Duncan Poulton at Division of Labour

Artist: Duncan Poulton

Exhibition title: Imagine What We Can Do Tomorrow

Venue: Division of Labour, Salford, UK

Date: May 11 – July 15, 2023

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Division of Labour

Note: Essay by Natalie D Kane is available here

Taking its title from the Millennium Dome promotional slogan, Imagine What We Can Do Tomorrow is a solo exhibition by digital artist Duncan Poulton which relives and reimagines the dawn of the 21st Century. The show includes new works in digital collage that have been developed around a major found footage video work titled Y2K, made in collaboration with artist Nick Smith. The pieces are shown amidst an immersive installation which will see the gallery covered in aluminium foil, rendering the room a no-signal, Wifi-free zone, also known as a Faraday Cage.

Made in Poulton’s intuitive approach which marries the logic of online algorithms with his flawed human subconscious, this new body of digital collage works pull material from personal family photo archives, as well as scans of found charity shop books and lost images downloaded from the deep internet. Each collage is anchored by an image created in 1999 or 2000 – be it a photo of the artists’ 7th birthday cake or his mother’s tap dancing troupe, scanned self-help books or video game screenshots – presenting remixed and redacted personal and collective memories. In his work, Poulton attempts to distil the sensation of the overwhelming world of images and information that make up our chaotic physical-digital existence today. These digitally printed collages bear witness to the mental and physical toll taken on a generation that has grown up online – the anxiety, insomnia, apathy and confusion that our post-Millennium tech-led culture has caused.

The year 2000 saw the beginning of social media (Friends Reunited in the UK) and reality TV’s rise to prominence (Big Brother, Survivors), as well as marking the end of the naïve hopeful energy that characterised the 90’s, just before 9/11’s paradigm shift. This shift is embodied in the Millennium Dome which was devised as a statement of ambition and progress, but became a monument to political and financial failure after its closing in 2001, and is a recurring motif in Poulton and Smith’s collaborative film Y2K. Drawing on the artists’ respective archives, Y2K combines home video recordings, news clips, TV adverts and early internet ephemera into a video essay in two halves: pre- and post-Millennium, complete with its own New Year’s Eve countdown composed from timestamped house party camcorder footage. The film playfully explores the artists’ shared interest in the Millennium as a significant cultural landmark and turning point ­– one that marked simultaneously the beginning, and the end, of ‘the future’.
As a seminal moment of global collective anxiety, New Year’s Eve 1999 is particularly timely to look back on in 2023, amidst the furore of fear and speculation around exponentially accelerating Artificial Intelligence. This exhibition pinpoints the Millennium as a key moment in considering “How did we get here?” and invites audiences to consider an alternative past in which the Y2K problem (or Millennium Bug) did cause cataclysm. If this were to have happened, would have still sleepwalked into our hyperconnected, techno-reliant present

Imagine What We Can Do Tomorrow coincides with Manchester International Festival 2023, and will have an accompanying events programme to be announced.