This solo exhibition presents existing and newly commissioned work by artist Nye Thompson. In partnership with Lumen Art Projects, VERTIGO opens our eyes to the world of surveillance, satellites, and the new frontier that is space. It explores how humans interact with technological ecosystems and the complex ethical, political and cultural questions created by our ever-more-intertwined relationship with machines.
Thompson highlights how the technology and infrastructure we rely on day-to-day mean that humankind has a deep connection to machines. We are ever more reliant on a vast network of unseen, and largely ungoverned, satellites that orbit the Earth. We are also increasingly, and often unknowingly, affected by Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. Reflecting this, Thompson asks what it means to watch and be watched, as she flips the view from human to technological, allowing the audience to see the world from a perspective of ‘machine gaze’.
Downstairs, in Gallery 1, projected on both sides of a large screen, Nye presents INSULAE (Of the Island). First shown in 2019, INSULAE takes the viewer on a 6-hour, birds-eye journey round the coastline of the British Isles, endlessly and obsessively patrolling its borders. The work is digitally-reconstructed using many thousands of individual stills, stitched together to form a continuous loop. The result is a landscape that looks natural, but is actually constructed by machine. The photographs are taken by satellites working for Google Earth, proprietary software decides what to photograph, and AI technology is used to tidy up those images for use online.
The work also gives an artificial impression of time. Each image represents a momentary snapshot of what a particular patch of sea was like at that exact moment, but it might be stitched to another image from six months earlier or two years later — a patchwork of time.
This is the first time that INSULAE has been shown in a coastal location, giving it extra salience. Look closely, or for long enough, and you may fly along the South Wales coast, across the Bristol Channel and down past Watchet through muddy waters. From a seafaring town with a once global reach, it invites us to reflect on the idea of borders in the aftermath of Brexit, and the extent to which our island status plays into our colonial past and British identity. By highlighting the role of the machine in constructing this image of our borders, Thompson references how artists’ portrayals of natural beauty have always encoded a host of cultural and political ideas about the country’s identity and place in the world.
Upstairs, in Gallery 2, Nye presents CU Soon, a new installation commissioned for this exhibition. Where INSULAE invites us to consider the satellites’ view of Earth, CU Soon encourages us to look upwards into space at the hidden machines which circle above our heads. Thompson is intrigued by this new space frontier — a kind of ungovernable Wild West in which military, commercial, and political power dynamics are being played out, but which is almost completely devoid of public oversight.
Reflecting on this opaque relationship between human and machine, in CU Soon, Nye seeks to communicate and interact directly with these machines by sending ‘postcards’ into space. These postcards are intercepted by the satellites which then respond in kind by sending back images from their orbit. In some sense, the satellites are collaborators in the creation of the artworks on show.
VERTIGO is presented in partnership with Lumen Art Projects. CU Soon sound design by Joanna Penso.
This exhibition is commissioned by Contains Art CIO and funded by generous support from Arts Council England and the Golsoncott Foundation.
Nye Thompson (b. 1966) is an artist turned software designer turned artist. Thompson has exhibited around the UK, Europe and the Far East, including Tate Modern, The Barbican, The Louvre, The V&A, ZKM Karlsruhe, Ars Electronica and The Lowry.
Image credits: Jesse Wild
Film credits: Jesse Roth