CSI and the art of the smartphone

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“These [smartphone] devices are almost under our skin now. There’s no absolute distinction between one’s inner world and the outside world, the individual and the societal. This isn’t the stuff of theoretical essays any more.”

Not the words of a tech expert, but of Alex Farquharson, director of the Tate Britain gallery and chair of the judges of the prestigious Turner art prize, which has just been awarded to an artist who submitted an iPhone video.

Charlotte Prodger’s video art melds references to standing stones, 1970s lesbian separatism, Jimi Hendrix and a sportswear store. The Glasgow-based artist used an iPhone to film work over the course of a year, incorporating spoken autobiographical passages from her notebooks, shots from inside her flat, and scenes from the Scottish Highlands.


Her award is a confirmation of smartphones as a new medium for serious art, with judges comparing her stream of consciousness style to James Joyce and Marcel Proust.

A more prosaic example of how smartphones and the internet have made us all ghosts in the machine comes in a crime report on the same day as news of the Turner Prize. A court in north-east England convicted pharmacist Mitesh Patel of murdering his wife by injecting her with insulin and then strangling her. Police were helped by records of his Google searches which explicitly spelt out his inner thoughts before the killing: examples included “Can 3mm of insulin kill?”, “How to complete a coroner’s report” and “Hindu funerals for a murdered woman”.

His attempts to try to blame the murder on a burglary were also thwarted with records from his iPhone Health app showing his frantic footsteps in the house at the time of the killing and how he had gone upstairs to fake the break-in.

Whether it is measuring out our time and movements for CSI-style crime scene investigations or allowing us to bare our souls for art, smartphones and their connectivity now seem to be embedded in all of us.

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Tech tools you can use — best apps of 2018


Keeping track of all the App Store’s releases is an impossible task, but Apple has just published its Best Of list for 2018. App of the year is Procreate Pocket: “Everything you need to sketch, paint, and illustrate is right in the palm of your hand. It’s the ultimate artist’s toolbox.” Game of the year is Donut County: “Who would’ve thought a narrative-driven game about a malevolent raccoon and a hole in the ground could be this delightful?” The full list is here.

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