The traditional face of the future

A new exhibition at the ICA might look unremarkable - but don't be fooled. It's cutting edge
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The Independent Online

Walk into the ICA exhibition of the four winners of the Imaginaria prize and the first thing you notice is how ordinary the projects look. One work resembles a model railway set; another is a square photograph hanging from the ceiling. Common, except they are created by digital imaging software.

Walk into the ICA exhibition of the four winners of the Imaginaria prize and the first thing you notice is how ordinary the projects look. One work resembles a model railway set; another is a square photograph hanging from the ceiling. Common, except they are created by digital imaging software.

So Mark Dean has created a photograph of Alan Turing, known as the father of the modern computer, as a digitally re-animated image, shown with a recitation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in computer speak and projected as the blurred face in a coded binary form.

There is nothing unusual about a face, photograph, or voiceover in an art gallery, but this work offers, like all the other exhibitors, something different - a traditional art work from using high-end technology.

In Nina Pope and Karen Guthries' installation, a large model Island, the eager eye can spot a computer is running the whole show from the corner of their work area. They have set up a "Mush", which is a Internet chat site that employs game play; in this case the visitors have been encouraged to build on a virtual Island, which, unknown to them, is also being copied on the real model Island.

Robin Rimbauld (AKA Scanner), an award-winning sound engineer and professor of sound at Liverpool's John Moore University, and graphic designer Paul Farrington (AKA Tonne), have produced work from the real streets of London.

They photographed 150 areas of London with a digital camera, and then fed the images through Metasynth (software that can read an image as sound), plus Farrington's software that produces texts generated by sound, and produced "Sound Polaroids".

And there is audience participation, by asking the people to send in suggestions of "a point of significant sound in London" on either postcards or e-mail.

If it wasn't for the technology, it could be a boring exhibition.

And finally, the Mongrel collective, known for work such as a search engine that wheedles out racist sites on the Internet, produced "Invisible Geographies" from eight workshops, led by members of Mongrel, in Bristol and London.

They taught people from different cultural backgrounds how to use Linker, a multi-media authoring tool, in order to compile an alternative map of England from their own personal experiences.

Certainly they are exhibitions any gallery visitor can understand. Everyone has at least played with paints and drawing, although few of us have created anything artistic on a computer, never mind making the technology do what it doesn't normally do. And not just crashing; what we actually want.

Scanner, whose "Sound Polaroids" is descended from his research work at ICA, says: "I am a generation that just missed computers at school and the issue of technophobia is important - I didn't want people to be scared away from the work, to walk in and just not get it. People should be moved and seduced by it. And you use the technology rather than letting the technology use you."

Using digital tools to evoke a similar feeling to a traditional artwork poses questions of what the technical side adds to the experience.

Scanner says: "The thing that still excites me is that I don't always know the decisions I make with the technology what the results will be.

"But what I like is it's quite playful. As with any software, music or games, you can change the parameters."

In Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope work, the technical know-how is essential for the piece to work.

"In a way there are two different audiences, the people who use the game are likely to normally play those games, and who are quite skilled on the Web," says Nina Pope. They also want to ensure the gallery visitor will enjoy the communication there as well.

"As long as they understand it's text-based work, that's almost enough for them to see us trying to replicate that in the form of a model."

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