The London Render Search

April 4, 2017

I was commissioned by the Convergence Festival and Carroll / Fletcher to produce a new installation for a series of billboards on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch, East London. Having lived and worked in the area for many years, I was very happy indeed to be able to bring work inspired by the area onto the streets.

Over the last decade, in direct response to the intensive development, regeneration, and gentrification of East London, I became fascinated with the aesthetics and processes of architectural visualisation – the computer generated images of future buildings visible on the hoardings around construction sites – and particularly with the people who appeared in them. I came to call these people the Render Ghosts – ordinary people, mostly, photographed and digitised most probably without their knowledge, and set loose to live and work, albeit temporarily, within the perennially sunlit cityscapes of the future.

I have written extensively about these visualisations and their creation, and the role that they play in contemporary urbanism and the built environment. I have also appropriated their tools and strategies for my own investigative and experimental visualisations. But I have still not met a Render Ghost.

At one point, I posted targeted online ads in the form of missing person bulletins, in the hope of contacting someone. Later, the search took me to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I believed one particularly well-circulated set of people had been gathered. That ultimately fruitless quest, involving tax records, the high desert, and a trip to Los Alamos, is detailed in an essay for Electronic Voice Phenomena and a series of photographs.

At the same time, I was somewhat obsessively documenting the visualisations I came across in London and elsewhere, photographing them on the streets, concentrating on the people who appeared in them. A selection of 350 of these, taken between December 2010 and December 2017, can be seen in this photo set.

For the Great Eastern Street project, I have taken almost five hundred of these people and put them back onto the street again, in the form of six continually updating screens showing them in as much detail as possible. (It’s quite extraordinary how recognisable an individual can be, even at low resolution: photographed, compressed, rendered, printed, photographed again, and reproduced.) Alongside these are two photomontages, one old, one new, made with the original set of people, and elements of London (and a little international) architecture: The Reality of Our Plan is Active People and May First. As well as homages to London and its development aesthetics (not my work, but hugely appreciated), the images are based on Soviet photomontage of the 1930s, specifically the work of Mikhail Razulevich and B. Klinch (who worked extensively for the wonderful Krokodil). They’re up in Shoreditch for the next few months.

The question, then, is have you seen these people?

Tying these various sites together is, a repository for Render Ghost mugshots. If you have seen a Render Ghost in the real world, or know someone who has, please, please, send them over.

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