All images: Keith Tyson, details from Angelmaker Part II Quadruped, 1995. Courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.
Glenn Brown Just to clarify a few points, the Artmachine is a computer, or more accurately a computer program.
Keith Tyson Partly, some of it exists on computer, some of it exists in the form of flowcharts, but it is probably most helpful to imagine it as a complex set of rules that can access various sources of information such as libraries, the Internet, etc. and use this information to create works in a wide range of styles and media.
GB Totally created by you.
KT That’s right. Invented and programmed by myself, but it has been designed to filter any aesthetic or formal preferences I may have from the work.
GB So, I’ve got sitting in front of me the first Artmachine catalogue which contains one hundred or so proposals for artworks, some of which I have actually seen, but the vast majority of which are not yet made. Now, you’ve stated that this catalogue is not necessarily the work of art, so where does the work of art lie?
KT The work for me are the results of the Artmachine, the physical manifestation of objects, images and events that come into being as a direct consequence of an Artmachine proposal.
GB So how do you decide which objects from the catalogue, and I assume the catalogue is never ending, you actually build and exhibit?
KT There are many factors which come into play in which pieces are actually realized, aside, of course, from the practical concerns of space and funds that all artists have. Firstly, there are works that are commissioned—by an institution, curator, dealer or collector—from the catalogue for a specific exhibition. Others are picked at random. Then there are works which are picked because they are significantly different from what the machine has come up with so far. This isn’t to say that I am so rigorous that I won’t occasionally make a piece because I think it’s interesting, but more often than not I find myself making works I am indifferent to or even dislike.
GB So you are trying to get rid of yourself, to some extent, to commit suicide.
KT One would assume so, but it’s not the case. I find that the Artmachine works to embody a certain set of concerns without ever resorting to illustrating them. It is the avoidance of immediate illustration in the object that causes them to become significant by default. The curious thing is that I find the Artmachine process to be very biographical, even expressive.
GB In what way is the process autobiographical?
KT Before I went to college I had developed some very naive and lofty ideas about what good art should do, and they stayed with me to some extent. I remember believing that the work should somehow try to access the universal through the particular and that it should be epic, addressing big questions about the nature of existence. It was only when I eventually left work and went to art college that I realized this was a tad more difficult than I had first imagined. I set about trying to find some methodology that could embody these concerns while still dealing with the theoretical problems and the absence of a convenient grand narrative to depict. The machine was one of several projects I developed at that time, and although the machine has evolved into something different now, these concerns were necessary for the machine itself to come into being and are still present in the project.
GB Why did the machine come into being? In a sense the question is echoed when looking at the results of the machine.
KT How does anything come into being? A mixture of historical influences and coincidences that are so complex that they are rendered untraceable. Take away any one part and the event will not occur. I don’t believe any other artist could pinpoint the origin of their work. I can’t say anymore why I made the machine, it could be as much a reflection of an obsession with determinism as it is about much more practical issues such as breaking away from a modernist legacy of the artist being expected to develop an idiosyncratic style. Probably it had more to do with the fact that I get bored easily and the Artmachine allows a myriad of different practices within one signature. Either way, the machine has developed its own dynamic now and makes work for its own reasons.
GB But, in a sense, the machine is you. You programmed it and it’s still you making the decisions in the work because you have created a device and that device’s function is to recreate you.
KT I think technologies can reflect and control certain aspects of our behavior and allow us to objectify them, but I have to disagree when you say that this machine is me and it’s still me making the decisions. I have programmed it to surprise me. It has random interventions and systems which filter control out of the process rendering it unpredictable. It has access to the recorded mass of human knowledge. The paradox is: I have created something that asks me to create things that I do not necessarily want to make, yet I desperately want to make the Artmachine manifest through its work. It gets a bit cloudy after that and I am as confused as the next person. But the Artmachine isn’t me. I know that much, it filters too much out.
GB I genuinely am surprised at times that you come out with statements that I would expect a very traditional artist to come up with when they are having trouble with a painting. When the painting just isn’t doing what they want it to do, but they carry on battling with it. You become quite passionate at times.
KT That is what I said at the start. I see myself as a very traditional artist, and the Artmachine is just the most elegant way I could find of fulfilling what I needed my art to be. Each object the machine makes is unique: but all the works are equal and there is no hierarchy of materials. For me they all talk about the mystery that anything exists as opposed to there being nothing at all, and although they may apppear dumb or comical in form I can’t help anthorpomorphising them. I believe I have more in common with Edvard Munch than I have with some cyberpunk conceptualist.