For the web residency, the London based artist Paul Simon Richards was working on a new video for the video series »Quasi-Monte Carlo«. The series is named after an algorithm devised by French statisticians in the 19th century working in Monaco, who operated a gambling syndicate, aiming to win at roulette. The algorithm QMC (Quasi-Monte Carlo) is a controlled form of randomness, built from vast probability trees, incorporating every possible outcome in a given situation and is used today in artificial intelligence as well as photo-realistic CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) rendering. The latter is used by Paul Simon Richards to produce the videos that draw different connections between randomization, dreams, thought, and CGI by creating spaces where photorealistic surfaces are contrasted with a dreamlike illogical narration.
Judith Engel: Concerning the topic of the third web residency call »SUPRAINFINIT: L’Avenir redux« the description of your work that »explores the potential of thought to describe and make present in language that which cannot be experienced« caught my attention. This seems to be very close to the attempt of the call to create an idea of an as of yet unexperienced, though not unimagined, »other future«. Taking this into account, what raised your interest in creating visual spaces like Quasi-Monte Carlo and L*a*b for example?
Paul Simon Richards: To me CGI is the same as thought. CGI is a projection of the mind as is language – there is nothing in ontological life from which it is »captured«, and yet it gives the impression of being photographic. It is not like observational drawing or even photography in which one is situated and responding to what is perceived by the laws of physics, and again it is not like sculpture in that a material is molded or applied in simulation of something else. The software uses physics as an aesthetic aid to understanding but of course it is not physical at all. Like the word ›lamp‹ a CGI lamp contains many of the properties of lampness to the observer but it can change into any other lamp or cat or bedsheets, without even using an additional adjective.
»To me CGI is the same as thought. CGI is a projection of the mind as is language – there is nothing in ontological life from which it is »captured«, and yet it gives the impression of being photographic.«Paul Simon Richards
There are certain terms used by software companies to describe what is happening in the program – they talk about »projecting a scene from the camera«, which is antithetical to using physical camera. You can do things in CGI that you can only do in words or the imagination otherwise, like pivoting your POV on an observed spot in the room (meaning that the camera floats around the thing at a calculated distance as a planet in orbit rather than as a camera + operative sharing the gravity of the other physical things in space).The rendering process is interesting to me because the object (say, a glass bowl of lilies) appears on screen as it is made, from a random powder of data which is (with QMC (Quasi-Monte Carlo)) infinitely producing itself into an image to be recognized. That image will continue to find its exactness in relation to theoretical information regardless of the human eye until told to stop.
JE: For the web residency you work on a new video for »Quasi-Monte Carlo« that draws a connection between the eponymous algorithm and repetitive dreams. Both come together in video works, rendered with the algorithm and showing the dreamt environments. How did you come up with the idea to link these »tools« – dreaming and rendering? How did this project start?
PSR: The link is something to do with randomization. I’ve been interested for some time in a CGI process called Global illumination, It’s a family of techniques used to render images and animations which simulates physically accurate lighting. Global illumination requires randomization to create the scatter and diffusion of light rays, but the notion of pure randomization exceeds the limits of contemporary mathematics, we know it exists but don’t have the words to describe it yet. And in this sense I compare randomization to dream, or to thought.
Quasi-Monte Carlo, is a complex algorithm, which gets very close to randomization, very close to stepping outside of language, but still has all of the rational linguistic features that computers like. It works by drawing repeatedly from vast probability trees, which account for every given outcome in a situation. Quasi-Monte Carlo has many industrial applications, it was used to produce the first hydrogen bomb, and in financial futures markets, in risk management, artificial intelligence and it is similar to the algorithm used in bitcoin.
»I think of this as being like memory, or better like fantasy, we can repeatedly return to a place mentally and with each return, furnish it with more detail moving through an imagined event as if seeing it through a camera.«Paul Simon Richards
Quasi-Monte Carlo is a never ending process, each probable outcome is broken down into a greater number of possibilities. I think of this as being like memory, or better like fantasy, we can repeatedly return to a place mentally and with each return, furnish it with more detail moving through an imagined event as if seeing it through a camera. The software I use gives the choice of camera type, lens manufacturer, I can even get the photometric data for a specific light bulb. It’s an elaborate game of dolls houses.
JE: The theme of dreams seems to appear in some of your works like Quasi-Monte Carlo but also in L*a*b or Tell me your dream. What meaning do dreams have for you in the frame of your artistic approach?
PSR: I dream vividly, which is not to say lucidly. They are not ›meaningful‹ to me in any Freudian sense, but I enjoy the (il)logic of narrative and my dream’s visual and emotional dissonance. I have worked with hypnotic trance deliberately because I can remember my visions very clearly during and after. I am interested in the way that architecture works with the experience of the body in these states for example. Also, the architecture in my films is not a representation of architecture seen in my dreams, but the vivid sense of its ›being‹ while one is engaged with it, while simultaneously knowing it is not there appeals to me. My work isn’t intended to represent dreaming in a general way.
JE: How is your choice to use digitally animated videos as medium related to the nature of the spaces in the videos?
PSR: I have been looking a lot at 1980s and 90s interior design books and magazines for lots of reasons, mainly because they are so much more imaginative than contemporary design, and they indicate a passed futurity based shamelessly on the cinematic. Most of the interiors in these books undoubtedly have been destroyed and these images are all that remain, so my creating the spaces digitally is uncanny and my adding elements or changing things is slightly perverse. But I am also into the fact that the processes used in making the images that I am borrowing are totally opposite to what I am doing. The lighting was all real, as was the film stock, and even the printing was lithographic.
»I have been looking a lot at 1980s and 90s interior design books and magazines for lots of reasons, mainly because they are so much more imaginative than contemporary design, and they indicate a passed futurity based shamelessly on the cinematic.«Paul SImon Richards
JE: When watching the first video of the series Quasi-Monte Carlo, I was fascinated by the fusion of elements: the digital surfaces’ photorealistic, highly artificial appearance and a simultaneously nostalgic design of the shown interior, a subjective camera work that creates the impression of following the searching eyes (or rather the web cam) of the protagonist but without being able to read the symbolic meaning of present objects like the golden earring. Human interaction in the presence of absent people. A lack of orientation although there seem to be definite coordinates time- and location-wise. How do you compose a video like that including an seemingly intuitive approach while working with tools that seem to be antagonistic to intuition?
Quasi-Monte Carlo, Paul Simon Richards, HD video, ongoing video series, 2016
PSR: I like very much the impression you have had of the ›presence of people‹ the camera borrows its motion in certain places from accidental images created by forgetting to press record or stop at the right moment when filming with a digital camera, but a lot is in the sound. I had an internal narrative of a film crew setting up to shoot a commercial in that space.
»The aesthetic of the first episode of Quasi-Monte Carlo is kind of a love letter to Cairo and its style. »Cairo« being somewhere that exists partly in my imagination although I have been there.«Paul Simon Richards
The earring is in fact something that initially came to me in a dream and then I worked with Nile Sunset Annex to have it made by a jeweler in gold in Cairo as a very small edition. The aesthetic of the first episode of Quasi-Monte Carlo is kind of a love letter to Cairo and its style. »Cairo« being somewhere that exists partly in my imagination although I have been there.
JE: What does it mean for you to present your work in the web space?
Is it important for the concept of Quasi-Monte Carlo to be accessed digitally?
PSR: Of course it makes sense that way, the film of that title was intended to be seen like that, but the effect of the algorithm in my work as with the uses it has in industry and mainstream film in no way resides solely online. I normally work with installation or in cinematic situations and the concept retains its significance.
JE: Which other digital artists interest and/or influence you?
PSR: Simon Martin is brilliant and I am indebted to him in many ways. His digital Lemon with Roman pot was great. His Digital Frog with airport novels was terrific. His study of Memphis Shelving awesome. Dan Margulis – tough to admit but true, a photoshop guru/cuddly uncle, I wouldn’t have made L*a*b without him. James and John Witney, who really did do all that work themselves.
JE: In this context, how do you experience the format of the Web Residency as a visual artist?
PSR: I have found it very productive, it has been a great way to articulate certain ideas which have been floating. I think that residencies of all kinds are good for artists to frame and reframe themselves against new contexts and to try out new things.