Simon Faithfull's Limbo: Mobile App as Anti-Heroic Art

05/26/2011 05:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

In art and myth, the journey is usually a heroic quest, dripping with metaphor. But what if a journey involves, instead of a highly-sought destination and revelation, simply bouncing between ports in the most banal way possible, like on the cross-channel ferry between Dover and Calais?

2011-05-25-faithfullscreenshot.jpgFor artist Simon Faithfull, the anti-heroic banality of this crossing made it a perfect launching ground for his Limbo project (commissioned by the Film and Video Umbrella), which transmits and geo-locates, in real time, digital drawings made by Faithfull via a custom-made iPhone app. For a full six days (May 14th through 19th), Faithfull stayed on the ferry for an unorthodox artist residency orchestrated by artconnexion, a French art organization, going back and forth in this "window between states" while he created -- and instantly broadcast -- drawings on his iPhone. (They can be viewed not only via the iPhone app, but by following the project on Facebook or Twitter. ) Drawings of the water, fellow passengers, passing ships, luggage, signs, shorelines, and docks were all posted in real time via the app, along with precise latitude and longitude. The ubiquitous nature of smartphone use is such that Faithfull was able to carry out this residency in perfect anonymity, looking like any other passenger passing the time checking e-mails or text messaging.

As a teaching artist who splits his time between London and Berlin, and thus spends a considerable amount of time in airports, Faithfull is all too familiar with those never-thrilling netherworlds between states; this experience has been part of the inspiration for Limbo, the premise of which is to turn that negative into a positive with a mobile studio that broadcasts to the world.

2011-05-25-faithfullbreeze.jpgFaithfull has been making electronic device drawings for over 10 years -- in 2004 he traveled to Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey on an Arts Council fellowship, where he transmitted via email drawings made on a Palm Pilot -- so in addition to broadcasting new drawings as they are completed, the Limbo app presents a full geo-located catalogue of over 500 observational sketches that Faithfull has made throughout the world over the years. The app provides a world map view, allowing the user to find drawings near their current location or anyplace they select.

The bespoke Limbo app created for Faithfull by Jude Venn of Cuttlefish is customized not only in terms of the user experience, but on the level of the drawing program. Unlike older devices, the new smartphone drawing programs tend to render anti-aliased lines -- creating a smooth non-pixelated stroke; but Faithfull wanted to keep the raw pixel quality of his early Palm Pilot work, so his drawing program allows for a more low-tech, jagged line. "I'm not interested in having the program interpret and try to correct my strokes," he says, "It's a jagged line but it's my jagged line."

Faithfull describes Limbo, which carries the subtitle "an expanding atlas of subjectivity," as an open ended project; he will continue indefinitely to create and transmit drawings wherever he goes, "mapping my subjective take on the world."

About that subjectivity: Faithfull is interested in the power of day-to-day observations, which, when translated into memories become a highly personalized reality, "a sort of parallel world." Limbo, likewise, begins with observational, subjective sketches which, once they are posted online or broadcast to iPhones, become a powerful memory world that eventually seems more real than its subjects. So real are these drawings that Faithfull occasionally sees the real world in a strange new light. He notes how odd it seems to go back to a place he's drawn: "It jumps out and seems bizarre that it actually exists...It seems the world is copying me instead of me copying the world."

For more on the Limbo project, as well as Simon Faithfull's other projects, visit http://limbo.simonfaithfull.org. To follow on your iPhone, Limbo app is available on the iTunes app store.

Images Reproduced courtesy of Simon Faithfull.