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Simon Ward Interview

Simon Ward's Ghost in the Machine recycles broken and disused Amazon Kindle screens into unique art objects. There is a curious relationship between the traditional book and its electronic counterpart. As much as books in their material form are both well-loved and considered obsolete, there is no question that electronic handheld screens are growing in popularity as the reading devices of the future. Through serendipitous chance, a glitch in technological failure transforms these screens into being something precious.

Sunil Shah: Could you explain how you came across these screens and what compelled you to working with them to create something photographic?

Simon Ward: This project in the instance began investigating the notion related to the Intervention of the Book. The book as an object takes on many forms as a source of material that later develops its own personality and characteristics. Destroyed and subverted by the owners and its own period of existence. The project aim was to research marginalia, foxing and search for marks hidden between the pages of books. This process and research method would always consider the new form of technology (the Kindle) and how these machines no longer allow for such interaction. The Kindle image is a composite of the projected screensavers, designed to replicate the quality and material of the book. The moment for me when it became photographic was when I removed the screen for the Kindle. The image remained frozen within the mirrored cracked screen. It reminds me of a 5x4 negative glass place or daguerreotype but digitally fixed.

SS: What was the process of creating these screens?

SW: The process has been about sourcing and collecting the screens now with a total of around 400, each one individual. The failure and destruction is unexpected therefore no screen would hold the same image composite. Some are blank and others combine the perfect relationship and composition of selected screens savers. Which are all well known, deceased writers.

SS: There is something of the hidden digital world being exposed here. What do you think the screens show us about the workings of technology or do you feel they don't do that at all?

SW: For me it is the relationship towards the intervention of the book. It heightens the realness of the book as an object that can stand the test of time. The kindle technology and most devices now aim to hold as much information as possible within the single machine. What is interesting about the work is its combination of digital technology and traditional format of analogue photography. It places itself in the middle. It was a long discussion to show the actual objects instead of the cropped scanned images. My practice is always focused towards the object itself.

SS: The destruction of the image, a kind of iconoclasm is created here through the failure of the device and then by your intervention. Do you think this serves as a kind of metaphor for how technology is destroying some forms of practice?

SW: Technology can destroy or simplify some forms of practice but what comes from any process is another style of work and focus.

SS: What are your thoughts about how this project is visualised in the gallery, online or in book format. Does the work lend itself to purely gallery status as art object or can it translate across the contexts?

SW: This is the first time the project has been visualized so I'm interested to see how the viewer reacts to the actual object this time. But the project lends itself to many different formats and I hope to consider these further.

SS: How does this project relate to your other work and wider practice?

SW: "Ghost in the Machine" sees the concept of failure, death and destruction. This theme may be present in my other works, but it is the relationship that I have with the object. As I only use a flatbed scanner the focus is solely on the presence and attachment to the object. The real artefact has to be present on the scanner.

SS: What other projects are you working?

SW: All of my projects are on-going and a conversation or passing in the street can end up with another object to be scanned or collected. "Ghost in the machine" has many formats of presentation and I am excited to explore these further. Never know what is next?

SS: How do you feel about being selected for BPF Open '13 and what does the future hold for you?

SW: Very Happy! More importantly excited to be working with the curating team and Brighton Photo Fringe.