I often use art as a release, a valuable piece of downtime, and during one of visits to an art gallery, I came across artist Alice Sheppard Fidler, an artist local to me, and her latest installation.
I had met Alice previously at an SVA event and happened on a link between art and therapy, art expression, and with Feedback Loop, an exploration of addiction.
Some information about Alice’s installation
FEEDBACK LOOP September 2019
Cotton hand towels, stitched to form continuous loop, aluminium ladders
Overall dimensions vary with installation
Feedback Loop, – states the artist Alice Sheppard Fidler – is a site specific installation made from cotton hand towels uses the existing architecture of the building to allow ribbons of intense blue to endlessly and relentlessly loop through space. The infinite scroll created by phone designers allows for a ‘seamless experience’, a desirable, never-ending news feed of social media. The hours spent receiving this feed, which advances with interaction, triggers repeated dopamine hits leading to addiction. It is sometimes know as a social-validation feedback loop.
My interview with Alice
1. How do the contexts of the objects and materials you use affect the works that you create?
Examining the excess produced in the physical world, I work primarily with found and recycled objects, placing them in staged environments. Seeking to draw out their stored narratives and enabling new narratives to take place, these site-specific ‘stagings’ are transient and interact with the spaces they inhabit.
I question the value of making objects and our continued relationship with material things. However, I place a high value on experience, and the associated emotions that are drawn from physical interaction. My work invites an audience to become integrated with it, to be part of the ‘performance’ of it, drawing from the ‘drama’ of the physical moment.
2. Where do your ideas/inspiration come from?
My work examines the relationship we have with self, with others and with material things as we spend more time removed from a physical world and integrated into the digital. The site-specific installations I produce examine the ubiquity of the online spaces in which we live and at the same time the installations reflect upon the invisible power structures that directly impact our daily lives.
The work explores how we navigate between private and public space, how we inhabit and move between the physical world and the on-line world and how we move from a linear thought process to a networked thinking process. I question where the balance of power lies and where our identities begin and end in an increasingly networked world.
Although the digital world is intangible, I am researching the tangible things that happen there: how boundaries are built or broken online and how connections are forged or lost digitally between individuals, groups or nations.
While observing the increasing impact of technology on our behaviour, I am examining the value of emotions associated with physical experiences in contemporary societies. In particular, I am interested in connections, loss and loneliness created through shared experience, both in the physical and online worlds.
3. Could you discuss your work Feedback Loop and social interdependency?
Feedback Loop, a site specific installation made from cotton hand towel, the kind still found in municipal buildings and public places such as schools and hospitals uses the existing architecture of the building to allow ribbons of intense blue to endlessly and relentlessly loop through space.
Through this work I aim to illustrate the power of the “seamless experience” provided by the infinite scroll on our phones and question whether the never-ending news feed of social media is as desirable as we think it is.
The hours spent receiving this feed, which advances with interaction, triggers repeated dopamine hits that can lead to addiction. It is sometimes known as a social-validation feedback loop. Experiments show we feast with our eyes. Phone designers, knowing this, turn human behaviour to their advantage.
I wanted to create an installation that we could feast our eyes on also and be drawn in by its beauty. It took some time to find the right material to serve the purpose. It needed to be an every day material and something that we held in our hands, something that stored the memory of repeated touch.
4.You did a certain amount of research. What do you want to highlight about addiction?
– Sean Parker, first president of Facebook, and one of its founding members spoke out when he left in 2017. Discussing its design and what tactics it used to manipulate and lock users in, he revealed how the company wanted to consume as much time and conscious attention of the user as possible.
– Parker and Zuckerberg knew that they were exploiting a flaw in the human psyche in order to increase their exposure and grow their business but that at that time didn’t care. Parker stated that they were aware then that the addicting and validating nature of Facebook not only changed users relationships with other human beings but with society in general.
– Since 2017, only two years, the relationship we have with our phones has changed significantly due to the growth in services the phones provide. Our phones have become entrenched in our lives so much so we are dependent on them in many ways and they sit in our hands as an extension of our bodies. An Ofcom reports states that smart phones are checked every twelve minutes and two in five adults check their phones within the first five minutes of waking.
– Despite phones being extremely useful and convenient, there is growing concern over phone addiction and the side effects caused by our desire to be constantly connected to many of these sites. It is questioned if they are all as useful as they claim.
5. Social validation – is this affecting young and older in equal measure? Do you think we are all affected by this in different ways?
Social media networks, dating apps, gambling sites, auction sites and gaming platforms are all designed to draw us constantly in where we are sitting targets for persistent advertising and more recently for data harvesting.
Phone usage dependence in children and teenagers has been noted to have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health. Anxiety, stress, depression, attention deficit order, sleep deprivation and narcissism are issues that have all recently been linked to phone overuse. Interestingly there are many articles and websites now advising us on how to break phone use habits and how to deal with phone addiction.
6. Any feedback from your audience/public/visitors?
I exhibited the installation for one weekend only in a warehouse which is currently being established as a new art space. I chose to be there for the duration so I could spend time with my installation, observing how visitors responded to it and do some drawing from it. I also arranged for an improvisational dance/movement group I am part of to come down and perform a piece in the same space among the loops. I noted that some people like to have something to read about the work prior to their experience while others are happy to wander and absorb by themselves. I hadn’t specified for the work not to be touched, however generally everyone was very careful around it. Amusingly, one couple couldn’t resist touching it repeatedly. Most people seemed content to spend some time around the work and let it take effect. They wandered and stood still in equal measure.
I had some very interesting conversations with members of the public too, the content of which fell in to three categories: about the subject matter that had inspired the work, about how the work operates on a material level in itself and within the space and about how the material nature of the installation relates to the subject matter.
Certainly there was some crucial feedback from visitors with regard to ‘context’ and ‘object’ that can inform my practice going forward. Each time I set up a site-specific installation it is like making a new piece of work and working with stripped back, simple materials I put myself in a very vulnerable position, not so much to the audience but to the work itself. To have the chance to then explore the installation with others is invaluable. Adding the experience of moving through the installation with a group in the form of a ‘dance’ provided another layer of understanding.
Finally the feedback I was most surprised to receive was from the building itself. Having spent several days setting up and then three days with the installation in place, among the clatter of conversations going on around it with regard to addiction and dependency there was another dialogue in place. It felt like the architecture supporting the work had something to say.
I refer in this work, along side the subject matter of phone addiction, to the infinite, something never ending and eternal. By placing the blue loops in the vast hanger of space I allude to something beyond human. It’s funny but I got this strange feeling that after a while the blue loops and the building were just getting on without me.
7. Are you planning to tour with your installation?
I will be applying for opportunities for site-specific installations, while looking for buildings and spaces myself that I think suit the installation.
Alice Sheppard Fidler is an artist based in the five valleys, currently working on a MA in Fine Art at UWE (https://www.uwe.ac.uk), and is a Creative Associate for Gifford’s Circus (https://www.giffordscircus.com)
+44 7961 133745
Therapy may help you with addiction, sensitivity and other issues: https://davidwilsoncounselling.com/
Photo credits: Sarah Maingot, David Wilson