It’s a dark, rainy night in Venice and the stone floor of the Piazza San Marco is flooded, leaving people no choice but to cross the square on a row of wobbly wooden tables, raised high above the water. It’s the perfect night to launch digital artist Margot Bowman’s new multimedia work, w.e.t., an installation that explores the results of climate change from a digital perspective.
Imagining a world in which we live on water is only too easy after traipsing through a waterlogged Venice to new gallery Spazio Ridotto (just a few streets from the Piazza), which showcases the work—and is completely waterproofed. The only wetness in the gallery are the digital drops on the walls where Bowman’s new work is displayed: w.e.t. is a curiously beautiful look at a not-so-distant possible future, when water replaces terra firma as the human habitat. Bowman produced questionnaires to get people thinking about what such a place could look like, and the answers are both poetic and unsettling: like the question, “Is there a place to bury the past? If so, where is it?” To which someone answered, “The past will be buried in balloons set adrift.” CH caught up with Bowman, who works in both illustration and digital media, in Venice to discuss her work and the implications of climate change.
How would you describe your artworks in general; what inspires your art?
I’m really inspired by multiple realities, and how to make experiences and objects that move between the world we’re in right now, and the ones that run in parallel. The reality where everything is the same, but we can all breathe underwater. I love that idea, of a range of realities, like timezones, each one slightly different from the one previous. To do this I’m using a wide range of medias, anything I can get my hands on and play with to make something that feels fresh, sincere and human.
How did w.e.t. come about, and when did you become interested in environmental issues?
w.e.t. is a multi-media project that explores the emotional impact of climate change. Set in a future in the throes of extreme global warming, water has replaced land as humanity’s habitat. The aim of the project is to create an emotional, creative, evolving future proposal—something that appeals to our hearts, not driven by numeric data, which alienates so many of us. The project uses different media and touch-points to do this: web questionnaires, photography, drawing and animation.
I wanted to keep the use of media wide to reach people in different ways and evoke a response that goes beyond the standard, disengaged despot/utopia vision of the future. I’ve been working around sustainability since I left Central St. Martins, I think it’s part of making work about the time that we live in. As someone who wants to innovate, to make new things, I think you have to be working with the materials that your age presents to you; be those technologies, ideas or events.
Do you find that your work is becoming more and more digital, or do you still illustrate by hand a lot? How do you combine the two?
I work very much between the two, and I like the strange contrast of when they are bought together in a way that’s not too polished. It’s important to show the process, to leave gaps and expose technology, both old (physical mark-making) and new (digital software). I think where the technology falls short, in those gaps and mistakes you find the human part.
Finally, what do you think the future holds for digital art?
In the next few years, the initial steps that have been taken to create a financial system around these new art formats will really advance. I think the way the work is viewed and interacted with will go through a lot of changes, as new waves of technology bring it into people’s lives in new ways. And we’ll also see the cost of material continue to go down, opening up digital art-making and expression to a wider global audience.
w.e.t. is on at Spazio Ridotto now through 26 April 2015.
Installation images courtesy of the artist and Spazio Ridotto