Digital Artist Memo Akten, in conversation with FutureEverything 2015 volunteer Clayton Ross Treacher:
When did you first become involved with FutureEverything and how differently did you find this experience from your time at FutureEverything Moscow? Did anything happen there that made you want to try new things this time round?
I’ve known the team behind FutureEverything for many years now, but we’d never done anything together. Then the Moscow opportunity came up which involved showing an existing work, so that was relatively simple for me once they had got in touch. FutureEverything talked about commissioning new work which was very much what I wanted to do and in line with their plans in Moscow, however there wasn’t enough time to do so. I had just finished EQUILIBRIUM, so I said ‘Hey, I’ve just finished this work’ and they ended up showing it. Around the same time we were talking about the long term plans for ‘Simple Harmonic Motion’, which was a very different, interesting experience as FutureEverything didn’t just commission it, they actually helped bring it to fruition which is a very different model to just commissioning where someone gives you a bunch of money and says ‘Go on, do the work’. During the process I received a lot of creative input, with conversations that went beyond that, so in this case it was co-produced, in fact they even produced it. It was a very different experience for me, and has built a great relationship. FutureEverything were able to bring in their partners, Royal Northern College of Music, and then The Shed, to help make it become a reality too.
Something that really interests me about your work is the use of science as a tool and the ‘lens to the world’, Where did your fascination and obsession with science come from?
I think it’s a built in thing that we all have, because ultimately I think it’s the same seed that can give birth to a fascination or obsession with science, or philosophy, or religion. They all come from or at least have one foot in the same place – trying to understand the world. What science asks is the same thing philosophy has asked for thousands of years. I think what I have is what everybody has, a curiosity and a fascination that some people might lose because they don’t have the time to sit down and think about it. I know so many people that didn’t consider themselves interested in science but then actually after conversation, they are. How can you not be? How can you not find that fascinating? You’ve maybe just never sat down to think about it.
Another fascinating element to your practice is that a lot of what you do is very technical and visually animated like ‘Waves,’ but you also make very physical and interactive pieces. Is your process something that pushes these initial ideas into something interactive and durable, or do you always know where they are going to go?
I think I know beforehand because that would be an integral part of the piece, it’s such a fundamental thing that it would become something different if I chose it to be interactive or not. For example, ‘Waves’ isn’t interactive but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t become interactive one day. But then that’s a new project, and would mean that it would be different to what ‘Waves’ was originally about.
Where are you finding ideas and inspiration for your work at the moment?
Yeah, I think there’s no physical place unfortunately, but my inspiration is the things that I read, which are mainly science journals, and the lectures that I go to are science lectures, and when I say science I’m referring particularly to three fields; Quantum mechanics, biology or molecular biology, and neurone science. Those three fields ask the big questions, what is the nature of reality? What is the nature of life? What is the nature of the mind? They’re the biggest three questions that have ever been asked, the big three questions of philosophy which has fascinated me, and all humans, driving thoughts forward.
Where are you finding the ideas and inspiration for your work at the moment?
I’m not that thinking that far ahead, I’m not even thinking about what my PhD is going to be! I know the direction I’m going in but what I can say is that I’m not planning to be an academic. I remain, and intend, and hope to remain as a practising artist, and the PhD is really an avenue for me to have one foot in a world where I don’t have access to right now which is a lot of knowledge. It’s interesting; there is so much knowledge in the academic world that is just not crossbred or sharing of information. So I want to see what’s going on and be able to benefit from it.
What advice do you have for any aspiring artists, graduating and entering the cultural sector?
Well, that’s a tough one because it depends what you want to do, and even if you do, I think the most important thing is do know what you want to do. I meandered all over the place. I don’t regret any of that because it contributed to who I am today, so I have no regrets but it’s a journey and the important thing is to remember that it is a journey and things do take time. You can’t do what you will want to do in ten years time, now, you just can’t. That’s just the way it is so you need to remember that. Two really good pieces come to mind. Not mine unfortunately, [Memo laughs], one is from Grayson Perry. Let me try and paraphrase this. He said something like ‘You get on a bus, and that bus is perhaps your trajectory, but then after two stops you realise you’re not there, so you get off the bus and go back to the bus stop and get on another bus. And then two stops later you’re still not there so you get off. So, maybe you are supposed to stay on that bus because it is going to the right destination but you just got off to soon.’ That’s an interesting one, that’s a bit abstract.
The other one, one of the best pieces of advice, is by Jonathan Harris. He said something really obvious which is ‘You will be known for what you do.’ It is a really obvious thing to say but what he means is, a lot of people hope that something good is going to happen to them, that if they do things and pay their dues one day they will be given a opportunity to do what they really want to do. But it doesn’t work like that. People will know you for what you have done so if you want to be given the opportunity to do something, you have to do it first. So even if that means paying your dues by doing some things you don’t want to do, you have to make the time to do the work that you want to be known for. Saying you have this idea, usually doesn’t work. You have to say I have this idea and I’ve done this. I think that’s the best advice I’ve heard but unfortunately I heard it too late in my career.