The Big Chill SEPTEMBER 2006 - by Dominic Norman-Taylor


Brian Eno has been making art about as long as he has been making music - from his teens, all the way through art school (he studied painting) and throughout his career as a musician.

His visual work has covered video paintings (such as Thursday Afternoon), projected slide-based pieces and large hanging sculptural shapes reflecting light. His work has exhibited close to 100 times worldwide, and this year he'll be exhibiting at the Venice Biennale and the Milan Triennale.

Eno makes no distinction between the development of his visual and musical output, as the two have been developing together, feeding and informing each other. He refers to his recent piece 77 Million Paintings as "visual music"; the generative principles which created it are similar to those which drove many of his Ambient musical pieces. They rely on the creation of random systems into which the artist places his elements and watches the resultant piece unfold. The work is abstract, sublime and delicately beautiful. No two people will see the same image.

Cross fertilization of artistic areas is something which has been regarded with suspicion, especially in the UK. If you are a rock musician, you can't be taken seriously as a visual artist and vice versa. This is something Eno has taken on and challenged over the last 25 years, showing that if strong creative principles are laid down they can be applied to multiple medias. Neither his visual or his musical directions would have taken the shape they did without each other.

Eno is proof that a cross pollination of music and art can produce beautiful and important work in both areas. He has often pointed out the future of art is to blur the boundaries!

77 Million Paintings is an ever-evolving painting using the power of modern computers. At the Big Chill, the installation will use projectors to display the output, (a decent television monitor, especially a flat-screen would also work). The name "77 Million" comes from the number of permutations possible for this piece. It's highly unlikely you'll ever see the same permutation twice, in fact it's more likely that you'll see something even the artist never will.

77 Million Paintings was an attempt to bring Eno out of a gallery space and into your home. With the arrival of powerful processors and large-format flat screens, it was possible to start seriously exploring the possibilities of using screens as art spaces rather than stage sets for narrative, linear TV performance.

Using a computer is the most direct and effective way of doing this, but technologies will develop around these ideas as artists redefine how and where their work is displayed.

Eno put his original painted elements into some custom written software. You can see the result during the festival. (So you can understand that we're really excited to have him along!)

The piece as very much the first step in a process, an exploration of an emerging area in art. Eno is already developing approaches to this piece - it is very much a 'beginning rather than a conclusion'.

Over 6,000 people visited the installation during the 11 days it was exhibited in Japan, which was a surprise for everyone involved, making it one of the most popular events shown at the gallery. Apparently, people would walk in and through, coming out the other side looking completely baffled, go back in, take another look and stay for hours. This piece demands no concentration, just engagement.

Actually, a festival audience is not too dissimilar to a gallery audience. With 77 Million Paintings people can sit and absorb for hours. It is intended to create an environment, a space to spend time in. This is how we hope it will be used at the Big Chill.

After The Big Chill, the exhibition goes around the world over the next year and will be exhibiting in a range of spaces as diverse as a 13th century monastic cloister to a naval oiltanker warehouse. It feeds off the spaces and is strangely sympathetic to them.