Artist Questionnaire: Ed Fornieles

Ed Fornieles's Chisenhale Gallery, London commimssion, Modern Family, takes as its starting point the American sitcom of the same name to create an installation that collapses the experience of online and offline space. Nick Warner caught up with the artist for ArtReview

By Nick Warner

Ed Fornieles, Modern Family,  2014, installation view. Commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery. Courtesy Carlos/ Ishikawa, London. Photo: Andy Keate Ed Fornieles, Modern Family,  2014, installation view. Commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery. Courtesy Carlos/ Ishikawa, London. Photo: Andy Keate Ed Fornieles, Modern Family,  2014, installation view. Commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery. Courtesy Carlos/ Ishikawa, London. Photo: Andy Keate

ArtReview: Tech-sceptics and cyberphobes claim that the life online is encroaching more and more on ‘real’ life –nostalgia polls show that people miss the notion of making plans and sticking to them, making cassette mixtapes, meeting future spouses for the first time face to face instead of online. Do you think that ‘the family’, perhaps the last safe refuge for traditional (not networked) social interaction, is now being transformed by technology too?

Ed Fornieles: Everyone is always in a state of nostalgia, I’m sure people will miss the sound of a Facebook notification soon, or the feel of screen under finger. For me the family sits at the heart of technology — its physical base of a house and a kitchen and a living room makes it the ideal place for technology to congregate and coalesce over the top of cassette tapes and home cooked meals. The family is a great platform, it’s this role-playing game where everyone knows their part and how to perform it.

AR: It’s interesting you talk about roles and performance, I wonder if archetypes are important to you? After Maybe New Friends, (2013) it seems like you have an interest in the performative elements of online interaction, and how social media users perform certain characters. I suppose this was sort of part of Character Date too. Modern Family further uses characters and archetypes. Why do you think such familiar roles are a valuable device?

EF: Archetype is generally thought of as a dirty word, but using archetypes is a very natural way to navigate the world. We are constantly speaking in a language of archetypes, it’s this necessary reduction that I’m interested in, that has the potential for play and real social change.

the environment occupies the space of the family, surrounded by a constant stream of imagery, information and updates

AR: Previous works of yours have been sort of empowering for ‘digital natives’ I think, not only as a celebration of the online being offline, but also because you’ve repersonalised some web experiences, like inviting people to invent characters (as they would have to online) but to physically interact with those characters (in Character Date, notably at Frieze Art Fair in 2012). It seems like Modern Family might be a step away from this, another kind of depersonalisation, with a less interactive experience?

EF: I’m still interested in the possibility of empowerment and freedom that playing with online interactions has, but for the Chisenhale show my role has shifted, stepping back as far as I am able to go, mimicking organisations which feed off the movement of our data, like Facebook or the NSA. As soon as the first stage of the website is complete I am sure I will return to using personal experiences.

AR: Do you think that the ‘American Dream’ still exists? How is it changed by the digital?

EF: I believe in a dream or maybe ‘The Dream’, America for me has been part of that for me but I don’t think its necessary, ‘The Dream’ is perhaps the possibility for transformation and self-betterment, the idea you can create a fiction that then becomes a reality. Something that the digital can of course aid with.

AR: Fiction versus reality seems an important dichotomy in this body of work. The show is based on the fictional TV show ‘Modern Family’, and you’ve utilised the characters and their gestures and archetypes in performances at the opening. Yet in this disorienting, slightly chaotic fictional space you’ve created, the live feed images brings the gallery goer back around to reality again and again, sometimes quite explicitly and abruptly. Can you tell me a little about your choices in aggregating all of the various images and how it works?

EF: It’s all part of this story, I’m not too sure how important reality or fiction is, it’s the force it exerts on you which is important. I alway think that about terrorism, the likelihood of being a victim of it is tiny, yet its impact is huge. Or with ideas of coolness, it’s shaping all this stuff. So I suppose I’m most concerned with that, with effect.

AR: You have made exhibition spaces imitate online spaces before, like at Frieze Frame. It’s super interesting, because exhibiting web-based artwork is so difficult from a curatorial perspective, physically enacting a URL is sort of simpler and effective. Does Modern Family do the same?

EF: In the Chisenhale show the online operates very much as a backdrop or landscape to the show, screens feed in a site we have developed that aggregates off thousands of users, search terms and news stories as they unfold online. In this sense the environment occupies the space of the family, surrounded by a constant stream of imagery, information and updates. One member of the family sits in their bedroom searching for Hentai on Tumblr while another reposts interiors on Pinterest and another updates their Linkedin profile.

AR: There is obviously an autobiographical tangent to the show — the portrait of you and an imagined family promotes the show, and your life in LA has obviously fed into the show’s whole thesis, with the gallery’s lighting even programmed to replicate LA sun coverage, with the occasional storm thrown in. I suppose it’s back round to fiction and reality, how important is it to you that the work hold some actual personal resonance?

EF: The show for me on one level is a very personal one, or at least that image is. It’s of me and my exgirlfriend, who I was with for ten years. Frasier Crane [in the sitcom Frasier] said that when a relationship ends you are mourning a death, not of the relationship but of the future you were going to have with that person, so for me the image is about that loss I suppose. But in a wider sense it’s personal because of the age I’m at, when you turn 30 you are passing into a different chapter and there are a whole lot of expectations that go along with that. I suppose I’m always interested in those expectations. 

Ed Fornieles: Modern Family, continues at Chisenhale Gallery, London, through 9 November 2014

Web exclusive published 10 October 2014