implied with the quotation marks) in the same way that capitalists are now venturing into this barely explored world (the internet) and turning every social interaction into a data stream for exploitation. This is why the vintage image of the steam ship and the people at the harbour make the centre horizontal line at the centre of the piece. The imagery of a ship is now the metaphor for this process, and the process of ‘ownership’ or declaration of ownership in general.
I also began to think about the term phishing - its a word used to describe fraudulent activities aimed at retrieving peoples’ personal information - which is why the fish imagery is also collaged, weaved in with the mass and blurry people to explore my feelings on how any kind of data capture for sale or profit (which is usually unbeknownst to the person in question) is to me a kind of phishing.
The water is a resource which can’t really be owned, but through the process of colonialism and mass capitalism is now deemed as ownable by law. The idea of owning information/data is similarly abstract, but as data becomes more and more profitable will owning information become possible? From what I could understand, at the minute you can have rights to data but not actually own it. Like how water ownership is difficult to define (it moves fgs!!!) - so will the ownership of information. If an ice cap melts in Antarctica but floats into Australia's waters does Antarctica own that melted ice, it still or now the property of Australia? Did either parties ever actually own it? If a person or business can own information which they acquire, does that mean the person whose information it is, owned it first? Just as these questions were debated at the end of primitive accumulation and the onset of capitalism - so too are they being debated in regards to information now. How the law proceeds will determine if it goes the same way.
The collaged star and moon women are rising out of the chaos to provide a beacon of hope - the future law which will hopefully protect us from limitless capitalization.
Other not so meaningful notes:
Multiple rectangles are to replicate ‘tabs’
References to deleting cookies and data, and both pounds and EU signs because of Brexit we will have even less data protection laws now in the UK
ElMal Art engages in a multidisciplinary practice addressing global structures of power through critical and historical research, and speculative future imaginaries. Often centered around collaboration, co-curation and collective knowledge systems, ElMal Art projects usually include research, workshops and artwork, intended to have lasting effect. Previous projects have been with MIF, Journey's Festival International, Signal Film and Media and MAMA Rotterdam, as well as many collaborations with non-arts organizations too such as Manchester Central Library, Research Collegium for Language in Changing Society, Levinshulm Lets Keep Growing and many more. Grounded in a belief that art does not and should not exist only on the white walls of galleries, ElMal Art is dedicated to a democratized culture leading to social change.
We had a short chat with ElMal to get to know her better
How did you start making art?
The area I’m from, Oldham in Manchester, has a bit of a bad reputation in the National media. When I was in primary school my Mom took me to the library for weekly craft classes, and that’s how I got into making art. Without those free classes I don’t know if I would know what art was!
I did art in school and then enrolled into a course at Manchester School of Art. We had this one class called “Contextualising Practice” that was run by the art history tutor. One day she did a really great presentation on protest art and I remember sitting in the lecture feeling so shocked that art had a theory side to it, that people wrote about it and spoke about it in this way. By the end of that week I switched my course to do half fine art and half art history.
What kind of topics areas do you explore in your practice?
For me, the main quality of art is that it’s visual and not necessarily factual. It’s made up of feelings and symbols, and because of that it can say different things to different people. I find that to be the most exciting aspect - you can question global power structures and people will understand the work differently because they would project their own meaning, their own experiences.
Have you ever found that someone interprets your work in a way that is radically different than what you tried to express?
My work usually contains workshops, participatory activities, things for people who aren’t necessarily artists or involved in the space where the project is running. When I run those sessions I often get interpretations of the work that I hadn’t considered before. This idea of collective knowledge, a more democratic way of creating meaning is important to me. I’m not an expert on anything, there has to be room for people to put their own realities and reactions into the work. I see myself as a medium - taking the experience and knowledge that people in my workshops share, and transporting them into a new setting like an art gallery.
How did you get into audience participation?
It was quite natural for me, I am a real people’s person. The whole romantic notion of a lone artist stuck in a studio just wouldn't fit me at all. I am an extrovert.
My local council was offering a free course on teaching and education for adults in exchange for doing language classes. I did that during my final year in school, and it gave me practical skills I could explore in my practice. The course taught us methods of working with people and getting the best out of adult learners, how to read a room.
How do you go about designing the right approach for audience participation?
It really depends on things like location, timing. In an ideal world, if I know the project is going to take place in a particular location I look at what Facebook Groups exist in the area, see what’s already going on, get in touch with people to see what people need. It’s important to have the dialogue so I can explain what I have and can offer and match that to what is actually needed on the ground.
I like the philosophy of “slow art” - taking time, doing the research, getting rooted in the community and listening to their needs. The world is always rushing towards outcomes and ignoring the benefits of slowness. It is often seen as a luxury, but it shouldn’t be - I think anything meaningful should be slow. My practice involves a lot of research, a lot of reading, putting my own ideas under scrutiny - those are all part of the “slow art” approach.
In your practice, is audience engagement the process of achieving an outcome or the outcome itself?
It definitely leads to the outcome. One project I worked on was interacting with a community of refugees. It was really multilayered, and one of the outcomes was an installation we created to encourage people to participate through conscious donations. So often people throw things in a big bin bag, which is really difficult to sort through, or give bad quality clothes that are falling apart. Our installation was in the window of the arts centre, and we had specific things set up - so if someone was donating a coat there was a coat hanger, or a shoe rack where people could put shoe donations.
How would you describe your creative process?
The seed is always text, I find reading inspiring and most of my research is theory based. I use a lot of social media too - checking out hashtags, seeing what people are posting, whether it’s something spoken about.
I don’t have a visual idea until the very end, because I am guided by the research and the process of creation. With mediums like installations for example, the bulk of the work happens on site in the last days of the project. When I work with digital stuff, it’s a similar process but I imagine the laptop as the gallery space. I do lots of reading and researching, and perhaps make a few quick sketches or layout notes but then I spend an intense amount of days just locked on the laptop and that’s where the idea gets created.