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Interviews: Ghosts in the machine

Updated Wednesday, 5th July 2006

Cars have changed our society, but their reliance on fossil fuels means they rely on decay, says this artist.

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Listen to an interview with Benedict Phillips and his interpretation of extinct life forms fueling modern day cars through our use of oil and the impact this has with continued death to animal and plant life.


Copyright The Open University


Benedict Phillips: I’m Benedict Phillips, and I’m a professional artist, and I work in a whole diversity of different ways, and just, I think about a year ago, I met up with a woman called Catherine Yousof at a conference up in York, to do with the engagement between art and science, and we got chatting, and then a little further down the line this event came up and she suggested that I respond to the basic idea and basic brief for today’s event, and so I did, and so I’m here.

Interviewer: And how is it that you have interpreted interdependence day, how are you?

Benedict Phillips: I guess I viewed it in relationship to, I guess I focussed in on the car, just because of its kind of, it is one of things that’s completely changed the face of the earth, physically by the roads, physically that, you know, the physical effect of those roads has completely changed the way that we function, the way that people communicate and the scale on which people communicate. It’s all fantastic that we have this huge and incredibly complex network of telephones which has been in place for a very long time but unless people can actually get to each other, unless people can actually get things to each other, what’s the point in talking really?

People want to exchange more than just ideas, they want to exchange the manifestation of those ideas, and so vehicles, so cars I think, you know, have completely changed the way that our society works. But at the same time they’re exploiting the past, you know, they’re exploiting, you know, without what happened 200 million years ago, the decay and extinction and death of creatures and plants to become crude oil, then this accident of motor vehicles would have never happened. And then there’s a clear connection, it’s like once you’ve got that, you know, you have this crude oil made from dead animals and plants, we put it into cars and then the knock-on effect does seem to be a lot more dead animals and plants.

I kind of came up with this idea of the ghost in the machine because I realised that, you know, this fuel, the blood of the machine if you think of it as a creature almost, is full of animals, you know, the decayed animals and plants, and what I wanted to do, because they’re invisible and abstract, was to make them visible, and a way to do this was to kind of, is to place them onto the surface, and what I’ve ended up doing is using a soft white chinagraph pencil to draw and sketch these creatures out all over the surface and basically to make them visible, to kind of remind people of the lineage of this thing, you know, that this car is, you know, it’s a direct descendant of the Jurassic period almost, you know, a dinosaur in more than one way.






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