Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?

For the past seven years or so I’ve been making work with CGI software and, most often, with game engines. Broadly speaking, I’m interested in computer simulations and how they relate to the physical world. I grew up in the Tyne Valley area in Gateshead during the 1980s-1990s where the rural expanses of my surroundings were offset by copious amounts of videogames and messing around with computers. 

I’ve worked as an artist, animator and in a variety of educational contexts over the years. I am currently a Senior Lecturer of Animation and the programme leader for the Animation BA at Northumbria Uni.

Last year I finished my PhD which researched how artists’ computer simulations could be considered as real, material objects. Towards the end I started researching the physical locations of places connected to the media manufacturing industry – starting with the mines where silicon and rare-earth metals are extracted from the ground to make computer processors, hard drives, mobile phones and so on.

Paul Dolan at home

What are you exploring at the moment?

Right now I’m researching where “the cloud” is, in the context of cloud computing and cloud rendering. It’s such a huge part of our lives, but when we think of ‘the cloud’ we are more likely to think of the ephemeral, invisible, convenient functionality of our laptops and phones rather than the physical data centres that store our data, and the undersea cables that connect the internet between continents. I think it’s important to think through the materiality of the media processes that we rely on, otherwise are hidden from view and criticism. My current project, The Cloud in the Sea, is based around an experimental datacentre that Microsoft placed under the sea in 2014. I’m talking more about that during the Instagram takeover.

The Cloud Under The Sea – production still, Paul Dolan

I’m especially interested in the cloud rendering industry, which provides the cinema, TV and videogames industry with access to data centres which turn their working files into the shiny, polished and realistic images you see on screen. Many cloud rendering services are hydro-powered, or offer un-used slots on Amazon’s servers to make more efficient use of existing resources. The level of commitment to energy sustainability surprised me.

Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?

My early creative years were entangled with the DIY ethos of the local music scene, and the punk, independent spirit of that time has never really stopped being a driving force. I was always interested in experimental animation and photography but I found myself slowly veering off into the world of new media art in the late 2000s. Artist wise, I really like the work of Richard Misrach, Kelly Richardson, Ian Cheng, Trevor Paglen, Harun Farocki, John Gerrard, Naoya Hatakeyama, Katie Torn and Toshio Shibata. Recently I found out about Filip DuJardin and Esther Hovers, who are both doing really interesting things with photography.

Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?

I share an office at the university, but I can’t work on my own practice there. My Grandad used to have a dog who would growl at you if you came into the garage when he was eating. That’s what I’m like when I’m trying to make things. I work from home one or two days a week – more in the summer months. I have mostly everything I need here for making work here although I do like the idea of having a studio.

What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?

Thomas Nail’s Theory of the Image is up next. I saw him talk at a conference last year and he is really good at thinking about assemblage theory. I’ve just finished Liberation Ecologies and Eric Winsberg’s Philosophy and Climate Science which are helping me work out some of the connections around water and computer renders. I always swore I would get back into reading fiction after finishing my PhD, but I still seem to have a stack of media and art theory books to get through.

I like keeping up to date with contemporary photography books, too. Recently I’ve bought Ignacio Acosta’s Copper Geographies, Xavier Ribas’ Nitrate and Michael Light’s beautiful Bingham Mine book.

As for music, I’ve been listening to I’m Being Good, Ballpeen, the Loose Fit EP on FatCat and the latest Enablers record ‘The Pigeon Diaries’. I’ve just ordered a Shipping News 7” record / letterpress book from Jeff Mueller’s Etsy shop that I’m pretty excited about.  I love listening to music but find it difficult to do whilst I’m working, unless I’m doing something really repetitive and brainless.   

Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice?

Through photography, computer simulation, game engines and visual scripting, I explore the material properties of “immaterial” digital images, especially in relation to the environment and natural world. 

Where can people see your work?

For now, online at my website www.paulmichaeldolan.com. Hopefully I will have a physical exhibition set up for The Cloud in the Sea sometime in 2021. I use Instagram fairly regularly (@paulmichaeldolan).

Our last featured artist, Claire Baker, asked “What do you feel has been the most exciting and/or unexpected thing to have happened to you as an artist?”

I can’t really pinpoint an exact moment or thing. I didn’t have a Bill Viola moment where I fell in a river and nearly drowned, I just have slow realisations that dawn on my over decades, but seem really simple and like no-brainers in hindsight.