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Siobhan Coen creates an installation foe exhibition at Firstsite
Siobhan Coen, Unknown Knowns, 2018, full print. Photo Tim Bowditch.

COLCHESTER.- Siobhan Coen’s artwork explores how the human mind works, examining the perception of reality, and how information is filtered by the mind as well as technology to suggest different meanings and relationships.

She creates immersive installations by reworking elements of digital communications - such as RGB lights (the pixels that make up images) and spoken words - to examine how the manipulation of these elements, rather than the subject matters they communicate, can affect what we perceive to be true.

Unknown Knowns features a monologue constructed from former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld’s self-narrated audiobooks Known and Unknown: A Memoir (2011) and Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life (2013). Rumsfeld’s time in office as US Secretary of Defense during the Iraq war might be seen as the beginning of today’s ‘post-truth’ world. Words and meanings are taken out of context and reconstructed, and through this editing process, Rumsfeld becomes a philosopher, proclaiming his belief in the need to change how people see and create a new reality.

As the audio plays, computer-programmed pulses of red, green and blue light activate a large MDF-mounted inkjet print of brightly coloured pixels, which to the human eye becomes a moving image. This hallucinogenic effect suggests both the roots of cyberspace in psychedelic culture and military research, and its effects — the issues of trust, truth and belief at the forefront of today’s political climate.

For the Firstsite installation, gallery seating is provided by the kind of Chesterfield sofas and armchairs one might find in a gentleman’s club or a White House meeting room, inviting visitors to sit in the ‘seat of power’ and consider the new empires and colonial powers emerging in the digital age.

Siobhan describes her manipulation of famous figure’s voices as ‘collaborations’. The narratives and atmosphere that emerge from the re-modelled words remain faithful in feeling to that which she found in the protagonists’ pronouncements and justifications. An installation such as Unknown Knowns is an invitation to look again at things that may be hiding in plain sight.

Siobhan says “I am interested in how the human mind works. My practice examines the systems of neurological, technological and political information-filtering that we all operate within, and brings research on scientific theories of consciousness and perception into dialogue with specific social realities.”

Sally Shaw, Firstsite Director says “2019 at Firstsite is our year of digital, and through the work of artists such as Siobhan - we have been exploring how digital technologies have transformed our cultural experience, and continue to influence how we see the world. We now have access to so much data, but this also means there’s more room for multiple interpretations and manipulation, ‘Unknown Knowns’ allows us to experience through our own senses how these systems work, and how interrupting habitual information filtering, or accessing a different set of information, allows us to reassess and reveal a new way of thinking.”

Siobhan Coen (b. 1967, Orpington, UK. Lives and works in London) studied BA Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art 2013-2017. Solo show: Zabludowicz Invites, Zabludowicz Collection, London, 2018. Selected group exhibitions include: ARTAGON III, Paris, 2017; Celeste Prize, finalists’ exhibition, OXO Tower, London, 2016; Members’ Show, OUTPOST, Norwich, selected by Lynda Morris & Chris Rawcliffe, 2016; Open Film 2016, OUTPOST, Norwich, and a.m London, selected by Ed Atkins, 2016. Awards include: UCL Arts & Humanities Dean’s List, 2017; The Stanbury Prize, 2017; The Herbert Seaborn Memorial Scholarship, 2016; The Slade Prize, 2014.

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