Futuristic animated cities designed for Google, illustrations for Optigram’s After Us journal, and album artwork for the likes of Russell Haswell and Lanark Artefax – the newly refreshed portfolio site of designer and motion artist Dave Gaskarth is packed with thought-provoking projects. But it’s in his work for electronic musician Lee Gamble that’s really got us hot under the collar.
Both from Birmingham but now based in London, Dave and Lee are long-term collaborators, with Dave working on most of Lee’s live visuals and videos since 2012. Much of this work takes the shape of computer-generated 3D environments that use satellite imaging and other mapping date to create colour and texture. For 2017 track Quadripoints, for example, Dave developed a mountainous realm inhabited by spheres covered with satellite imagery pulled from different nation states. The aggressive balls jostle for top position, almost becoming an anthropomorphic being. For ongoing project Foldings, the duo has taken the idea and created site-specific segments influenced by the location of each gig. Whereas Lee sources field recordings of the specific city or records audio on arrival to weave around his tracks, Dave scrapes data, satellite photography and other mapping materials to form audio-reactive visuals which play over three screens.
Dave and Lee first came up with the concept for the Foldings series during 2016 when Dave was directing the titles of a pilot for a Discovery Channel show about Isis’ theft of ancient artefacts from Egypt. For the project he drew heavily from Nasa satellite photography of the Nile, something that felt pertinent when discussing ideas for visuals for Lee’s new live show. “This was pre-Brexit, but we’d been talking a lot about shifting borders and national identity,” says Dave. “Connecting satellite imagery and HDRI [high-dynamic-range imaging] environments of seemingly unrelated parts of the globe was an attempt to see the world from multiple perspectives at the same time, like some kind of geographical Cubism.” Although not overtly obvious, there’s a political stance to the work. “If Foldings is about one thing, it’s impermanence. European borders were different 100 years ago and they’ll be different in another 100.”
Dave sources data from multiple sources at once, scavenging feeds to develop a kind of digital collage. “Kurt Schwitters is one of the main reasons I became a designer and his disregard for distinctions between painting, sculpture, typography, photography and architecture is something that can be expanded on pretty easily in 3D software,” he says. “Multispectral imaging can make for a gorgeous spectrum of colours, so it’s perfect source material for collage, plus a lot of satellite photography comes across as readymade abstract expressionism when the source is hidden.”
The show has travelled to Montreal, Barcelona, Cairo and Moscow, adapting to the city and data available for each location. “It’s a weird feeling to build models of these places without having been there before, then literally step into them,” says Dave. “Hopefully, at least one or two people in the audience picked up on the fact that the venue they were in was being shown to them. There’s an element of surveillance to all of the shows.” This idea of being watched was particularly front of mind when the duo played in Moscow’s governmental district, and ended up at a wedding reception in a former propaganda print house.
Although the parameters are designed by Dave, the look and feel of each of the sets relies heavily on what material is available from each city. “Public satellite mapping of Moscow isn’t anywhere near as high resolution as it is in major western cities, but the maps of GPS signals are and they can look pretty beautiful,” explains Dave. “Along with other kinds of mapping data, they were built into a kind of 3D constructivist assemblage of the government district where we played.“
Dave was able push the constructivist theme even further for the homecoming show in London, which took place at the Tate Modern to coincide with the opening of its Red Star Over Russia exhibition. Graphically deconstructing the source material, Dave used the experience to try to get to grips with his rapidly changing home. “With London, it was completely different, knowing the city so well, but still having virtually no understanding of it,” he says. “Re-mapping landmarks from the central 14 boroughs was a vain attempt to get my head round the idea that Gillette Square and Buckingham Palace are part of the same city.”
In terms of the future of Foldings, Dave and Lee are planning to take the project to the gallery space. “There’s a lot of themes hidden in the project, probably too hidden for the casual viewer,” explains Dave. “We’re looking to elaborate by turning the whole thing into an installation which’ll make some of these clues more apparent, without spelling them out like a dodgy espionage thriller.”
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