Meet Antonio Roberts: Forward Artist

Ikon’s new exhibition Forward: New Art from Birmingham opened last week at Medicine Bakery and Gallery. We interviewed artist Antonio Roberts to hear more about his digital artwork, artistic interests and how he sees Birmingham as a place of community.

Follow this series of blog posts to hear more from Forward participating artists. Ikon has also produced interviews, filmed at the artists’ studios, which will be released over the course of the exhibition. You can find them on our YouTube channel here.

Can you introduce yourself and give us an overview of your practice at the moment?

I’m Antonio Roberts, a New Media Artist and Curator based in Birmingham. My practice focuses on topics synonymous with digital culture such as surveillance, internet neutrality, obsolescence, hacktivism and DIY online culture. I have a particular interest in copyright and authorship. In a time where ideas can spread globally in minutes and files (music, pictures, videos) can be infinitely replicated, I feel that it is important for us to learn how to adapt to benefit from this instead of attempting to reinforce outdated ideas.

I use digital tools to express these ideas, which sometimes involves writing software to digitally manipulate and remix found digital imagery. The outputs are often videos, gifs, and digital image files and more increasingly live audiovisual performances.

Antonio Roberts, Birmingham Algorave (2018). Photo credit Marcin Sz.

What have you chosen to exhibit in Forward: New Art from Birmingham and why?

The work I’ve chosen to include in Forward is a piece called data.set that was originally exhibited at Open Data Institute in 2016. The piece investigates what happens when we choose to represent social data beyond the confines of a traditional spreadsheet data set. The data set represented in the piece relates to digital exclusion and internet usage amongst adults. This data set was chosen because I think it’s important to remember that in today’s hyper-connected world there are still communities and individuals that have been left behind.

The method used to represent the data set involves converting the raw bytes of data into colour data using unconventional methods. The resultant noisy and chaotic image reflects on how we’re drowning in data that is at times difficult to make sense of. In exhibiting this piece I wanted to show that working digitally is not synonymous with exhibiting on screens. Working digitally can be about the issues being addressed as well as the tools and methods used to create and display work.

Antonio Roberts, data.set (2016). Photo courtesy the artist.

What’s it like being an artist in Birmingham, and how do you see art changing or moving forward here?

Being in Birmingham has given me the space and support to allow my practice to develop at a natural pace. The vibrant arts community in Digbeth in particular provides a brilliant support structure. Over the years I’ve seen many artists flourish and many set up project spaces and galleries in the area.

With that said Birmingham is a city that’s constantly in flux. The regeneration and developments happening within the city centre, in particular the Library of Birmingham and Central Library, are rapidly spreading to Digbeth, which will definitely bring about change and challenges to the community. Whilst I don’t see this ultimately displacing the existing community I do think it will transform the area and will be another challenge for us to adapt to. A challenge that we will rise to but a challenge nonetheless.

Connect with Roberts on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and visit his website to see more of his work.

Antonio Roberts, data.set (2016). Photo courtesy the artist.

Forward: New Art from Birmingham is a group exhibition, including work by approximately twenty five artists, living and working in this city, to highlight the depth and vitality of a wide range of practices. Taking place in Medicine, the old gallery space of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, from which sprang the young generation that founded Ikon more than 50 years ago, it couldn’t be more in keeping with their progressive ethos, still informing our artistic programme to this day.

Open 23 January — 24 March 2019. Entry is free, open daily 10am-5pm, at Medicine Bakery and Gallery. 69 New Street, Birmingham B2 4DU. Please note Medicine Bakery is only accessible via a steep staircase.

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