lowkey hard being awesome
My work is about control – namely, the art of controlling how people feel, think and act.
As a creative hacker, I programme code that extracts real-time data from social media, bitcoin prices and NASA databases to create systems. These systems, whether it be a digital infinity mirror displaying real-time tweets about depression or an AI-powered multiplayer game that adapts according to how the player interacts with it, places the viewer in my world.
In that moment, there are no distractions – just my subjective lens with objective data, one that dynamically evolves with the present moment.
We live in a time of chronic uncertainty and permanent instability. Technology is being used for good and evil in ways that we struggle to comprehend, and although we use it fearlessly every day, we fear it every day. It’s enabled us to be more connected, more accepted and more open, while simultaneously more alienated, more insecure and more anxious.
Upon entering my systems, I want to show you what it means to live in a world where we are constantly guinea pigs for the new digital frontier. I want you to question how you feel when an AI trailers a life for you based on your personality, while also becoming aware of the algorithms at play that are designed to affect your mood.
Ultimately, I want you to ask: are you free?
I want the viewer to take these questions, these confusions and place them into my work, attaching whatever response they see fit. There is no wrong or right way to experience my creations, just a prerequisite that you ask questions you didn’t know could be answered with yourself. From this, I hope people will realise the true purpose of life is to do things on purpose, not out of programming. But, perhaps more importantly, to feel connected to the present – instead of numbed by likes and comments.
The most common thing I get asked in my DMs about my work is: how did I do it? As a former magician, it’s a question I’m used to being asked – after all, as Arthur C Clarke said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. But magic doesn’t exist, coding does. I believe if you know how to code, you have the freedom to build anything, and I hope my radically self-sufficient approach is a statement to that. This is what the future artist looks like. This is how you can regain control.
Thomas Webb was born in Ashford, Kent, in 1991 and currently lives in London, England, working from his studio in Notting Hill. He started his professional career as a technology magician and hacker, performing twice on America’s Got Talent (2017) and showcasing his mind-reading AI robots and autonomous drones on news stations and TED talks worldwide. Since his first self organized show in 2018, Webb’s work has been shown in major galleries and institutions worldwide. His artworks were part of the group show, ‘Link In Bio’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig (December 16, 2019 – March 15, 2020). His debut solo exhibition ‘Exercise In Hopeless Nostalgia. World Wide Webb’ at KÖNIG GALERIE (August 14, 2020 – August 14, 2021) greeted over 5,000 visitors on it’s opening night into a first of its kind massively multiplayer real-time video game exhibition space. Webb later opened the virtual space, accessible through the highly shareable smartphone web browser, to other artists as part of the international group show ‘Better Off Online. World Wide Webb’ with KÖNIG GALERIE at Ars Eletronica (September 9 – November 30, 2020).
Webb is widely known for his iconic hand-built AI-powered installations coined by the artist as AI ‘Portals’. Webb was commissioned by Scope international art fair to build the atrium installation for Art Basel Miami (December 3 – 8, 2019). The 3.5-meter tall portal titled ‘I like it when I see you in person because I know you’re not lying to me like you do on the internet’ recreates facial expressions as emojis using AI vision. It is on view at the FROST Museum of Science, Miami, as part of their on-going exhibition on mental health, ‘MeLab.’
Thomas Webb has received numerous awards in recognition of his technological and artistic endeavors. Notably, Webb was awarded the Ashurst Emerging Artist of the year prize for New Media (2019). Saatchi & Saatchi named him one of their new creators for his short film about real-time data and depression, “STRANGERS.”
In 2018 Webb was commissioned by Valentino to build a series of holograms and create a site-specific video installation in Shibuya square, Tokyo, to announce the Valentino FW/19 fashion show. He later made a series of AI-vision portals that scraped information about guests attending the Valentino event at Art Basel, Switzerland (2019). Webb built an exhibition for Ars Electronica, Linz (2019), with Mercedes-Benz EQ, using depth tracking, AI, and holograms to explore the future of advertising.