John Gerrard

Exercise (Djibouti), 2012

simulation

Dimensions Variable


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Artwork
Description

This digitally rendered simulation takes its inspiration from found documentary images of US military exercises in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Set in an anonymous, barren landscape a group of faceless figures are dressed in blue and red uniforms, assembled and waiting. A canister is set off and as smoke begins to billow out the figures commence their exercises running in a figure of eight. As their bodies endlessly rotate their movements become curiously rhythmic and dance-like.  The work functions in ‘real time’ (Djibouti: GMT +3 hours) with a yearly cycle that factors in the terrestrial movements- with the sun rising and then setting to reveal the moon and stars. Each morning at dawn the figures assemble once more and begin their circulatory exercises once again.

The setting of the exercise is the result of a complex computer generation based on a real area. Real photographs and satellite information were used to digitally map out the space before a group of trained athletes acted out the exercises and had their movements converted into data using motion capture technology. The work is caught between authenticity and artificiality: the movements are entirely human and the space is based upon reality, but the never-ending sequence and the anonymity of the exercisers give it a strange synthetic character. The sequence is after all a ‘simulation’ that acts like a distorted reflection of reality: the use of ‘real time’ tethers it to temporal, ‘real’ life and gives it an air of authenticity – as we watch events unfold in real time we are persuaded that what we are watching is taking place in real life – and yet the sequence is manifestly unreal.

The cycle of laps continues infinitely and the boundaries between the military and the theatrical become indistinct. The exercise becomes a strange abstract performance, seemingly purposeless. The simulation, which has been exhibited previously at Modern Art Oxford, questions military strategy, the gradual mechanisation of the human body and the eventual moulding of soldiers into tools operated by those in power.

About
the artist

John Gerrard (b.1974) was born in Dublin, Ireland. Gerrard received a BFA from The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University. During this time he made his first experiments with 3D scanning as a form of sculptural photography. Between 2002 to 2010 Gerrard undertook six residency programmes between Austria and Canada. He completed an MFA at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago (1998-2000) and an MSc at Trinity College, Dublin (2002). In June 2009 he began a six month guest residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam. During 2012 he was a Legacy Fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford, working on a major new commission for Modern Art Oxford and the London 2012 Festival.

John Gerrard is best known for his sculptures and installations, which typically take the form of digital simulations, displayed using real-time computer graphics. Gerrard’s works concern themselves with the nature of contemporary power by exemplifying the mass structures and vast networks of energy which materialised during the twentieth century. Technology is a key vehicle for producing his work, but it is not only a vehicle. Through advanced technology, Gerrard manages to invoke the history of landscape painting and photography by positioning his oeuvre somewhere between fiction and documentary. He invents situations and new places through image that are often foreign to the viewer, and asks us to assimilate this vast agglomeration of information. Many works feature geographically isolated industrial facilities – such as solar-power stations, factories, and oil rigs – that remain a hidden part of the global production network. Although these facilities appear to be removed from life in the cities, their existence helps fabricate the luxuries of contemporary life.

Gerrard evoked this irony through the juxtaposition of his installation Solar Reserve (Tonopah, Nevada), installed on the plaza of New York’s Lincoln Center in October 2014. Gerrard’s giant LED screen used video-game software to give the beholder a life-like view of a solar-power installation in Nevada, presented in a simulation of live video. Over the course of a 365-day year, the work simulates the actual movements of the sun, moon, and stars across the sky, as they would appear at the Nevada site, with the thousands of solar-panels adjusting their positions in real time according to the position of the sun. The artist, a team of modellers, and programmers, meticulously constructed this virtual world using sophisticated simulation engines. Simon Preston, whose New York gallery has represented Gerrard since 2008, called Solar Reserve, "by far John's most ambitious piece in terms of scale, content and the technologies used”. This work has now joined the permanent collection of LACMA.

Gerrard’s method of production involves taking tens of thousands of digital photographs and then recreating a scene with them by implementing the same technology used for video games. The result is seemingly realistic but artificial in actuality. The digital computer and its indiscriminate capacity to model any form whatsoever is the crucial component for creating a hyper-realistic rendering of subjects. Such virtual technology has become standard in the videogames industry, which evolved from US military simulation exercises; yet it has rarely crossed over into the visual arts. As Emily Hall wrote in Artforum: “Gerrard's fine balance of concept, content, and material suggest a theme and variations of the virtual. The computer-generated landscapes bring to mind virtual worlds, video games, and special effects able of producing unrealities. The format, however, manifests something quite real, albeit at the periphery of most of our worlds – the arrival of food in our markets and the availability of oil are things we take on faith. Their existence remains provisional – more or less virtual – whether in life, on a gallery wall, or on a computer chip.”


John Gerrard is best known for his sculptures and installations, which typically take the form of digital simulations, displayed using real-time computer graphics. Gerrard’s works concern themselves with the nature of contemporary power by exemplifying the mass structures and vast networks of energy which materialised during the twentieth century.

“Gerrard’s fine balance of concept, content, and material suggest a theme and variations of the virtual. The computer-generated landscapes bring to mind virtual worlds, video games, and special effects able of producing unrealities. The format, however, manifests something quite real, albeit at the periphery of most of our worlds – the arrival of food in our markets and the availability of oil are things we take on faith. Their existence remains provisional – more or less virtual – whether in life, on a gallery wall, or on a computer chip.”


John Gerrard
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition