Dismantle, Dissect, Explore
An interview with artist Robin Tarbet by Dora Mentzel
Robin Tarbet’s print Monitored Landscape was one of the four selected to feature in Arc 16‘s Kickstarter campaign. Here the artist is interviewed by Dora Mentzel about his work and how he became a printmaker.
Much of your work is concerned with an exploration of technology. Could you tell us more about your fascination with this subject?
I am quite a curious person and I have always been intrigued about how things work. Technology as a whole is a subject that I find fascinating because I interact with it on a daily basis, yet have little knowledge or understanding of how the vast majority of it works. Like many, I just know how to operate the parts that I need to achieve what I want. I have also always been interested in magic and illusion and I think there is something quite magical about how a seemingly inanimate device constructed from a collection of real bits and pieces somehow works together to make stuff happen — simply by pressing a command or switch. Whilst at RCA I played with the notion that the television remote control was the modern day magic wand, and this just began an investigation into technology and wonder which has remained a part of my work ever since. By exploring what is actually behind the shiny veneer or plastic façade of everyday technologies, my approach deliberately questions the hidden yet mysterious worlds inside.
With a background in fine art, what was it that attracted you to the specialist practice of printmaking, as well as producing installations?
I never had any interest to be a painter – and so fell into printmaking during my degree by accident, which now looking back was probably partly responsible for my interest in technology. Printmaking as a way of working is so closely linked to process and technology that I found both my intentions and the methodology for making work combining. Installation has always been a part of my work since my degree, where the merging of making images and objects just unintentionally collided. I am especially interested in constructing live and time-based work that cites the audience as both the passive viewer and active participant. Much of my work combines ambiguity or wonder and the notion of play, with the aim to create a brief moment of imagination and the potential for what could be, rather than what is, before the realisation of the actual material simply overrides and the viewer is left merely with the solution.
The materials and media I use are always deliberate and important to the realisation of the specific works, but the ideas for the specific works themselves are often formed around whatever redundant technologies I have available. The majority of the images or prints that I make originate from sculptural assemblages and physical exploits either in my studio or as part of larger constructions that only really exist when installed in an exhibition or gallery. The ‘Circuitboard Cityscape’ print as the title suggests was an image that was taken from a large landscape of circuit boards that I built whilst at the RCA, and in this case the final work translated better into a single printed image than the physical environment itself.
Would you be able to talk us through your work process, from an initial interest to the finished object in the gallery?
I usually have quite a clear idea of what I aim to do with each work, and this often derives from either collecting the specific technologies, or visiting a site or location to respond to. My process of making generally then starts by playing about with the stuff in my studio — I do a lot of dismantling, dissecting and exploring, often with cameras to test out early ideas. Problem solving is a large aspect of many of the works I make, which can also incorporate a certain amount of technical help. I research widely and I make lots of initial mock ups and trial versions and it’s at this stage that ideas quite often go off on tangents. But it’s usually the discoveries through curiosity and accidents that interest me most.
For example, the ‘Monitored Landscape Series’ originated as my RCA MA Show in 2006, and has since evolved into a substantial and ongoing series of exhibitions. The work consists of a continuous live image presented on a single monitor, created by the relay from a camera mounted on a model train as it tracks through a landscape of circuit boards. The Monitored Landscape displays the structural mechanics of real time film making in an unedited physical loop for all to see. The live camera, although always passing through the same assemblage of circuit boards, responds to aspects of the surroundings making each version unique. This work has since been exhibited in both group and solo shows in the UK and Europe.
What are you working on at the moment?
Last month I made several new installation works during a short residency and exhibition up in Manchester, and I am currently developing work for new projects in Liverpool and Somerset later in the year. In my studio, as well as continuing the live installations, I have recently started experimenting with casting components in concrete and constructing large-scale collagraph prints from quantities of old floppy disks – which I’m still collecting!
Five editions of Robin Tarbet’s print Monitored Landscape are available for $280 each via Kickstarter.