The Sky is Not the Limit

Vista – 285 Deansgate Manchester on until end of July2021 Nancy Collantine

A digital response to: Vista – tales of shrinking skies and life within the city grid – Nan Collantine – Dez Rez Artist Projects.

This project was fast! There was a two-week window. I would have liked to ruminate, research and test ideas for at least a few weeks, but the limited time and exhilaration propelled us both forward.

 I found myself talking to Nancy Collantine in 285 Deansgate, an empty shop front in Manchester, part of the Great Northern Warehouse which dates back to 1899. Nancy had a 7-day residency (courtesy of GNW) and had already begun to paint in full view in the shop window, on her small canvases. I had been invited to respond digitally, which fits nicely into my practice and my obsession with comparing the online – offline, in this case, of Manchester’s architecture.

 Nancy had worked in Manchester when she was younger, walks around the city for inspiration revealed: ‘there are no more spaces.’ Covid had not halted the march of intelligent buildings, piercing the sky as they spring up from the rich soil of Manchester’s architectural history. The GNW building we were in was a time portal, inside, the walls had lost their plaster board exposing the studded bright tanking on the brick wall, revealing its age and presenting an interesting abstract composition. The red brick arch facing the busy street framed: a crane, Victorian architecture, trees and passers-by, there was so much to be inspired by.

(Red brick example) Acrylic on Canvas Nancy Collantine 2021

The skeleton of the city that was, now has growths, calcified and permanent redirecting us as driver and pedestrian. This new vista had stolen the sunset, changed the acoustics and even altered the breeze for my flaneur friend.

Mcr Negative Spaces BS

My own wandering’s, delayed by a period of isolation due to Covid19, revealed the visceral shrinking of the historical buildings in the wake of the new builds. The looming, intelligent blue glass towers are unlimited in their ascent, they pierce the sky and bully the world the below.

Mcr Negative spaces (control) BS

I recorded the sounds of construction as it competes with sirens and conversation. I searched for negative spaces, slices of sky between the buildings from a pedestrian perspective which we discussed at length. All too often artist’s compositions are altered, abstract lines made vertical, defying the human vision for the aesthetic.

The past, present and future seem to coexist architecturally, as it does in our online-offline world. Systems, services, conversations, relationships, visits, education…. what part of our world does not have an on line cousin.

My response to Nan’s paintings and our collaboration, is a digital pop-up gallery, exploring the negative spaces, using AI software with which I made hundreds of new abstract images (examples below of some I did not use in the video).  The research became a collaboration with AI, enabling me to use my photographs, sketches and the colour pallet of Nan’s paintings to ask: what would the AI do with these spaces? I focused on one shape in particular, made up of uncomplicated lines, a sort of control for my experiments.

AI has existed since the 1940’s and Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN’s) developed since 2014. GAN’s are the type of AI systems which enable the software used by Artists today. The AI is fed with styles of artists from the 18 – 19th Century, artistic movements, and my own images, to produce new abstract compositions.

I used Photo Mirage to animate the AI composed space (below) and recreate its looming perpetual movement. The city is constantly moving and these spaces will soon disappear.  I felt an urgency to document them, and even today can’t stop seeing and photographing negative spaces from the different perspectives I find myself in around the city.

Video clip of AI reimagined Negative Space – Photo Mirage

The viewer journey’s around the virtual gallery made in VR Tilt Brush. A three-dimensional painting space in which I become constructor and curator, reclaiming the work by my selection. The use of AI removes the hand of the artist, making the negative space positive, I can regain control by selection and animation much like a co-art project with another artist or in a cross disciplinary project.

The pop-up gallery is formed of an abstract, incomplete construction of a tower, suspended in the universe by an iconic crane and lit by a far away sun.

The viewer leaps from the gallery and travels downwards in a undulating abstract representation of the tower as it pulsates to: firstly, the sounds of the city’s endless building noise and secondly, a digital sounding tune made with Pixelsynth, software that responds to images by creating music. This sound registers the iconic towers where once it would have made music from the stars.

Online Exhibition Link:

I still have a lot to learn about AI and what might be to come, my research has raised more questions than answers. The collaboration with Nancy has just started and I am looking forward to what comes next!

“Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower.” —Alan Kay


Published by babssmithart

My work considers the significance of scientific imagery as metaphors for human existence. I draw from both the microscopic and scientific images in a micro to macro process of making. I believe this brings a subconscious connection through which we can communicate. Scientists agree that everything is energy, and everything is connected. I feel this passionately in my work and indeed my life. In my work I am exploring the crystallisation of tears as a process that occurs beyond our sight but once demonstrated it forms a portal to communicate with the viewer on a subconscious level. Ideas come from momentary human interactions such as the response to Voyagers iconic blue dot image which began my journey into the study of the human visceral response of crying and the crystallisation of tears. I have developed the memory of a rock climb into a sculpture and a tear into a tactile object that sits in the hand. As a multidisciplinary artist my choice of medium is key to resolving the work. I develop subjects often through print processes to ultimately create sculpture. I use many different materials such as paper, metal, Perspex and resin, often pushing them to breaking point as I explore their connection with narrative further. The process becomes the art, it is not always aesthetically pleasing but it is a direct result of my practice. The end result morphing into a piece of work that I could not have envisaged at the start of the process.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with
Get started
%d bloggers like this: