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Nick Gentry Interview : Pre-Digital Artist in a Highly Digitalized World

November 20, 2015

Nick Gentry is a 35 year-old artist from London. He has become known for his portraits that he makes out of used, abandoned and expired technology mediums, such as floppy disks, X-rays and 35mm film. He graduated from Central Saint Martins in London in 2006. Apart from his series of portraits, Nick Gentry’s big double helix sculpture had just recently been publicly displayed in London, along with works by 20 others artists and designers (including Ai Weiwei and Zaha Hadid). In the beginning of December, Nick Gentry will have his solo exhibition at X Contemporary fair inside of Robert Fontaine Gallery’s booth during the famous Miami Art Week – be sure to check it, and you can read about it here.

In this exclusive interview for WideWalls, Nick Gentry talks about the state of the art in today’s fast-paced world, why he uses those 3.5″ floppy disks, and what is the responsibility of his and mine generation, since we are, as he put it, “the last of the pre-digitals”.

WideWalls: I have a rather stupid question: why are you using those 3.5″ floppy disks, and not those even older, 5.25″? They are more floppy, too.

NG: I grew up with the 3.5” disk, sitting around playing computer games for hours with my brother. Of course, we didn’t realize at the time, but we were amongst the first of the video game generation. In fact, the 1980s actually marked the dawn of the whole digital revolution. We used cassettes before the disks and I’’m actually not that familiar with the original floppy, but I do find it necessary to have a strong bond with the materials I am working with. That bond creates part of the passion and the connection with the work. The structure and aesthetics are also a consideration. I love the hand written labels and variety of colours that I can use tonally throughout the portraits.

nick gentry interview work use materials facebook work use materials facebook
Nick Gentry at work

WideWalls: Today, we’re used to hanging out and socializing via internet and social networks. We read our newspapers online, listen to the music online, take pictures online, watch the movies online. Where do you think this will end? And how will it affect art – are galleries are about to go extinct? Is everything gonna move online – including creating, observing, buying and storing art?

NG: The future of technology and human behavior is very much unknown, but that is currently the element that interests me most. There are clear benefits to the new technology, but there are also other more mysterious aspects to it and in a sense we are sleepwalking. It’s clearly making life very convenient, but can we find ways to make it fit with our human nature and deeper need for meaningful experiences? So far it seems that society is not even considering it fully, so that must be our starting point. In terms of the future for art, it’s a similar story. It’s convenient to show art online and reach the masses but it’s nothing like the real experience, so it’s this blend of nature and technology that we need to fully consider.

WideWalls: Would you say that your art had roots in knowledge that is common today, but that our parents didn’t have (you and me are about the same age)? That knowledge being, of course, the necessity of recycling.

NG: I think each generation forms it’s own voice, based on the changes that are occurring in that particular era. It just so happens that we are currently living in an age with the most profound changes in human history, which serves as an incredible source inspiration. The current developments are mainly predicated by the digital revolution, but consumerism and ecology are also reaching critical tipping points. Through my art I feel a responsibility to describe and express the way the situation feels right now, in the moment. Time is often a great source of inspiration and perhaps it’s only when we step back to reflect that we really feel it. I like to think that each of us has the power to affect the world in a positive way, so that collectively we can make the big changes that are required.

WideWalls: Another knowledge that we have, and that our kids will feel even more intensely, is the fact that the world is changing at a bizarre speed. The stable and steady world around us, which we used to know back then, had the very important role in our growing up. Now, will this kind of today’s rapidly ever changing world have the same impact at kids that are being born as we speak? And what do you think their art will look like?

NG: It’’s true that the way we live and generally perceive time is speeding-up, but it’s worth considering that this pace of life is only an illusion. If patience is a virtue then what happens if that increasingly becomes overshadowed by speed and convenience? It’’s not limited to the trivial, we are getting used to everything being instantly available. In a way it’’s the responsibility of our generation as the last of the ‘pre-digitals’ to pass on what we know. Art can only be made in the moment, so to predict how it will look in the future is impossible. We can however predict the landscape in which they will be working and it will likely be even faster. Most people’’s level of privacy will be completely different to now, possibly polarized in some way. The idea that our faces will increasingly serve as biometric markers has to be a compelling consideration in the future of portraiture.

nick gentry interview
Nick Gentry, photo by Martin Plasek

Science and Art Have a Lot in Common

WideWalls: In one interview, you were asked if you get a lot of private commissions, and you had answered “I get some requests for that but I tend not to take them on”. Now, just recently, you’ve made a commissioned sculpture that was, among sculptures of other artists, publicly displayed in the Barbican Centre in London. Why don’t you take commissions, and why did you take this particular one?

NG: Any commission that I take on has to have a harmonious relationship with my work, as my focus is quite specific and not suited to all projects. This particular project was called ‘What’’s in your DNA?’ and I customized a seven-foot double helix sculpture, which was then displayed publicly alongside 20 others (by artists and designers including Ai Weiwei and Zaha Hadid). It was to benefit a brand new state of the art scientific medical research centre in London called ‘The Crick Institute’. The focus of the institute will be on studying DNA and trying to find cures for diseases including cancer. It’s not often that I get invited to help and take part in such great causes, so it was a fantastic source of inspiration. The world of science can be seen as another way to describe reality, so although it speaks a different language it fundamentally shares a lot with art.

WideWalls: Some of your art was described as social art, or social media art. Could you tell us more on the artists and the art (and anything else) that give you inspiration for your creative work?

NG: I don’’t look to other artists for inspiration, but more through my direct experience of reality. My inspiration probably seeps into my work through mostly unconscious activity. Sometimes it is simply a case of being open, playing with what is there and shifting existing forms. Social connections are one of the most important needs of humans as we deeply depend on them for survival and fulfillment. The digital revolution and social tools are there to be utilized by artists and that will inevitably give rise to new forms of art.

WideWalls: If I had counted correctly, this will be your fifth exhibition at Robert Fontaine Gallery in Miami. What is it that you find there, and that makes you go back again and again?

NG: I’’ve been working with Robert Fontaine Gallery for many years now and I find that the gallery evolves and continues to push forward. The focus fits with my own ethos and I respect the other great artists that show there too.

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