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The art of self-surveillance – New Artist-in-Residence unveils debut work

Phil Coy 920x540
The three-channel video installation will be installed in Brunel’s Eastern Gateway building

Are you obsessed with yourself? Do you allow the intimate relationship you have with your touchscreen devices to blind you to your own navel-gazing?

As far as I know [RGB], the debut work from Brunel University London’s first Artist-in-Residence, Phil Coy, ponders this seemingly most contemporary of questions by recreating a scene of Francois Truffaut’s 1966 movie Fahrenheit 451, based on the eponymous Ray Bradbury novel.

“There’s this particular scene on a monorail, where the actors – not the leads, Julie Christie and Oskar Werner, but the peripheral extras – make distracted, self-obsessed gestures” said Coy, who will unveil the work ahead of Brunel’s 2019 Public Lecture Series.

“That film was made in the 60s, and I realised it’d be interesting to revisit the scene through the prism of contemporary culture, looking at people’s intimacy with their mobile devices on public transport – a phenomena that students and staff at Brunel will be particularly aware of thanks to its transport links to London. It’s uncanny how many of those 60’s and 70’s dystopian visions of the future mirror aspects of the contemporary condition.”


Coy recreated a scene from Fahrenheith 451 using physical-theatre actors.

The three-channel video installation will be installed in Brunel’s Eastern Gateway building. Coy recreated the scene using physical-theatre actors whose actions – gestures – will be displayed on mobile phone screens, all under the close surveillance of mounted CCTV cameras. The footage is replayed to the viewer on three large screens.

“The installation allows the technology to play into its self, and force a direct link between closed circuit television, and the networked technology that we all use – the work appears like a physical diagram of self-surveillance,” said Coy.

As far as I know [RGB] sets the tone for Phil Coy’s new year-long residency, which challenges him to explore the university’s sense of place in London’s suburbs. The brief, set by Professor Will Self, aims to activate the ‘geographical consciousness’ of Brunel’s staff and students by giving them a better sense of place.

“The aim of the residency is twofold,” said Prof Self, Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel.

“That everyone on campus – students and staff – should be aware that the artist has been at work, and secondly, that part of that awareness should constitute a reappraisal – on the part of everyone – of what it means to be ‘here,’ in the sense of the physical and human geography of the campus's location, together with its cultural location, if we take the great diversity of the University as in some ways decentring us from the environs of Uxbridge.”

Whilst only in the post a short time, Coy has already begun a series of projects, meeting with colleagues from across the university – from the professors and their students, to the grounds staff and security.

“My work hovers somewhere between film, sculpture, architecture and sound,” said Coy. “Whilst it would seem odd calling yourself a conceptual artist or structural filmmaker now, I am a fan of those traditions, and tend to develop ideas, and then find the medium and people best placed to help realise them. It feels quite natural to be based in the design building at Brunel, and at a specialist technical university, as there’s a strong relationship between how I work and how a designer or architect might work.”

Phil Coy IN2

The actor's actions – gestures – will be displayed on mobile phone screens
One particular idea he’s working on concerns the university’s famous – perhaps infamous – architecture, and how it could be reimagined through modern technology.
“An initial idea that I’m very interested in picks up on the work of JG Ballard, who lived in this vicinity, and who was clearly influenced by the area in his writing,” said Coy, who himself has lived throughout London over his life.

“I am particularly interested in his speculative fiction works such as Drowned World – and am looking into reimagining aspects and scenes from that using augmented reality.”

Coy also likes the idea of sound, of audio which captures Brunel’s unique position, nestled as it is in London’s suburbs, hemmed in by Heathrow Airport, and the London Orbital.

“There’s this great track on The Door’s LA Woman – The Cars Hiss by my Window – where Jim Morrison describes the sound of traffic outside his window and relates it to waves on a beach,” he said.

“As I’ve been trying to sleep in the early hours on campus, I can hear the sound of the M25 gradually getting louder. I am working on a series of pieces that relate to being near the M25, M4 and Heathrow. There’s a potentially strong analogy to be made here with this constant background noise and the Universities physical and philosophical position.

“What [The Doors’ lead vocalist] Morrison did brilliantly, was to relate traffic sound to nature. It’s a very simple idea, but complex as well, having a strong resonance with CO2 omissions and the debate around climate change that was in its infancy in the 1970’s. There’s an interesting melding of West Coast America – the source of both car culture and New Age philosophy, that seems to mirror our current situation and this particular area of London.”

“I have begun working with musicians and composers from the music school here, to develop a series of sound works that expand and recontextualize Morrison’s original conceit”

As far as I know [RGB] by Phil Coy will be on display in the Eastern Gateway Atrium throughout the three-week lecture series

For further information on the 2019 Public Lecture Series, please visit

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Tim Pilgrim, Media Relations
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