Brendan Dawes
The Art of Form and Code

That Was The Week That Was – 29th October 2023

This week I travelled to the Venice Biennale Musica to install Nothing Can Ever Be The Same – my collaboration with documentary film maker Gary Hustwit, a generative video installation based on the ideas and music of Brian Eno.

This was my second time in Venice, yet the first time I was here I never really experienced the city properly as I was staying outside the city proper and travelled in for the conference I was speaking at. This time was different, starting with the water taxi ride to the venue where the installation was happening. One of the team met me off the plane and next minute we were making our way across the lagoon, hitting the large water breaks, with at least one time taking to the air. For the taxi "driver" this was just another boat ride, but for me this was a lot of fun!

After meeting Gary at the venue I could then finally take a look at months of work to see it manifested on a beautiful, large screen. It all looked great and the system was working well apart from one annoyance. Certain sub frequencies in the music were causing the lighting rig to rattle and hum, with the source seeming to come from the back speakers which were mounted on the same rig. After much trial and error we decided to swap the back speaker to a floor standing version which instantly solved the problem. With everything working well, and with the opening happening on the next day, we headed back to our rented Airbnb apartment to make some more final tweaks before we opened.

The next morning, after breakfast of pastries and coffee in the square just around the corner from where we were staying, we headed back to the venue to check things over again, adjust sound levels, get the lighting just right and various other things. After lunch nearby we went back to the venue and as soon as we did there was a huge "boom" and everything in the venue lost power alongside alarms going off all over the Arsenale. Gary and me looked at each other and then we looked at the tech crew and asked "what was that?" "Sunday", they replied. Eventually the power came back on but it then happened another four times. Each time there was no explanation and each time we were now minutes away from opening, with a queue starting to form outside. We had mo choice but to take our chances and carry on, hoping that the power-outage might not happen during the opening.
The guests streamed in along with the director of the festival who was going to introduce us and the work. The place was packed, with people having to stand or sit or lie on the floor because there wasn't enough seating. The director did an amazing job talking about the work and then Gary and myself spoke about what it was and our ambition for it. After about a half hour of talking it was time for me to go backstage, dim the lights and hit go on the system, praying that there would be no more outages. Someone or something was smiling on us that night as there was no more outages and instead the work performed flawlessly, with people mesmerised by the never-repeating generative visuals fused with Eno's music.

I was struck by how long people stayed to watch – some over two hours – seemingly transfixed by what they were experiencing. It always hits different when you see the thing you've been working for so long – on a regular size screen – become real and at such scale. Yet more than anything, seeing the reaction from a live audience – seeing how they engage with the work – makes it all worthwhile.