Langlands & Bell on Internet Giants: Masters of the Universe

Longstanding artistic duo Langlands & Bell talk to us about their latest exhibition, Internet Giants: Masters of the Universe, which opens at IKON, Birmingham, on 21 March 2018 and runs until 10 June 2018, marking forty years of artistic partnership and innovation.

Langlands & Bell on Internet Giants: Masters of the Universe

Langlands & Bell, Volume, Rome, 2000

What can you tell us about your latest exhibition, Internet Giants: Masters of the Universe?

This is an exhibition of new work that marks the 40th year of our artistic partnership. We met at art school in 1977 and we've worked collaboratively since 1978. The show features the iconic new architecture of global technology companies like Apple, Facebook, Alibaba and Google. It includes a new series of relief sculptures, installations, digital animations and portraits that explore the increasingly profound influence these huge companies are having on our lives in the age of Big Data’.

What do you find striking about the architecture of these global technology companies?

The paradoxical combination of beauty and banality is striking, and we realised they're being built to serve the biggest, most pervasive, mass surveillance enterprise anyone has ever known. A surveillance so complete it's re-shaping our minds and the way we live. Most of them began life relatively recently as start-ups in garages and spare bedrooms and now they're the biggest companies on the planet. Their rapid rise and global ambition is reflected in the iconic new headquarters buildings they are commissioning, which they routinely refer to as campuses…
Langlands Bell Alibaba 2018 Detail

Alibaba, 2018, (Detail) 

Much of your work explores how we navigate the distinct yet all-encompassing worlds of technology and architecture. What drew you both to this artistically?

Nearly all of our art explores human social and cultural relationships, from the personal to the political, through architecture and the coded structures of communication and exchange that surround us. We see architecture as the most tangible and enduring record of the way we live. The internet giants continue to grow exponentially, becoming ever more powerful by the day, and exercising an increasingly profound influence over our lives. They're reshaping the cultures, politics and economies of societies all over the world comprehensively.

In specifically exploring the architecture of global technology companies, does this exhibition therefore feel like a culmination of sorts?

We don't know if it's a culmination, but we do know this subject is relevant right now. As with the cathedrals and castles of the middle ages, the baroque palaces and gardens of the enlightenment, and the factories and railway stations of the industrial revolution, one of the things we're exploring is whether the new architecture of the internet giants is era-defining – the architecture of the 21st Century. Time will tell.

Langlands Bell Apple Sunny Vale 2017Apple, Sunny Vale, 2017

What have you recognised as the greatest change in how we relate to each other, and our world, over the years?

For thousands of years physical architecture has defined our civilisation, mirrored our consciousness and shaped our social relationships. It's been one of the most determining factors in the way we lead our lives collectively, but now it seems things are changing in favour of the architecture of information.  Algorithms are taking hold in every area, defining the world we live in, and shaping our responses to it. Everyone's walking around clutching a smart-phone!

The catalogue for this exhibition is incredibly considered, containing illustrations, an essay by Anthony Vidler and an interview. Is this emphasis on print in some way a response to the powerful digital world that the exhibition explores?

Print is beautiful, and an incredibly effective medium that has served us well for centuries. Recently it's been modified and augmented, and its primacy has been supplanted by digital mediums in many areas, although we don't see it being entirely replaced. In fact, the two work very well together, and we have combined digital and analogue throughout this exhibition.

Langlands Bell Your Thoughts Construct Patterns Like Scaffolding In Your Mind 2018

Your Thoughts Construct Patterns Like Scaffolding In Your Mind, 2018

Why did you choose Dr Hans Michael Herzog to interview you as part of the exhibition’s catalogue?

Hans Michael Herzog knows our work well. As acting director of Kunsthalle Bielefeld, in 1996 he and Jonathan Watkins initiated our exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London, which subsequently travelled to several other venues in Europe.

Do you have favourite piece from this exhibition?

No, we like them all and they are all different. Our artworks take a long time to make so we really have to want to make them at the outset, in order to commit our time and resources to them.

Langlands Bell Icon Jeff Bezos 2018

Icon (Jeff Bezos), 2018, Diptych 

This exhibition will mark the 40th anniversary of your artistic partnership. What do you think has made it such a success?

We've always wanted to remain open to challenges and unexpected events. There's no art without risk!

What made you decide to join Artimage, and what have been the greatest benefits?

We want our work and ideas to be accessible and widely available.
Langlands Bell Photo Bran Symondson

Langlands & Bell, 2012 

Opening 21 March 2018 at IKON, Birmingham, Internet Giants: Masters of the Universe is on display until 10 June 2018.

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Images from top: Langlands & Bell, Volume, Rome, 2000 © Langlands and Bell. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018; Alibaba, 2018, (Detail) © Langlands and Bell. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Photo: Peter White; Apple, Sunny Vale, 2017 © Langlands and Bell. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Photo: Peter White; Your Thoughts Construct Patterns Like Scaffolding In Your Mind, 2018 © Langlands and Bell. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018; Icon (Jeff Bezos), 2018 Diptych © Langlands and Bell. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018; Langlands & Bell, 2012 © Langlands and Bell. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018. Photo: Bran Symondson.