For Complex Embrace animation artist Damian Gascoigne was commissioned to create a new work in collaboration with Jeffrey Johnson, Professor of Complexity Science and Design at the Open University, and Dr Anne Creigh-Tyte, Director of Design Research at Kingston University. The project forms part of the project Embracing Complexity in Design; a series of exhibitions, seminars, workshops and conferences exploring the interplay between the new science of complex systems and the design process.
Gascoigne employs an inventive combination of drawn animation and live action to create his short films, more recently taking his work into the realms of three-dimensional computer-generated imagery. He has been working with Johnson to reach a personal understanding of complexity science and has created a new work as a response to the knowledge he has acquired. Trial-and-error is a common research procedure for artists and scientists, a practice that brings with it elements of surprise. In this new large-scale installation, projections of animated elements drift over a towering structure built in the gallery. The animated elements briefly combine, adapt and separate in an endless cycle of embrace, a series of casual moments orchestrated by default and by design.
Complexity Science is the name Johnson gives to the “massive paradigm shift currently taking place in the way we can understand, design and manage a wide range of physical and social systems”. He explains of his work in the field:
“The world we live in gets ever more complex, and designers face that complexity every day in fields as diverse as the design of drugs and medical equipment, the design of cities, the design of computer programs and the internet, the design of high-street fashions, the design of cosmetics, the design of web pages, and even the design of social and economic policies. In some sense, every design is an experiment.Thus, to me, the combination of complexity science and design seems very natural. I am interested in complex systems because I want us to design them better. I am interested in design because I think this is the laboratory of complexity science.
This project is particularly exciting for me, since I believe scientists must be ever more open-minded if we are to understand complexity. This includes asking the question how art can contribute to scientific enquiry. Our collaboration between an artist, a designer, and a scientist has challenged us all to see the world through the eyes of others. The result is an original artwork that gives the public an intriguing insight into some of the fundamental ideas of complex systems, and allows scientists to reflect on these ideas in new ways. I am delighted with the outcome.”
After studying graphic design at Kingston University Damian Gascoigne went on to establish an international reputation for innovative commercial work and award-winning short films combining live footage and animation. His work has been screened at festivals around the world including Brazil, Korea, Canada and Australia.
Complex Embrace is shown alongside the world premiere of another new work by Gascoigne commissioned for animate! by Arts Council England and Channel 4. Collaborating with screenwriter Liana Dognini, Careful! follows the accidental adventures of a seven-year old girl sent out to post a letter, and considers how we try to instil children with a sense of care, how to value things and how children in turn make sense of our advice.
Jeffrey Johnson is Research Professor of Complexity Science and Design at the Open University. He has worked at universities and research laboratories all over the world, and is known for his mathematical theories of complexity and design. His industrial experience includes directorships of electronics, graphics, industrial vision, and management consultancy companies. He is interested in devising new ways of communicating complex ideas, and has created many innovative computer-aided learning packages for the Open University. He is currently creating courses for the European Open Network of Centres of Excellence in Complex Systems, which he leads. He directs Embracing Complexity in Design: a Designing for the 21st Century Research Cluster, the project that commissioned Gascoigne’s Complex Embrace, funded by an exciting collaboration between the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council.
Embracing Complexity is an interdisciplinary research project funded through an innovative and exciting £5 million collaboration between the Arts & Humanities Research Council and Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, the programme Designing for the 21st Century. The main Institutional collaborators are The Open University, Kingston University, and De Montfort University.