John Gerrard

Sow Farm (near Libbey, Oklahoma) 2009


Not on display

John Gerrard born 1974
Realtime 3D projection, single screen, colour
Duration: 365days
Purchased with funds provided by The Ampersand Foundation in memory of Michael Stanley 2015


John Gerrard’s Sow Farm (Near Libbey, Oklahoma) 2009 2009 is a digital projection that depicts a huge, unmanned, entirely computer-controlled agricultural complex set on the American Great Plains. Presented as a single screen projection, the pig farm, desolate and sprawling, is depicted with blank dispassion. Although based on photographs taken on location by the artist, the work itself has been painstakingly constructed by Gerrard and a number of collaborators over many months using Realtime 3D, a computer software that is used primarily in the video-gaming industry. Gerrard has developed a distinctive engagement with the possibilities of this software since his discovery of it in the late 1990s. Realtime 3D involves creating three-dimensional objects through the software and displaying them on a screen almost immediately. The computer-generated image is deemed to be ‘real time’ because the software renders it on screen without any delay time.

Gerrard has described the process of making his works using Realtime 3D: ‘I take my camera, walk around this facility and take four or five thousand pictures of it. We use that to remake it as a 3D model which is then clad in photographs to make almost a three-dimensional photograph. What you produce is a piece of software, which is a set of instructions which are then executed to produce this vision.’ (Quoted in Tate Shots 2016, accessed 29 August 2018.) The results are eerie virtual portraits of real places which offer a strange and sometimes unsettling viewing experience. Speaking about Sow Farm, the artist has described the effect on the viewer:

They look at this work and they think to themselves, ‘There’s something wrong with this scene or this world.’ What they feel, I think, is a slight sense of disorientation because they know that something is wrong but they can’t quite put their finger on it. It may look like a film, but in this world there is no lens-based record in that nothing has ever been recorded. In effect it’s a 3D model that is a real place remade as a real time virtual world.
(Tate Shots 2016, accessed 29 August 2018.)

From the vantage point of an orbital camera moving at walking pace, the viewer is shown the arid, lifeless landscape of the pig farm through a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree circumnavigation, within a twenty-four-hour day. There are no signs of human involvement or activity and even the movement of the camera seems automated; this is ‘farming, post-human’ as Gerrard has described it (Tate Shots 2016, accessed 29 August 2018). He has commented on the way in which this technology enables him to work with time in atypical ways:

In practical terms real-time allows me to work with actual time in a very rich and valuable way … The medium moves beyond the realm of consumable in a sense, and involves much more inhuman timescales, which cannot be watched like a film. It connects and intersects with other types of time, other types of endurance and other types of simultaneity.
(Quoted in Bonaventura 2011, p.25.)

Gerrard has often depicted geographically remote industrial facilities that are a hidden part of contemporary networks of global production, the products of which are ubiquitous in daily life but whose origins or means of production are veiled. The critic Emily Hall has discussed the relationship between this content in Gerrard’s work and his means of production:

[Gerrard’s] fine balance of concept, content, and material suggest a theme and variations on the theme of the virtual. The computer-generated landscapes bring to mind, of course, virtual worlds, video games, special effects – that is, ways of producing unrealities. Here the format manifests something quite real, albeit at the periphery of most of our worlds – the discomfort of this admission is part of the work’s impact – since for many of us, the arrival of food in our markets and the availability of oil are things we take on faith, if we think about them at all. Their existence remains provisional – whether in life, on a gallery wall, or on a computer chip.
(Emily Hall, ‘John Gerrard, Simon Preston Gallery’, Artforum, February 2011, vol.49, no.6, p.230.)

Further reading
Paul Bonaventura, ‘John Gerrard’, Art Monthly, October 2011, vol.350, pp.24–5.
‘John Gerrard: Gaming Technology and Virtual Art’, Tate Shots, 9 September 2016,, accessed 29 August 2018.

Helen Delaney
August 2013, updated August 2018

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