A while ago I was browsing the Axisweb site when I came across a page promoting something called the Analogue Web Portal. Real Institute was going to set this up at Oriel Davies Gallery in Newtown, Wales, where the internet would be recreated using pencil and paper. ‘Wow’ I thought when I read the piece, ‘I wish I’d thought of that!’
A month later I was invited to chair a public discussion about the project at the gallery and I jumped at the chance. So I set off for Wales.
We joined forces with Oriel Davies to commission Real Institute to run the event. Real Institute are best described as an amorphous collective made up through various networks and connections. Oriel Davies had recently worked with them on Bywd Sonique, an interactive piece that involved cooking and creating musical sounds from the process.
They had originally devised the Analogue Web Portal as a postal project and this was to be the live launch.
I arrived in the pouring rain but was pleased to find the gallery to be warm and welcoming. The Oriel Davies Open was on so I was able to have a look around, and spotted a number of works by Axis artists including Michael Cousin and Fern Thomas.
I found the WAP which took the form of a very pleasant waiting room. Muzak was playing and instructions were up on the wall in friendly graphics. Listening carefully I could make out the sounds of industry from behind the portal wall.
The whole set-up reminded me of a 1960s fantasy computer, or the imagined process of what happens inside the workings of a machine. The scale of it was charmingly nostalgic which created a strange an air of excitement, as if the dawn of a new information age was ahead of us.
Behind the wall, and unseen by the visitors who posted their requests through, sat around ten artists administrating and creating.
On the second day, I was lucky enough to take part behind the scenes spending two hours drawing out some of the pages of the internet that people on the other side had asked to see (including the Justin Bieber
There was a seriousness to the workstation, but also a feeling that we were playing ‘office’, there were stamps, carbon paper (being used as a cache, genius!) and all manner of low-tech drawing materials such as wax crayons and felt-pens.
During training we were told that this was a communication process and we were to provide as much information to help navigation as possible.
We were to forget about being artists; here we were filters like the presets of a machine, each with its own quality. And like mediums we sat channelling the digital information onto paper.
The talk itself was a real pleasure. It was a great opportunity for the artists to talk about the concepts behind the work and for members of the public to talk about how the installation had worked for them.
The discussion brought up a number of interesting questions about the artistic process, what decisions did the artists make, how involved did they get, what about censorship?
We discussed how far the project could go in the future and the frustrations of providing such a ‘meaningless’ (the artist’s word) service.
It was agreed that the project had raised many questions about communication and labour and that it had engaged a huge range of people because it was absurd and fun.
To read more about the Analogue Web Portal visit Steffan Jones-Hughes' Blog.