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Foundation: Joe Phinikas

Digital image of man
Digital image of man
Self-portrait, Joe Phinikas
Written by
Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Published date
25 April 2019

As we celebrate the 2019 Foundation Show, we talk to students about their year, their work and their future plans.

The Foundation course has several curriculum areas, did you know you wanted to study Fine Art? 

I always knew I wanted to do art. My work before Foundation was sound-based so I fitted into the 4D pathway where work is a matter of time, 4D things have a start and an end. The course has made me try new stuff, the year has been really quick but there’s an emphasis on developing ideas and it’s definitely helped me transgress my boundaries.

For the Foundation Show, you’re exhibiting in both the Lethaby Gallery and LUX in Waterlow Park. What particular themes have you been focused on for that work?

They’re definitely connected. I’m interested in post-humanism – the idea that we can live beyond our body. And I wanted to link that to “furries”, a culture in which people become anthropomorphic animal characters. I was thinking about the relationship between an internal persona and external “fursona” that represents you to the outside world. You have complete control over it, it is totally mutable, so essentially you have two senses of self.

Furry is the ultimate post-human in the sense that they’ve already adopted this role, and they’re already aware of this representation which is completely separate from their identity.

Digital image of man
Self-portrait, Joe Phinikas

Like avatars?

Yes, I've been using found materials from early video games, taking characters and creating a 3D digital collages essentially.

Video games give you a blank slate of characterisation which I saw as an act of expression when I was younger. In the long run, you are playing a role defined for you by the makers of the game. They give you this idea that is customisable but you are constrained by the walls they build you. If you do clip through the wall, there’s a void, it’s entirely black. When there are oceans and you swim too deep, there’s just nothing. There’s no care taken with a sun setting below the horizon. It’s just nothing. It’s entirely artificial.

But there’s a lot of emphasis on virtual worlds not being as real this physical world but all those comments are made by people who haven’t played them. Growing up, playing multiplayer games they are very real.

Talk me through your LUX piece.

My piece at the LUX is an animation, a digital space with an old player game version of Lisa Simpson in it. She’s attached to cinematic bars above and below, she moves within these bars. In earlier video games these bars were always there they were just hidden, so I’m revealing the underlying context that was always there. She’s not constrained, I think she’s aware of it and she’s ok with it. She’s never known anything else.

And your piece in the Lethaby Gallery?

It's called Unattended Computer. It’s a performance by an anthropomorphised karaoke machine singing Killing Me Softly by the Fugees. I took the file and isolated the vocals and ran it through a synthesised voice so it sounds really robust and computerised. You probably don’t recognised the song until the chorus.

I was looking a lot a Delia Derbyshire’s work. She was a pioneer of electronic music, working for the Radiophonic Workshop at the BBC and devising the Doctor Who theme. She’s amazing. She had a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Her and a technician placed a machine on stage, pressed a button and it performed random sounds. I really liked how it questioned the role of the performer; that’s the high art version of my machine.

The machine belongs to my mum. I hate karaoke, you're just screaming directly at the poor machine – so this is the machine’s way of talking back.

How do you hope people respond to your work?

I’d like people to laugh. And then I want people to question how they’re perceived. More often than not, I forget how I look and how people might perceive me.

Joe Phinikas is returning to Central Saint Martins to study BA Fine Art this September.

This year the Central Saint Martins Foundation Show – on public show 26-28 April – reaches further than ever before with two sites: one inside at the Lethaby Gallery in King’s Cross and the other outside at Waterlow Park in Archway.


Light projections in dark room
Leo Nataf and Tom Lellouche