Artist Profile – Thomson & Craighead

Published on 2018-09-12

Artwork featured in the salon – 'A Short Film about War' two-channel video with audio, Edition of 3 (2009/2010). Image courtesy of the artists.

Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead met in the 1990s, when they were both studying at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee. At first, their partnership was a matter of convenience: video art required heavy equipment, and they helped each other lug it around. Soon they were collaborating on videos as well as conceptual multimedia pieces that merge apocalypse and perfume, karaoke and NSA data breaches, video games and Foucault texts. They’ve shown at Whitechapel Gallery, National Art Museum of China, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Centre Pompidou, and many more. 

The pair are influenced by the Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (Oulipo) group and its writers like George Perec, who wrote a detective novel without using the letter “e,” and Raymond Queneau, whose Exercices de Style tells the story of the same minor altercation in 99 variations. Thomson and Craighead write, “they shift emphasis from what’s being written to how it’s being written, and in doing so they remind us how much the architectures and conventions of society inform what things mean and also, how they control us.” 

Thomson and Craighead take on a similar project, using data instead of the written word. In Flipped Clock, a real-time animation of a clock is just slightly modified; it’s suddenly familiar but unfamiliar. The “momentary visual strangeness reminds us that clock time is a social construction, but one so pervasive that it threatens to contain us.” In The Time Machine In Alphabetical Order, they rearrange—word by word—the classic movie based on H.G. Wells’ novel, forcing a different type of time travel as you watch the film in non-chronological order. In Six Years of Mondays, they stack a towering wall of monitors to display—you guessed it—just the Monday footage of daily time lapse videos one man shared on the internet. 

Thomson and Craighead call many of their multimedia pieces “desktop documentaries,” because they’re made entirely from online material. A Short Film About War is one of these. It tells the stories of an Iraqi girl celebrating a birthday, a Palestinian who describes the distinct sound of Israeli gunfire, an American veteran feeling waves of PTSD at Disneyland, and other wartime characters, through narratives lifted from Blogger posts and images found on flickr. The original materials’ metadata streams alongside the film, shedding light on how Thomson and Craighead sifted through the sea of digital content to create the piece.

Artist profile by Katheryn Thayer for The Current.

'A Short Film about War' is featured in 'The Current // Truth' curated by Tina Rivers Ryan from September 6 – 14th, 2018. Write to hi@current.mu for a visit, or become a member of The Current to attend our private salons:http://current.mu/salon