Jaden Gallagher: Happy End Problem

Interview between Llewellyn Millhouse and Jaden Gallagher

L: Your work up until this project has been mostly sculptural installations, consisting of ready-made and everyday materials and relying on the physical quality or spatial experience of the work, what has directed your interest to the particularly flat and immaterial world of digital video production and motion graphics?

J: I have been making digital and internet-based work for a while now, but this is my first complete body of work that sits entirely in that medium. My practice has increasingly responded and been influenced by cultural objects produced for the screen and distributed online, and I have been looking a lot at artists who use digital rendering and motion graphics, so it has been an obvious progression. A part of my interest in these media is the precise control that they allow over screen space, how the screen and the digital object can appear and behave in an exact and particular way, and retain a seemingly infinite visual depth. I find the conflict between the depth and complexity of the digital object and its severe flatness and minimalism interesting.

L: To people unfamiliar with the process of producing digitally rendered video, could you explain how you create the objects in your work (i.e. are they drawn with a mouse, are they saved off of the web as a jpeg, etc.) and how you animate these objects (i.e. is there a preset setting to make text fly around in a storm, or do you have to set an animated path etc.)?

J: Objects in the work are incredibly varied in origin, a number are drawn by hand and others entirely generated within the composition software and the animation key framed. The process of producing one image often involves the use of a number of different programs and combination of effects. For most of the text work, a combination of techniques is used and mostly I would say the animation is path based.

L: The work ‘Happy End Problem’ seems to reference the way that motion graphics is used in commercial or popular cultural settings rather than steer the medium in a completely different direction, do you consider this work as responding to the use of motion graphics in popular culture?

J: Yes, I am attempting to react to the language of motion graphics in popular culture and that’s largely as a form of advertising. I felt attracted to the forms presented in advertising that used motion graphics. They were all very familiar and I could understand and engage with them without much conscious thought. They moved fluidly in and out of each other and the process seemed to engage so strongly with a contemporary way of thinking about life visually. The simple forms were often also reminiscent of the kind of abstract experimental films that were made by early animators and by artists. Fluxus film focused on the formal qualities of film, and the poetic qualities of life so they were often devoid of a clear narrative, unlike how motion graphics are used today. But the connection to this aspect of film and art history reminded me that this medium and way of visually thinking through abstract forms isn’t new and has a long history within the arts. It also seemed like there was an element of erasure of this historical significance, because this kind of visual language has ended up being colonised by advertising or special effects rather than a broader field of artistic interest.

L: Can you expand on the significance of the tile “Happy End Problem” as a phrase; is this a reference to some particular problem or phenomenon?

J: I chose the title “Happy End Problem” because it had a strong poetic quality. It is a reference to the happy ending problem, a mathematical theory in geometry that asks that any among any five or more points a convex quadrilateral can be formed. The theorem is named the happy ending problem because a pair of mathematicians who worked on the problem ended up marrying. My interest wasn’t mathematical, but more to do with drawing a connection between a narrative and this historical connection to artists playing with the plane of geometry in film.

L: There has been a (vapor) wave of artists in the past five years that have used 3D modeling and digital rendering in an ironic homage of early Internet aesthetics, as well as using processes of “data-moshing” or “glitch aesthetics” to subvert or parody technological capitalism’s obsession with aesthetic progress and perfectly clean and singular images. How do you feel ‘Happy End Problem’ relates to this movement / body of work?

J: I definitely thought about this when I approached the content of the work. There’s a kind of cyber-utopian rhetoric that accompanies work that references early Internet aesthetics which emphasises the liberation of expression available for artists through technology. A similar rhetoric, I think, now informs the approach of advertisers on the Internet, particularly within social media based advertising, which often receives huge praise in the industry for finally allowing advertisers to connect their product with millennials in a meaningful way. In some instances advertisers even adopt an early Internet aesthetic in their material with hopes of connecting with another market. Often this doesn’t work for advertisers, but I feel like for artists this idea doesn’t hold true to the real experience of using technology to make art or design material. It’s a very awkward process to engage in for me.

I definitely chose to distance my work from an approach that emphasised poor image quality and focus on the formal qualities of less distorted, nostalgic or “glitchy” imagery. It is a difficult time to say something meaningful about the way that we engage with technological capitalism, but found it productive to explore what I felt was a very contemporary way of making and engaging with the visual language of the present moment to make my work.

L: It seems as if in its regular context the formal content of motion graphics goes largely unnoticed. When I think of motion graphics that I encounter in advertising or on a YouTube video it appears to perform a very utilitarian function, communicating simple and straight-forward information in an efficient manner, so that I stop seeing how the information is visually communicated, and I just see what is being signified. Is this lack of visibility significant to you?

J: The lack of conscious visibility is significant to my interest in motion graphics. Motion graphics appear at all levels of marketing, from YouTuber’s and small business start-ups to multinational corporations, they are a very cheap and effective way of marketing a product. Once I began to focus on working with them, I was surprised how often I had not consciously noticed them in my daily life and only perceived the information about the product. It was like a whole way of thinking about public images I hadn’t considered. It’s very effective at saying a lot within a short span of time but maintaining clarity. I noticed even very poorly made motion graphics could pass off undetected because most people are so familiar with thinking about things in simple visual ways.

For the narrative to be understood, the quality doesn’t need to be perfect. In producing and maintaining this low visibility, motion graphics relies on the viewer’s understanding of popular visual language and metaphor to figure out what is being shown on the screen and what meaning they are intended to perceive. This is often more effective than really filming something in advertising because it allows the viewer to fill in gaps themselves and create their own narrative around the product. I was interested in finding where this unconscious engagement with visual language and conceptual metaphor entropies and becomes perceptible in the image itself.


Image: Jaden Gallagher, Happy End Problem. 2015.

Courtesy of ‘Cut Thumb ARI’