Beyond The Door
    Bob Bicknell-Knight

    The blue light flickers, I apply some pressure and it begins to fade, in and out, like waves lapping against my toes. The hum of a familiar sound drifts into focus, just beyond my periphery. It’s somewhere between muzak and the music that plays when you’re placed on hold, irritatingly soothing in its familiarity.

    Outside my window, an electronic billboard is staring down at me, declaring that its 2:34am and I should be sleeping, or doing something other than lying in bed, listening to the background music pre-programmed into my PlayStation 7, endlessly repeating in a constant state of distress.

    I pull on the goggles and stretch my wrists, scrolling through a digital library of interactive entertainment until I find what I’m looking for. The game begins and a pop up appears, offering a 96% success rate on purchasable loot boxes, with the chance to unlock new perks, virtual currency and skins for your digital avatar. I decline the offer and move on, traversing vast expanses of a glimmering, golden desert, perfectly rendered and all encompassing.

    Time passes and natural light begins to creep into my altered reality. Ads continue to emerge in front of my eyes, obscuring and breaking my immersive escape, offering everything and anything for a reduced price. I remove my glasses and switch off the console, asking Alexa to play algorithmically generated, digital birdsong, softly lulling me into a deep sleep.

    ~

    Beyond The Door is an exhibition of newly commissioned works by six national and international artists, including Bob Bicknell-Knight, Peter Burr, Kara Gut, Tomasz Kobialka, Cassie McQuater and Georgie Roxby Smith. The videos and moving image works consider the gamified reality of the present and the simulated environments that are encountered within virtual spaces, exploring the ability to get lost within these digital networks and the companies and corporations that control and manipulate digital hierarchies.

    The exhibition takes its name from the 1954 short story by Philip K Dick, Beyond the Door. The text follows a cuckoo clock, which may or may not be autonomous, and the impact that clock-time has had on society since its creation many centuries ago, relying on clocks for stability and order ever since. The idea of venturing beyond the boundary of one’s own existence, be it by escaping over the invisible wall within a video game world or discovering a clock that has the potential to possess emotions, is present throughout the exhibited works.

    ~

    Bob Bicknell-Knight’s State of Affairs compiles footage from the YouTube channel News Direct, in which daily news stories, from self-driving buses to social media bots, are transcribed into 3D rendered animations. Non-linear in presentation, the re-appropriated video work illustrates current and future modes of technological interface, from facial recognition software to drone surveillance. Executed in a dated Y2K aesthetic, the work is dystopic and utopic all at once. Akin to the unconscious rituals implemented while existing on the internet, opening tab after tab, clickbait after clickbait, State of Affairs mirrors the inconclusive narrative of our digital lives. The visual content is accompanied by a soothing, melodic soundtrack and augmented voiceover, forewarning of the future of gamified spaces and digital death.

    Within Peter Burr’s new video, Drop City, the audience is placed within a slowly degrading desktop. Taking inspiration from the 1965 southern Colorado community of the same name, whereby a small group of activists purchased a small plot of land and effectively dropped out of society, living without any hierarchies, the work takes you on a journey through a digitized version, collapsing and falling apart at the seams, as the original did within 5 years of being established.

    Through Kara Gut’s new video, Nonspace Canon - beta, we are introduced to a spiritual guide named Lady Ophelia, operating as a glitching, armor clad iteration of a text to speech software. She takes the viewer on an existential journey through “the nonspace” and into realms of the unknown. This mini-drama takes on what it means to live a digital life, combining religious and absurdist metaphors to comment on the contradictory existence of our place within the nonspace.

    In Tomasz Kobialka’s new video, Winners, the audience is introduced to a simple, childlike chart that depicts different candlesticks, used by traders to measure market sentiment and psychology. The charts came about in the 18th century as a way to record, track and measure the sales of rice in Japan, and since the 1970s their usage has spread across global financial markets. They provide a snapshot of price action, trading transactions, and the subtle impact of thousands of human emotions. Utilising the same chart, Kobialka dissects found footage, tracking the emotions inspired by gambling. The childlike aesthetic throughout Winners references how gambling and gamification has become common place in children’s entertainment, within video games and animations.

    Cassie McQuater’s new video PAY TO PLAY uses sprites and graphics ripped from vintage gaming consoles to further examine the roles, depictions and representations of a variety of women characters in the classic arcade fighting games of the 80s and 90s, focusing on the use of women as rewards and the hyper-sexualization of their animations.

    The focus of Georgie Roxby Smith’s new video work, This Bitch Ain’t Free, is Smith’s digital avatar, placed within the online virtual world of Second Life. After 15 years online, one might imagine Second Life as a digital ghost town, but it remains a semi-popular virtual world with over 800,000 active users spending an estimated 336 million hours inworld in 2018 alone, perusing millions of pounds worth of virtual goods for sale within the digital marketplace. This Bitch Ain’t Free explores the carnival of empty capitalism and the desire to present the best self, best house, and the best imagined life through relentless purchasing and upgrading of skins, bodies, apparel and homes. In the entrapment of the extended ego of the offline self, presented to an increasingly reducing online audience, the isolation of the never ending loop of consumerism seems inescapable.

    Bob Bicknell-Knight is a London-based artist and curator working in installation, sculpture, video and digital media. Using found objects and tools made readily available by the Internet, as well as drawing from a unique sensibility influenced by participation in online communities and virtual games, Bicknell-Knight’s work explores the divergent methods by which consumer capitalist culture permeates both online and offline society. Utopian, dystopian, automation, surveillance and digitization of the self are some of the themes that arise through Bicknell-Knight’s critical examination of contemporary technologies.

    Bicknell-Knight is also the founder and director of isthisit?, a platform for contemporary art, exhibiting over 800 artists since its creation in May 2016. Online, it operates as a gallery producing monthly exhibitions showcasing emerging to mid-career artists, hosting a roster of guest curators experimenting with the medium of the internet to interrogate a variety of concepts. The website also hosts monthly residencies, where artists are given a web page to create new work that exists on the internet as a piece of net art. Offline, it has held exhibitions nationally and internationally and is the publisher of isthisit?, a book series released on a triannual basis.

    Selected solo exhibitions include CACOTOPIA 02 at Annka Kultys Gallery, London (2018), Sunrise Prelude at Dollspace, London (2017) and Are we there yet? at Chelsea College of Art, London (2017). Selected group exhibitions include Inside Intel at Goldsmiths, University of London, London (2018), Total Power Exchange at Galerie Manque, New York (2018), Terms and Conditions May Apply at Annka Kultys Gallery, London (2018), The Museum Has Abandoned Us at State of the Art, Berlin (2017), The Choice of a New Generation at The Muse Gallery, London (2017), I miss you, Blockbuster... at A217 Gallery, London (2017) and MozEx at Mozilla Festival, Ravensbourne, London (2016).

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