Moving image work by Hex, a rave-culture period collaboration between video graphic artists Hardwire and DJ/producers Coldcut.
A concatenation of art, computers, rave, performance, ecology and cyberpunk theory, Hex emerged as a multimedia group in the early 90s – a London based collaboration between artist Robert Pepperell, coder Miles Visman and Coldcut members Matt Black and Jonathan More.
Hex sought to explore and exploit the creative possibilities of personal computers, mapping a number of interdisciplinary convergence points. In the late 1980s, Pepperell and Visman had been working as computer artists under the name BUG, doing everything from pop video graphics and desktop publishing to computer-generated audio-visual art. Through contact with DJ/Producer Mixmaster Morris, the duo made contact with Coldcut, then freshly minting chart hits for the likes of Yazz and Lisa Stansfield. In 1989 Coldcut commissioned Pepperell and Visman to create a video promo for their single Coldcut’s Xmas Break. Produced using only an Apple Mac and an Acorn Archimedes, this could claim to be the first pop-promo made using only desktop computers.
The collaboration sealed, over the next ten years Hex produced work in a huge variety of media, including dance and ambient music, club visuals, gallery installations, video graphics for T.V. and pop promos (including videos for Mark E. Smith, Queen Latifa and Spiritualised), computer software and interactive CD-ROMS, automated VJing and DJing tools, cyberpunk philosophy, and hybrid art of various kinds.
Hex held onto a raw a raw and grungy aesthetic throughout their active years. Operating far from super-computer privilege (they worked exclusively with home computers) Hex set out to explore the limits of off the shelf technology, embracing the failure and awkwardness of the systems they used (Visman’s coding experience allowing them to get deep down into the guts of a machine or program, drawing out randomness and unpredictability, glitches and spikes).
Hex’s computer graphics of course look crude by today’s standards. But even then, they were aware of how clunky they were:
“We self-consciously adopted a cyberpunk aesthetic, reacting against the clean, pseudo-reality of vastly more expensive CGI systems then dominating the computer imaging industry … It should be remembered how minimal the specifications of computers we using at the time were compared to what is commonly available today. We were pushing some quite basic technology (and our budgets) to the limits. The results were lo-fi and grungy, but given the machines and software we had then, that’s what came out”
Another critical context to the work comes in the form of Hex’s embeddedness in rave/club/dj culture of the late 80s and early 90s. In terms of methodology, Hex drew heavily Black and More’s experiences with Coldcut. The cut and paste ideology the duo had pushed since their early scratch records was applied directly Hex’s harvesting of video and animation for their works. Equally, the neo-psychedelic imagery running throughout Hex’s images – its connection to club culture, dance music and ecstacy – places them firmly within rave culture; a narrative that refuses to disappear or cede its influence on contemporary cultural production.
Finally, in this by no means exhaustive outline of the context of Hex’s project, elements in their work embrace the legacy and continuation of cybernetic and syncretic art and theory. Indeed Pepperell was a student of cybernetic innovator Roy Ascott (who was the subject of a career survey exhibition at SPACE in 2011). A holistic sense of technology thus effuses Hex’s work, delivering it as a dynamic analogue to earlier cybernetic projects.
HEX was wound up in 1999 after the members went separate ways.
For this retrospective exhibition at SPACE Hex’s hybrid approach to art, music and technology will be explored in full alongside archive materials and a series of accompanying events.
Public exhibition opening – Thursday January 19th, 6-9pm. All welcome.