Q&A with UA15’s Tully Arnot

May 17, 2015

With only 24 hours of our Pozible campaigns left, we chatted to UA15 artist Tully Arnot about his practice, ideas and inspiration, and what he’s got in store for this year’s festival.

What do you have planned for UA15?

For UA15 I’m developing a project called Digital Forest. It’s a sculptural installation of over 300 ‘robotic’ plants which use Arduino microcontrollers, servo motors and light sensors to activate artificial plants. They respond to the audience’s presence in the room creating an interactive relationship between people and these electronic plants.

How will this build on the themes of your ongoing art practice?

My practice deals with human-object relationships, especially things that are everyday or familiar. I like to create work that shifts the audience’s perspective of what these objects are and how we can interact with them, creating a sort of uncanny relationship. Technology, screen based interfaces and robotics are becoming more and more part of that everyday and so much of my work deals with how we mediate different realities, the slippage between those realities, as well as relationships or blurring between natural or organic worlds and digital, artificial worlds.

What did you get from your involvement in UA10 and why did you want to be part of the festival again this year? 

UA10 was an amazing experience and opportunity to develop a major work (a 10x10x5m inflated cloud that people could enter to view a curated exhibition of soft and inflated sculptures) and I was keen to be involved with such a supportive festival and work on another giant project!

We loved your tinder-based sculpture, “Lonely Sculpture”. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Tinder is a great example of how technology allows us an unprecedented abundance of connections, an opportunity to connect with thousands of potential partners, but then that connection is so shallow and disconnected. I think a lot of screen-based interfaces create these social spaces for people to connect but end up feeling absolutely alone.

Physically, the sculpture is a silicone cast of my finger attached to a servo which endlessly swipes yes, looking for something but not finding anything. People see it as a critique of the disconnectedness of technology, which it is, but it’s also an embrace of it. At the end of the day it’s a functional object that allows you to outsource what could be seen as a mundane task.

In a previous interview, you commented that people are getting a deeper connection with inanimate objects than ever before, and a shallower connection with other humans. Can you tell us what led you to this idea?

I trained as a designer before pursuing art and part of that was I’ve always been interested in how powerful relationships with objects can be. The objects that we interact with today are increasingly complex and the technology used in them really opens them up for seemingly deeper connections. A lot of my ideas on this are based on Sherry Turkle’s books. Part of her writing is about companion robots and simple consumer robots like Furby or Aibo, and her research basically concludes that a lot of people find these human-object relationships “close enough”.

Part of the inspiration for your UA15 project is an article that you read in the New York Times about the sentience of plants. Is your practice often inspired by journalism?

I usually say I’m inspired by ‘technology’ but journalism is probably a better word. The other key writer I think about is Nicholas Carr who covers a lot of the same ground as Sherry Turkle.. but with more of a focus on neurology and maybe more influenced by people like Marshall McLuhan. One of his key books is called “The Shallows” which deals with the expanse of information available online, and how it’s allowing us to ‘outsource’ our brain, leaving us much more shallow thinkers (though possibly leading to more abstract and ‘human’ ways of thinking).To an extent, journalism implies a very wide range of information without the depth of more academic writing.. and in all honesty that’s probably what I’m into.

What are some of the rewards that people can get for donating to your Pozible campaign?

Mostly it’s the actual robotic plant sculptures that I’ll be exhibiting in August. There are also drawings and posters of the circuit diagrams that I use to develop these works – I never learnt to properly draw circuit diagrams so mine end up weird and wobbly, becoming quite interesting objects by themselves. There’s one reward where I’m offering a commissioned work, which could be anything!

If I were to offer you the remaining $2500 you need to reach your goal, what’s the most interesting reward you would give me? 

Something in between https://youtu.be/nFhZD0YfExs?t=48s and https://youtu.be/Mzybwwf2HoQ?t=1m? 😝

Image: Air City, Tully Arnot, Charles Dennington, Xiaofu Wang, Jessy Stewart, Sally Pittman and Alex Chidzey, Underbelly Arts 2010.