Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector

Ellie Harrison

Ellie Harrison - Confessions wall
Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector, Ellie Harrison (2009)

This exhibition marked the end of Ellie Harrison’s period of residency at Plymouth College of Art. From January – March she made a series of research visits to the college to develop a new body of work exploring the effect local and global events, as reported in the media, may have on artistic production.

The new work marked a conscious shift towards a more outward-looking practice, which rejects the introspective methods she has used in the past – often collecting large quantities of data about her own everyday life over long periods of time. For projects such as Eat 22 for example, she photographed everything she ate for a year.

To coincide with the exhibition, Plymouth College of Art Press is producing a special publication which examines Ellie Harrison’s previous works. Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector explores the most significant of her data collecting projects, setting a context for this type of obsessive practice and revealing some of the hidden side effects of carrying out such work.

A key part of the exhibition was a new work Vending Machine (a rundown but functioning vending machine), which now and again, without warning, springs into life – spewing out free packets of crisps for gallery visitors. The machine has been modified. It no longer functions in the conventional way – at the whim of snack-hungry students – but instead now finds itself in the control of outside forces. Its new nervous system is a networked computer. Hidden out of view and running special software, it continually scans the news on the BBC News RSS feed – commanding the machine only to release snacks when words relating to the recession make the headlines.

Whilst seemingly an act of generosity – gifting free food at moments when further doom and gloom is reported – the Vending Machine also hints towards a time in the future when our access to food may literally be determined by wider political or environmental events. We may not be able to access what we want, when we want, at the touch of a button. This dystopian vision is toyed with in an accompanying piece in collaboration with i-DAT. For the first two weeks of the exhibition at the Gallery, the ‘GreenScreen’ on the front of the Portland Square Building at the University of Plymouth will be used to make public-service-style announcements at the exact moments when the Vending Machine releases food. The words ‘FREE FOOD’ will appear, emblazoned in metre-high letters on the side of the building encouraging passersby to run to the nearby gallery and claim their supplies.

The Vending Machine project was one of the outcomes of Harrison’s period of residency at Plymouth College of Art in 2009 and was installed at the college’s Gallery as part of her solo exhibition from 23 April – 30 May 2009. It was programmed by Ben Dembroski in PureData and Python and uses project2891 to communicate with i-DAT in order to activate the messages on the GreenScreen. Production assistance by Jason Mills.

To see more of Ellie's work visit www.ellieharrison.com

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Made with Fine Art students in the workshop 'How does the world affect my work?'