Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Outside Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

It is only a five-minute walk between the Cambridge Analytica HQ in New Oxford Street (above) and the newly opened Facebook offices in Rathbone Square (below). Following reports in the Guardian that Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of 50 million Facebook users without their permission to build a system that could target US voters in the presidential election, and had links to Leave groups in the Brexit referendum, the press had descended.

There is a handily placed cafe across the street from the Cambridge Analytica HQ: from it there's a good view (buses permitting) of the media scrum waiting for a warrant to be served so the premises could be searched by data watchdogs. I drew from the cafe window alongside two weary trainee journalists – out of place among the tourists and the shoppers – who had been sent to watch and wait.

By the time I got to draw the Facebook offices a few days later, the warrant had been granted, and Cambridge Analytica's offices had been searched. There is a pristine newness about the Facebook complex, and the surrounding retails units are still being fitted out. While the company's share price fell, there was no media presence here and nothing to suggest it was anything other than business as usual.

I've always had an uneasy relationship with Facebook, and although I have deleted my account before, I'm currently still on it. Interacting through Facebook involves sharing your data with what is, in effect, an advertising company, and that will always involve give and take. Except with the arrival of Trump and Brexit, it seems to me that there has been too much take.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Inside one unfinished sketchbook

I'm back from a visit to Elisa Alaluusua's exhibition at the Art Space Gallery, not far down the road in Islington. The show features videos of four artists talking about their sketchbooks undertaken as part of her PhD research into sketchbooks. The camera is generally trained on the books as the pages are turned and the artist talks about what each contains and their working processes. (In the circular way that these things can work, I interviewed Alaluusua for my own research into sketchbooks.)

Some artists, as we know, discard their sketchbooks when they are filled: by that point they are considered to have fulfilled their purpose. I'm not one of those people. I have shoe boxes stuffed with sketchbooks on the top of book shelves in a way that would cause sleepless nights for the health and safety executive. Closer at hand and on a lower, safer level are more recently completed and current sketchbooks.

My current A5 sketchbook (shown above) is nearly full: a few empty double pages remain at the end. Seeing Alaluusua's videos makes me wonder what I would say about it, should her camera be peering over my shoulder. The book covers the months following the end of October 2017: drawings done wherever I find myself with time to draw, but also some done on a few gatherings meeting up to draw with other artists, and some done for an NBC News report. There's nothing very special about the sketchbook: it's usual in that some drawings work and some don't, some surprised me in how they turned out, and some disappoint, some I immediately disliked and am now keener on, and some are declining in my estimation. As if that matters.

What makes it stand out, for me, anyway, is that it is one of four made by my younger daughter and given to me as a Christmas present. There's a note from her inside the front cover to mark this. It's what helps me to mark this one out from all the others I have done over 30-odd years.

Usually I show an image or two from a sketchbook, but here I've scanned and shared the lot. I've included scans of the blank pages. I found in my research that digitised sketchbooks that missed out the apparently untouched folios seemed to be keeping secrets. Even the blank pages give something away. The dates can be a giveaway too: why the chronological gaps? What was going on then that stopped me drawing more?

The caption for each is on the reverse of the drawing, ie, on the following double page.