Daniel Everett on His Sculptural Exhibition at PhMuseum Days

Discovered through last year's Festival Open Call, Everett's exhibition embodied the strangeness of machines and their systems, and the longing for meaning they evoke.

As the PhMuseum Days 2024 Open Call's deadline has been extended until this Thursday 16 May, we touched base with the selected artists of last year's edition to delve into their process and experience in Bologna. Here, Daniel Everett guides us through the key concepts of his project, while recalling moments from the festival's opening weekend.

How did Security Questions first come about? How did you find a way to embed your conceptual ideas about technology into images, often representing cities? 

I began collecting screenshots of security questions on the internet more than 20 years ago. Something about their strangeness always fascinated me – the bizarre intersection of an impersonal system asking intimate questions about our most defining memories. It almost felt like the computer longing for connection – or at least practicing its small talk. Over the years, these screenshots have remained in folders on random hard drives until I brought them together as the foundation for this series. From there, the show grew into a broader exploration of the disconnect between organizational systems and the individuals they are meant to manage. In the same way I think of a computer database as a system, I think of a city as a system, and I focused on what I saw as points of interface between individuals and these systems. My hope was that the work would capture something of the uniformity and banality that lies in the wake of progress, and the longing for meaning that it evokes. 

You have been exhibiting your projects for more than 15 years now. Is it a natural process for you to imagine your work in physical space? 

It is something that became much more central to my thought process over time. Now when I make art, I primarily think in terms of exhibitions and how physical works will communicate in a space – or how placing two dissimilar things in proximity might change the meaning of both. I think about this like building a constellation, where the broader ideas of the work only make sense when seen in relation to one another. I’m always interested in finding more sculptural ways to engage photographs as objects and it was great having that chance with my show. 

What did it mean for you to showcase your work at PhMuseum Days 2023 and to attend the opening weekend in Bologna? 

It was a really wonderful opportunity. I thought the curating was very well done, and the space was beautiful and unique. Being there was amazing – I was able to finally meet and work with a number of artists that I had known online for years, but had never met in person. It was great to spend time with all of the artists, curators, and organizers. I really enjoyed the talks and exhibition tours, and beyond that, seeing more of Bologna was incredible. 

During the Festival, you shared a panel with Andy Sewell. Can you recall anything of that experience, or the thoughts it provoked? 

It was an intriguing grouping. I was touched by the humanity in Andy’s work and the contrasts it pointed out in my own. Despite the differences in our approaches, it became apparent that there was a sizable overlap in our intentions and the ideas behind our work. I thought his insights about the shaping of culture by technology and its hidden connections was poignant. 

Any advice to share with other photographers on how to present their work for the application?

Don’t worry too much about what you think other people want to see. Worry about what you want to make. Too often artists sacrifice the things that make their work most unique trying to fit the expectations of others – trust the things that feel electric and exciting to you.

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All images © Daniel Everett

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Daniel Everett's project Security Questions was selected last year through the PhMuseum Days open call. Apply to the new edition to have the chance of exhibiting in Bologna, Italy next September. The deadline is extended to 16 May.