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Keith Piper

Keith Piper

British, born 1960

Keith Piper’s (he/him/his) creative practice responds to specific social and political issues, historical relationships, and geographical sites. His work has been shown recently at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, UK (2019); Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall, London, UK (2017); and New Art Exchange, Nottingham, UK (2017). He teaches Fine Art at Middlesex University, London.

See more of Piper's work at his website: keithpiper.info.

In terms of the work that I began to make in the early 1990s, it was very much about...using video, using the Amiga as this really lo-fi and inexpensive computer to put together these video works, and that's why I used it. It was basically an affordable tool at a time when to make video you still needed access to quite expensive equipment.

Keith Piper

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Keith Piper. Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Keith Piper. Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Keith Piper. Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Keith Piper. Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Keith Piper. Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art (Albright-Knox Northland, October 16, 2021–January 16, 2022). Art © Joiri Minaya (left), Keith Piper (right). Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. 

Surveillance: Tagging the Other, 1992

Five digital videos (color, sound) displayed on four monitors and one projector; one digital audio file on speaker
Running time: 12 minutes, 3 seconds, looped
Courtesy of the artist

“At that time in the UK, there was a very intense conversation about what would constitute the new European subject, and whether the various Black populations in Europe would be included or excluded from that project. Now, in this moment of Brexit, all of those arguments have unraveled in a very disturbing way. And so it’s interesting to re-engage with this work at this time.”
—Keith Piper

Surveillance: Tagging the Other highlights technology’s increasing role in the surveillance of bodies, and particularly the bodies of Black people, who have been “tagged” as “other” and whose movements have been tracked and restricted since the emergence of chattel slavery. Four television screens show a Black man’s head slowly rotating for the camera while a target continuously follows his face, anticipating today’s facial recognition systems. Behind him are matrices of digital numbers, video clips of different faces, and close-ups of maps and newspapers, tying contemporary communications media to earlier systems for scrutinizing bodies and policing borders. The screens are united by the projection of a digital map and a soundtrack that includes snippets from news stories about data protection, civil rights, immigration, and hate crimes, all interspersed with the sound of wailing sirens and a relentless synth beat. The cumulative effect is a dystopian picture of a very near future in which our visible differences are tracked by global surveillance systems, transforming human subjects into objects to be measured.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Keith Piper (he/him/his) was a key member of The BLK Art Group—an association of young Black artists of Caribbean descent living in the industrial area around Birmingham—and the British Black arts movement that it spawned. In his early works, Piper used media technologies like photocopiers and slide projectors to appropriate images and texts. He began using digital technologies in the late 1980s, producing videos, media installations, and CD-ROMs that explore topics such as the history of slavery, the myth of scientific progress, and our cultural fixation with Black athletes.

Tagging the Other, 1992

Piper’s work resists concept of location, identity and positioning which are fixed in one location, unchanging and ahistorical, concepts that refuse to recognise the ways in which gender and gender difference have informed the black diasporic experience of dispersal, dislocationand dispossession.

Janice Cheddie, "Transcoding The Journey: The Work of Keith Piper"

Transcoding The Journey: The Work of Keith Piper

Janice Cheddie

"Within our everyday lives the telling and re-telling of journeys wehave made throughout our lives form an important backdrop to our attempts to impose a sense of order and meaning to the disorderlypattern of our emotional, cultural and social lives..."

Read Cheddie's full article here.

The art that especially interests me is art which is research driven—art that concerns itself with the excavation and exploration of ideas, histories, social and cultural relationships that enhances my awareness of the complexity of issues beyond the gallery.

Keith Piper to De'Anne Crooks

De’Anne Crooks in Conversation with Keith Piper

"Though he would modestly refute the sentiment, Keith Piper’s career and body of work from the 1980s onwards has undoubtably laid a foundation for practising contemporary artists of the Black diaspora..."

Read the full interview here.

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