Like a digital snake eating its tail, digital art now has a (digital) museum it can call home. On display IRL at Brooklyn’s TRANSFER Gallery, The Digital Museum of Digital Art (DiMoDA) is the brainchild of artists and directors/developers Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William James Richard Robertson.
In a way, this was inevitable. As Salazar-Caro and Robertson themselves — both members of the glitch, new media, and digital art scenes — would note, and as other commentators have pointed out, the idea of a virtual art space has been in development for a while. Paper-Thin, Panther Modern, and Crystal Gallery are just a few examples that mirror the gallery or museum (Panther Modern features artist shows in digital “rooms”). But looking out over the sea of development in virtual reality, digital art, and museum documentation/accessibility, DiMoDA is more like the fascinating head of a building convergence, the first of a thousand sails.
But novelty or inevitability shouldn’t obscure what is in fact a DIY, self-made digital groundbreaking, an attempt to move toward more accessible, immersive, and potentially transformative art worlds. After all, Tumblr and Reddit are, essentially, just updated versions of Geocities and message boards, but that doesn’t diminish the remarkable online spaces that have been created within them. Whether DiMoDA becomes a guide for what to follow or what to avoid in digital museum creation, it is creating a model, which is in and of itself both interesting and important. The project implicitly asks, “Where do we go from here?” It’s a museum you can visit from nearly anywhere, at any time, a fact that might gain significance as DiMoDA grows. As will questions of archiving: Will we be able to jump between different versions of DiMoDA over its lifetime, visiting its inaugural show, for example, just as its umpteenth exhibit opens? Will DiMoDA attain a kind of permanent omnipresence, despite its intangibility? Sabin Bors at anti-utopias has critically considered the degree to which DiMoDA and other possible virtual art spaces should replicate the traditional museum’s physical and political model, which will be essential as DiMoDA moves ahead, others follow in its wake, and virtual reality becomes a part of everyday life — but perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What is DiMoDA? And what has been created or installed within it?
Imagine visiting a museum while playing a video game. DiMoDA is essentially that: the museum in the machine, the shell in the ghost. Whoever has played Super Mario 64 will be right at home. With “wings” that you visit through portals housed within the museum’s “walls,” DiMoDA is a gateway station to art. With that in mind, Salazar-Caro took an iconic approach to the design of DiMoDA, making it recognizable and striking amid what will be a mutable, shifting cosmos of wings. He even snuck in the glitched, warped image of a friend’s face in the profile of the museum, literally putting a human face on the digital museum world. DiMoDA looks like an intelligent space — that is, a space that is intelligent, self-aware, and a little ironic.
You can visit DiMoDA on your Mac or PC, or with the superior Oculus Rift experience that is available to visitors at TRANSFER. The gallery also has a 3D printed model of DiMoDA by Salazar-Caro on display, along with a non–Oculus Rift DiMoDA station. Somewhat ironically, it turns out that the best way to experience this virtual world is in a physical gallery, with credit going to TRANSFER for providing the best possible experience and introduction.
Either way you enter, you will immediately be greeted by the sight of a large, mostly jagged glass and stone structure, the facade fusing elements of old (classical and pre-columbian) and new (poly-rhythmic glass)
It’s a lonely place. There are no docents or guards or other guests, just some trees, the sun, those portals, and a handful of objects. As environments go, it’s open, airy, and a bit chilly, a somewhat postmodern treasure box. You’ll likely not spend much time inside the building — there’s not much to do here — but make you way toward the “wings,” which is where the fun begins.
Featured in this, its first installment, are works by Claudia Hart, Tim Berresheim, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Aquanet 2001 (Salvador Loza and Gibrann Morgado). What quickly becomes apparent is that each artwork is not an item hung on a white wall, but a work or works “installed” in a total environment. The works don’t have titles; as explained by someone at TRANSFER, they’re considered solo exhibitions in the “wings” of the museum.
There is little obvious separation between the space and the work, even for one like Tim Berresheim’s, which originated as an individual, fixed perspective piece but in DiMoDA gains volume, sound (a song), and three-dimensional perspective. In Claudia Hart’s colorful, fantastical piece, gravity is light and you can leap around the space to explore its strange plants and perspective, like a museum-cum-funhouse with a bouncy pit floor. Aquanet 2001’s is likely to be many visitors’ favorite. It skewers Donald Trump by imaginative proxy: a gelatinous glob of shit with a selfie stick, the unreal progeny of Trump and Sarah Palin. From the get-go, Salazar-Caro and Robertson are auspiciously curating political, imaginative exhibits.
One problem peculiar to the show, though, is the combination of one’s (or at least my) propensity to gawk and the easy ability to leave. I found myself passing through some some of the wings, oohing and ahhing often, before making a quick getaway (just the push of a button). Claudia Hart’s piece didn’t suffer from this as much. Suffused with its bright, efflorescing plants that sprout and die, and a just-odd-enough set of shadows to draw suspicion, the piece calls out for an Alice-esque tour.
It’s revelatory how transformative these spaces can be, busting up notions like site-specific works or at the very least expanding them. In DiMoDA, all works are site specific, the openness and flexibility of the digital architecture permitting all sorts of art work-worlds and additions. Working with the artists, Salazar-Caro and Robertson help create their virtual gallery spaces, the collaborative, open inverse of art on a white wall. Considering this, I would have liked more: more examples from Hart, Berresheim, Aquanet 2001, and Satterwhite. One each just doesn’t seem like nearly enough.