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Thomas Tyler

Interview by Bob Bicknell-Knight

Originally published in the first issue of the isthisit? magazine in March 2017

Thomas Tyler (b. 1994, Middlesbrough, UK) has an art practice that aims to explore the social effects of technology in a condition that seems to be descending into further simulation. His work utilises ready-made objects and imagery in an effort to present how creative practice might exist in the form of selection as opposed to physical craftsmanship. This is done in order to question the direction of assemblage in relation to contemporary art, in a state in which objects and media have become more accessible when obtained, creating a shift to what could be deemed DIY. He responds to these ideas through a collection of images, videos and sculptural works that seem to lack a level of creative gesture often expected from an artist, reclaiming consumer products in a way that portrays a somewhat nihilistic world view hidden under multiple layers of irony. A practice that has essentially become a documentation of his own consumption, this fatigue style of art making is a direct response to millennial ideals, while also looking to celebrate a selection of anti-aesthetics involved in the digital age.


In this exclusive interview artist Thomas Tyler talks to artist and curator Bob Bicknell-Knight about rejecting the web, appropriation on the internet, Vaporwave, developing sound works and curating content.


Bob Bicknell-Knight: So, do you want to start by talking briefly about the work that you're currently producing, the ideas and the forms that are coming to fruition, and how that relates to your artworks relationship with the internet?


Thomas Tyler: At the moment I’m working on a collection of landscape videos accompanied by improvised ambient soundtracks. With these works it is the process of production that interests me, as I am aiming to work full analogue—recording footage to VHS, audio to cassette tape and then editing them together with an old 90s video processor.


I hope for the work to create the illusion that I am rejecting the internet/software within my practise, whilst also highlighting how difficult it is to do so. For example, I am currently in the process of sourcing the equipment I plan to make the video works with, and of course the internet is my tool for doing this—via eBay, Gumtree, ect. It is this very paradox that interests me, digitalisation has rendered analogue equipment obsolete but then has also become the most efficient tool for sourcing obsolete technology’s. It is also relevant to point out that once I have finished the works, it is more than likely that I will have to digitise my master tapes and put them online in order to exhibit them.


So as far as my artworks relationship with the internet goes, it seems to be something I am currently interested in trying to escape, with the awareness that it is an unlikely task.

Thomas Tyler, Liquid Perfection, 2016.

HD digital video with sound.

Courtesy of the artist.

B: I like the irony of that process, having to be on the internet more than you necessarily would be in order to get away from the internet itself. What triggered this interest in the rejection of the web, even if it is all just an illusion?


T: My interest in looking to reject the web within my practise is an attempt to highlight that in our contemporary condition the internet has become more of a necessity than a commodity, with no sign of a counter approach in the distant future. It seems as though since the integration of web 2.0 into (western) mainstream culture, society has not taken a break from its reliance on the internet—rather it becomes greater each day, and I wonder if this could eventually become problematic?


Also, when you pointed out the irony in my process of rejecting the web, me having to delve deeper into the web in order to reject it—would you not agree that an art work that romanticises with the internet could be viewed as equally ironic? In the sense that it nods to the same critique on society’s mass reliance on the internet. This could relate back to the point I made earlier about there being no counter approach available to using the internet, especially for an artist. It seems as though whether an individual likes it or not, they must embrace the internet or risk missing out on certain opportunities/aspects of contemporary living.

B: If one were to take the majority of science fiction seriously, which I tend to do, it's definitely going to become problematic, and soon, although it arguably already is with the increasing number of devices being created to reduce time and effort on the users part, but expanding their dependency on technology, like Amazon Dash. Basically pushing the internet on things until we become like the humans in WALL-E.


Take the obvious example of Jon Rafman's work, romanticizing the more glutinous side of the internet, but putting it in a gallery space for it to be ogled at by a viewer that's maybe never even heard of 4chan... What's your take on appropriation, as much of your own work is made up of found video game footage alongside clips from anime films or memes taken from the web?

Thomas Tyler, I’ve literally spent the last four days watching Sword Art Online and crying, 2016.

Tarpaulin, gaffer tape, foam pipe lagging, Smart Water multi pack, CD rack, inkjet print on paper, exercise mat, plastic board, plastic washing line and vinyl stickers.

Courtesy of the artist.

TI personally view appropriation as an effective creative gesture, especial in the context of millennial social interaction. It could be said that the contemporary personality is build up with the aid of a collection of cultural signifiers, these signifiers are the very content that when curated by an individual can begin to create a dialogue that will influence the way that individual is perceived by the world.


Take for example the Instagram account of a health fanatic, as the user produces a feed of images that signify healthy living. Although the user did not personally make the all black Adidas sportswear depicted in their images, their choice to wear the items publicly results in the sports wear becoming an extension of their personality/self (often referred to as “self-design”). The object becomes a tool for displaying notions of taste, and this can be translated into the production of art—in the sense that when an artist selects and shows appropriated objects/media the artist then must take responsibility for associating said objects/media with their practice. And it is this act of selection that creates a dialogue that can then be critiqued by an audience.


Essentially every social media user in some shape or form is curating content which creates an abstract of the self to be viewed by the world. So for me it seems interesting to mimic this process within art practise, with the hope of adding a level of awareness to my curation of content by framing it as an artwork. In a way I approach appropriation within my practice in the same manner I approached curating content on a tumbler blog in my teens (haha), utilising a form of visual communication that has become almost millennial tradition.

B: I tend to agree, everyone with an Instagram account is a now a curator, the word has formed into its own consumer buzz-word. A genre of music that arguably embodies this notion the most is Vaporwave, does this attitude to curation translate over to your own work with sound, created under the pseudonym Plastiglomerate?

Thomas Tyler, What Are We?, 2016.

HD digital video with sound.

Courtesy of the artist.

T: Vaporwave is a good parallel to draw. A way to think about Vaporwave is as an online performance project—take for example the Vaporwave feed on Soundcloud, each day it grows, sure some releases are significant, but on the most part this is not the case. Maybe Vaporwave becomes more interesting when it is thought of as a performance project in which people from all over the world are slowing down the same 80s songs, titling them in Japanese and distributing the information back online as their own work.

The selection of Vaporwave’s characteristics works on the same level as an internet meme, in the sense that it needs to be distributed by a large number of people to become properly associated with the genre. This could be down to the fact that Vaporwave has no attachment to a physical location, when looking at musical sub genres of the past, location somehow tends to play a role in the sounds/aesthetics associated with them. With no located attached to Vaporwave, its producers are left free to attach whatever they like to it, and it is just a case of seeing what catches on. In some ways Vaporwave acts as one large curation of content, with vast numbers of users constantly creating and re-creating the genre.


And to answer your question, this attitude towards curation of content does indeed translate into my work with sound—in the sense that the practise revolves around utilising (or appropriating) equipment/objects in order to generate sound. I approach my sound works from the angle of a sculptor working with ready-made objects, thinking of my equipment selection process as the creative gesture within this practise. It is an observation of mine that work with sound often comes down to a collaboration between human beings and objects/technologies, I feel in musical performances, this collaboration can often appear blurred. As a result, I aim for my sound performances to become equipment orientated, disconnecting myself from the performance.

B: I enjoy the idea of stepping into the role of the facilitator, allowing the objects to work together as ready-mades rather than modifying them and pushing your own agenda onto the equipment. So, what's coming up next for you?


T: Yes, hopefully as I develop my performances I will begin to do less and less during them. So at the moment I am shooting landscape footage for my new series of video works that I spoke about earlier, as well as preparing for some sound performances I have coming up in the next few weeks. I guess the main thing I am working on at the moment is trying to find a middle ground where my work with sculpture and video can feed into my sound performances.

Over the next few months a lot of my time is also going to be spent running a project titled FEED that works as a platform for experimental sound and performance artists in North East England. The project is running as a collaboration between myself and Liam Slevin who also runs The Auxiliary artist’s residency program based in Stockton.

Thomas Tyler, Beyond, 2016.

HD digital video with sound.

Courtesy of the artist.

Bob Bicknell-Knight is a London based artist and curator working in installation, sculpture, moving image, net art and other digital mediums. Online and offline surveillance accompanied by the consumer capitalist culture within today’s society are the main issues surrounding his work in association with current and future utopian environments, the continued automation of our daily lives in relation to the internet of things and the various cultures associated with online communities. Recent curated shows include The Museum Has Abandoned Us at State of the Art in Berlin, The Choice of a New Generation at The Muse Gallery in London.

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