From a distance Anthony Cairns’ photographs look like small paper negatives suspended between thick panes of glass. The black and white images feature glimpses of cityscapes; fluorescent lights, architectural lines, empty urban spaces. These anonymous-looking places could be backwaters of any major city. The washed-out tones give a hazy feel, as if we are experiencing the city through a dream and image by image we build a picture of a sprawling place.
As well as the 45 photographs on display in E.I. CTY1 (2018), another object is mounted on the wall: the remains of an Amazon Kindle (the Kindle Keyboard model), which appears to have been deconstructed and modified, removing its primary functionality, so it operates merely as a plastic frame to house its e-ink screen.
On the screen are the titles of the images on display. This artefact is nudge to prompt the viewer to look closer, and in doing so we realise that the images are not negatives on paper, but negatives on disembodied e-ink screens.
One of the main reasons that e-ink is used for e-reader screens is because it draws very little power to run – the screen only requires power to change the text/image, but not to hold it there. This means that if an e-reader were to unexpectedly loose power, the screen would continue to show the last thing that was on it – i.e. the current page in a book you’re reading or an image of a cityscape!
It’s a thoughtful connection that the artist has drawn between the timeless process of fixing photographs onto paper and fixing them onto something significantly more contemporary (e-book readers are little over ten years old and the technology is barely twenty).
When discussing the project, Cairns sites an interest repurposing old technology. As with Sharif’s work, it’s commendable in itself to make the unused useful again, particularly when it comes to technology. And time will tell whether an e-ink screen is any more stable than its paper counterpart.
‘E.I. CTY1’ is part of ‘The Shape of Light‘ at Tate Modern, London, 2nd May – 14th October 2018.