Isolated Moments – Hardware Frottage

The next in our Isolated Moments series, aiming to keep spirits buoyed and creativity alive during COVID-19 global social isolating and quarantining measures, comes from Sam Francis Read, an Associate Educator at Fermynwoods and an artist living in South Yorkshire. Sam is currently an MA Fine Art student at University of Leeds and co-directs GLOAM, a co-operative arts space in Sheffield.

We’re all having to spend a lot of time indoors with our laptops and other work machinery at the moment. When you can, take a minute to turn it all off and use this Isolated Moment to look closely at the surface qualities and physical dimensions of the physical hardware that connects us to the digital realm when we work and socialise in isolation.

Step one, turn off all of your equipment – you might want to make a note of these instructions first, or leave whatever you are reading this on switched on.

Use a piece of paper and a soft pencil (a graphite stick or a crayon is even better) to make a rubbing of some of the surfaces of the equipment you’ve just switched off, such as your printer, Wifi router or computer. This technique is known as Frottage.

Look for flat planes with details like fan vents, ports, buttons and LEDs. The straight lines where the seams of the plastic meet also produce superbly straight edges for an interesting composition. Remember to turn things upside down and explore every surface.

Whilst making your rubbings, take a moment to think about where and when these mass-manufactured devices might have been made, under what conditions and at what cost? Think about how the plastic components will last 500 -1,000 years before they biodegrade. Think about the mines that provided the rare earth minerals in your batteries and circuit boards and the ecological context of their extraction.

If your devices are a bit knackered and scratched up, appreciate how this patina will give a unique visual quality to your frottage. If your gadgets are nearing obsolescence, ask yourself if you really need a new model of if you can make do by replacing worn parts and recycling?

Now colourise your rubbings, either with coloured pencils or digitally if you have image manipulation software like Photoshop, GIMP or Sumo Paint. If you have creative programs, use the wand or quick selection tool to isolate areas and apply photo filters. Overlap your selections and try inverting areas to create strong contrasts. You’ll have to turn your equipment back on for this!

You may find that the plastic casings produce an industrial or monumental appearance. For inspiration look up medieval monumental brasses online or science fiction artwork if you prefer. See if you can create a figurative artwork out of your abstract composition – they might be monstrous or robotic.

Have a look at surrealists like Max Ernst who used automatic methods like this to activate the creativity of the unconscious and create moments of possibility where the artwork takes on a life of its own, leading to unexpected results, helping viewers see beauty in the every day.

Sam Francis Read

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