Arcade, in collaboration with ZELDA, is pleased to present the first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery by the pioneering American artist Rebecca Allen.
Over her 40-year career as an artist, researcher and educator, Rebecca Allen has made a hugely significant yet widely overlooked contribution to the field of visual art. Her early interest in utilising the computer as an artistic tool led to her pioneering art involving human motion simulation, AI and artificial life algorithms and other generative models.
Allen produces experimental video, large-scale immersive installations, live simulations, VR and augmented reality works that explore the aesthetics of motion, the movement of the human body through virtual space and its imprint on advanced technologies. Her work addresses issues of identity, gender and what it means to be human as technology redefines our sense of reality.
Allen is not interested in technology for its own sake… she is interested in a technoculture which humanises technology even while maintaining a critical stance towards it…Thus she approaches technology from an almost expressionistic angle, where human feeling and emotional reaction predominate the art. (Popper, Frank. “From Technological to Virtual Art”, 2007)
She has worked with an extensive list of high-profile artistic collaborators, including Nam June Paik, Kraftwerk, Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Peter Gabriel, Carter Burwell, Twyla Tharp, Joffrey Ballet and La Fura dels Baus.
As an undergraduate art student in the mid-1970s at Rhode Island School of Design and frequent visitor to the digital animation labs at neighbouring Brown University, Allen identified early on that computers and the electronic age would spark a new ‘industrial revolution’. She became determined that her work would explore the potential of this new technology as a visual art form. Allen started to compose works for computer imaging, working with wide-ranging outputs like music videos, video games, installation and performance.
After attending MIT (with the Architecture Machine Group, predecessor to MIT Media Lab), she held numerous senior research posts, often as the only woman, in high profile digital research labs, while continuing to pursue her art. She then founded the department in which she has spent decades as professor in Media Art at the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture.
Consistently positioning herself professionally as an artist amongst scientists, engineers and developers, Allen has long upheld the need for cross-disciplinary creative collaboration and research to cultivate new approaches to the application of digital and new media technology, emphasising the importance of artists as inventors in these fields.
This exhibition brings together two digital works made twenty years apart from the same source material.
Occupying the main gallery space is a large-scale projection of Allen’s seminal interactive simulation work, The Bush Soul #3. This is the final and most complex instalment of The Bush Soul trilogy, a series of live digital simulations created between 1997-1999 with Emergence, a unique AI software programme developed by Allen and her team of undergraduate students at UCLA.
Allen designed The Bush Soul series to be interactive, keeping the physical body connected to the virtual environment. In some cultures there is a belief that a person can have multiple souls – one being a ‘bush soul’ that dwells within a wild animal of the bush. In this work a person’s ‘soul’, represented as a sphere of pulsing energy, enters an other-worldly, surreal hinterland (a virtual bush) that is alive and responsive, populated by groups of multi-coloured ornately constructed geometric beings. The world’s inhabitants are brought to life through programmes that define their behaviours and desires.
Complex social environments can emerge from the interaction of simple behaviours. The computer-generated characters, artificial life forms, can be endowed with ‘feelings’ towards any object in the world. These feelings drive a character’s movements and affect its reactions.
The Bush Soul #3 is navigated by a single user with a force-feedback joystick, popularly used with video games in the late 90s and early 2000s. A primary theme of the work is tactile energy, which builds through the joystick as the user arrives at special energy sites within the virtual ‘bush’ environment. The joystick emits vibrations and sensations that coincide with the user’s simulated encounters, accompanied by an original score created by Devo frontman and celebrated composer, Mark Mothersbaugh.
Two video monitors placed in each of the gallery windows, and a smaller-scale projection in an alcove within the gallery space show The Observer (1999-2019), a recent video work ‘choreographed’ by the artist in 2019. The Observer, which Allen describes as a moving painting, leads the viewer on a tour of the lesser traversed annals of The Bush Soul #3 virtual landscape, providing a contemplative environment of rich, vibrant vistas that, paired with the haunting sound design by Tomàs Peire Serrate, feel both natural and synthetic, familiar and strange.
Rebecca Allen (b.1953, USA) has had recent solo institutional exhibitions at QUAD, Derby (2019), and Zabludowicz Collection (2019). Recent group exhibitions include: you feel me_, FACT, Liverpool (2019-20); Enter Through the Headset 5, Gazelli Art House, London (2020). Her work has been exhibited internationally and is part of the permanent collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, NY. She has collaboratively worked with artists, musicians and choreographers including Nam June Paik, Kraftwerk, Twyla Tharp, Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), Peter Gabriel, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Carter Burwell, Joffrey Ballet, and La Fura dels Baus.
Allen received a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 1975, and Masters of Science degree from MIT with the Architecture Machine Group (predecessor to MIT Media Lab) in 1980. She was the founding chair of Department of Design Media Arts at UCLA where she is currently a research professor.
In September 2020, The Serpentine released the interview Rebecca Allen on Kraftwerk, Video Games, and Artificial Life by Kay Watson, Art Technologies Curator.
ZELDA, co-founded by Mary Cork and Kate Phillimore, is a new proposition for an arts advisory: Artist-centred with a holistic approach, we work with artists, collectors and organisations, redirecting a percentage of fees earned from consultancy, sales and paid services back into free programmes for artists who are underrepresented within the arts ecology.
ZELDA presents: Rebecca Allen is the first in a two part series of solo exhibitions curated at Arcade, London. ZELDA is dedicated to providing a platform for artists who have been largely under-recognised for remarkable contributions to their medium. The second instalment, ZELDA presents: Sonia E. Barrett, will take place from the 26th November–16th January with an immersive installation of sculpture and video work by the Hampshire based multi-media artist. Alongside this two part project we are launching our inaugural Free Artist Mentorship Programme, funding 8 artists selected via an open call to work over three months with 8 expert mentors from various parts of the visual art sector.
The mentors for this programme are:
Sonia E. Barrett
For full information on our mentorship open call visit: www.zeldaart.com
87 Lever Street, London, EC1V 3RA