Empty When Full is the latest exhibition from our Adam Reynolds Award programme. Featuring new works from artists Jay Price, Li Yilei, MH Sarkis, and Keira Fox, the digital exhibition will launch for free on 25 Feb 2022.

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Trailer audio description:

Read a description of the trailer

Taking Johanna Hedva’s GLUT as its starting point, Empty When Full combines the works of four artists invited to respond to the main themes that GLUT channels and explores.

‘The universe doesn’t care about our feelings,’ the AI voice of GLUT proclaims to its user. What can the AI - divined by Hedva - know of human experience? Of the universe? GLUT asks us to consider the possibility that AI is but a twenty-first century iteration of a primordial impulse, a desire to find meaning and instruction from a consciousness greater than our own.

The black hole at the heart of GLUT creates a paradoxical space for exploration of not just what we are, but why. The borders that separate the human from the nonhuman, digital from analogue, the truth from a lie, are constantly in flux and seem always contradictory. ‘Post-truth,’ ‘false prophets,’ ‘living with Covid,’ are the phrases and tropes that run through contemporary culture – descriptions of our times which are experienced most sharply from the margins, where our four artists reside.

Empty When Full can be thought of as an exhibition created along the event horizon of our information age. The four new works created by Jay Price, MH Sarkis, Li Yilei, and Keira Fox examine through images, objects, and stories the ways in which too much is never enough, whilst often what we need most is absent. The abundance of choice and acceleration of consumption create a multi-layered illusion constructed from packaging, marketing, and ever-shifting lines.

These four artists undertake an examination of who we are becoming that mirrors the sentiment of Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, where the author begs the questions: ‘who knows? Who decides? Who decides who decides?’ The text implores the reader to consider the risks of buying into the mirages that lurk at the intersection of freedom and technology. Similarly, and like Hedva, the artists exhibited here place centre stage their own take on the processes which run our lives, exposing and illuminating them in turn.

By these means, and through experimenting with tools and formats, they help us glimpse the myths, desires, inversions, and fallacies formed within the black holes of power and data.

Designed explicitly for a digital environment, the works in this exhibition continue not only Hedva’s odyssey to disrupt the knowledge we take for granted, but further an inquiry into the confines of ‘art’ that GLUT so powerfully strikes out for.

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Description of the trailer

Throughout this film, which runs for one minute and is shot in video format, we are taken through four environments. To begin, we are met with a black screen, with two white central logos. One is the outline of a white glass with the words ‘Empty When Full’, the other is the Shape Arts logo.

In the first clip we are in a black photographic studio. The camera pans around a large lightless chandelier made up of many clear translucent resin figures, suspended from a circular acrylic frame with thin wire. Inside each resin figure is a small red bell, silent and not moving, but the light from the studio highlights the intricate detail on the figures.

The screen fades to white and the words ‘click anywhere to begin’ are typed across the screen, this then fades to an iridescent computer generated scene with a bowl containing black text and coins. A single blank coin floats towards the audience where the words ‘Empty When Full’ are typed across it. The submit button is selected which triggers the coin to rotate back towards the bowl and fall into it. More coins drop into the bowl and dissolve to leave just the text visible. We float around the bowl and hover above it.

In the next video clip we are taken to a muddy beach of flat stone. The landscape is gloomy and central to the frame is a woman with long grey hair dressed in black. Her clothes are slouched, sometimes sagging over her hands and hanging from her shoulders. The video glitches with large ripples of intense pixelation that curves in and out of focus. The woman leans forward holding a small black fabric object.

Fading to a pink and yellow CGI environment, we are floating through a scene full of plants and clear pink skies. As we spiral and float above and around these plants, we move closer towards a sunset, with the light intensifying. Along the bottom of the screen is a series of captions that read: ‘Only we are here now; a fuming flurry of silence heavy over our heads, a fuming silence heavy overhead, a noxious quiet. Can you hear it? Yes. I remember all those in charge - they seemed strong, local manifestations of power in God’s fragile world, while we wanted to behold the blinding sun.’ 

Credits appear that read ‘Music by Tea K Pea’ before fully fading to black with the glass logo appearing once more alongside funding and supporters logos that read ‘Arts Council England, Garfield Weston Foundation and Shape Arts.’