Escape Plan 1 (2013)

This work uses NFC tracking technology to create a dialog about macroeconomics and slavery.

Full Description

The inspiration for this work came from a prospectus, where the artwork is expected to arrive in a shoebox. Naturally, I thought of manufacturing and slavery. The correlation here, relates to how economically well-to-do cultures use the poor as slave labor and create factories in places like east Asia, Africa, Mexico etc., and use the citizens of places like this as laborers (think athletic footwear and child labor). There's an NFC tag in the ankle which sends the user to a URL if they have an NFC enabled smartphone. The questions being posed here, relate to the technological device being embedded into the severed foot, the biological means of travel and therefore, control by the slaveowner. Access to information is the privilege of the wealthy (limited class of people who have NFC phones).

Work metadata

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Artist Statement

Tom Estlack's artistic activity focuses on challenging the viewer's (participant's) sensibilities. He is interested in making art that arouses an awareness of social issues, instills an appreciation for paradox and inspires an audience to emote and think. The exploration of approaches to media, subject matter and exhibition reflects the disjunctive quality inherent in communications media and in popular culture. Humor plays a vital role in guiding the viewer's thought process in this way.

The works are designed in order to elicit cognitive and/or physical responses from the viewer. A variety of media is employed to evoke psychological and physical responses. The exhibition space the work inhabits plays a significant role in these varying degrees of viewer participation. Exhibiting kinetic/interactive sculpture in a gallery emphasizes the issue of viewer performance and the social mores that are a traditional part of this context. These sculptures often require physical manipulation by the viewer which, is typically forbidden in the gallery or museum. The screening of animated films in a darkened theater offers the viewer the opportunity to respond verbally with somewhat fewer social restrictions. A layer of social commentary emerges from the context in which different works are displayed and how the viewer/user interacts with them.

Estlack's work elicits a range of participatory reactions from the viewer via sensory cues and other signs. These signs can be included in animated films, video footage, sonic elements, switches, handles and levers. The viewer is invited to participate in the performance of a work via the placement of these elements. To fully experience the work, the viewer must either break with social mores or abide by them according to these sensory cues and signs. In a gallery, the viewer would be invited to break traditional rules and manipulate levers, switches and other kinetic elements, causing the sculpture to move and emit sound. Overall, the viewer is invited to succumb to a child-like impulse to play. Once a part of this interaction, the viewer takes on the roles of both the observed subject (becoming part of the artwork) and the observer (of the work with which s/he is interacting), evoking states of mind that are often opposed to one another.

This process of eliciting viewer/object interaction is a dialectic he uses to provoke questioning and create subjective sensory experiences. Estlack's work challenges the viewer with subject matter, which could be considered frivolous, disturbing, inspiring, metaphysical or distasteful. Themes of child abuse, technology, exploitation, genetic engineering, miscommunication, sensory perception and "institutionalized" mental illness recur throughout his body of work. Social change is therefore, a cornerstone of his work, hoping to inspire a greater awareness of the impact of human actions on society.

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