A part of why art is exciting is that it allows you to imagine new political futures. Beyond highlighting social issues and pushing the technical boundaries of a medium, some of the most interesting works that have emerged gives us new ways that we can relate with each other and the world, producing new ways of seeing. And with some artists starting to question the actual impact of documenting previously unseen things, it’s often more productive to take another look at things that we already see every day.
Conall McAteer’s net art project imagines a different way of relating to politics. In Every Minute Counts, Conall gauges public opinion on the ceaseless and passionate debate around Brexit by scraping real-time data from Twitter. The London-based conceptual artist, who’s currently housing this project at Digital Artist Residency, is using the large volume of debate on the topic to ask: “What would happen if the public were able to impact political decisions in real time?”
The project came about after being invited to propose a new online work for the online residency at isthisit?, the platform directed by Bob Bicknell-Knight. “At the time Britain was due to leave the EU at the end of the month, and since the vote, the debate had been growing passionately from both sides,” Conall tells It’s Nice That. “Seven months on, as Brexit continues to loom heavily over the nation, I’m interested to see how emerging technologies could evolve the way through which we have a say on the state of our countries.”
The webpage receives updates every minute, featuring a changing colour gradient: red to represent tweets that express a desire to leave, and blue for remain. The gradient is charted proportionally to the number of these opinions, which Conall scrapes and collates using the rtweet package. The frequency of updates and the ephemeral nature of the gradients separates this project from a more straightforward data visualisation project. Even watching for just five minutes, you can see how often the colours oscillate from one side to the other. The gradient, shifting like a dusty sunset that never concludes, is more of a commentary on methods of political participation rather than a public survey of opinions. What you might find with Every Minute Counts is that it tells you much more about how difficult it is to gauge political consensus as mediated by social media rather than about Brexit itself.
“I think artists have a responsibility to challenge the complications that arise from our growing relationship and dependency on evolving technologies,” Conall says. “Ultimately, as an artist, you need to make the work you feel needs to be made.” Exploring relationships between the digital and the personal, the real, or the creative, Conall’s stream of creative coding projects is easily relatable to many of us who have ever been ghosted, who feels like they’ve spent too long in front of their computers, and those who’ve faced rejections in the creative field. SunriseSunsetSunriseSunset for instance, reflects on “the growth in leisure time we collectively spend in front of the digital screen,” scraping the 100 most downloaded Google results for sunrise and sunset wallpaper images and mapping the sun’s position in relation to the user’s cursor. Another earlier project, Last Seen At is a live stream of his Whatsapp status, a take on examining how new technologies can create a new cultural language around trust and communication.
At its core, Conall’s creative coding pieces reflect an important movement of digital art today, something that also reminds us of Neal Agarwal’s desire to use technology for play. The meditative aura of Conall’s projects come from making these imagined situations a reality, rearranging the circuit to make explicit the things we previously only had a hunch about.
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.