Artists in the digital age and presenting art online, as well as exhibiting online art in offline spaces, were the focus of a couple of panels at Internet Week, a citywide festival examining the digital landscape that was held May 14 to 21. While art was definitely not central to much of Internet Week, these two panels, “Has the Internet Made Everyone an Artist?” and “Digital Gallery,” brought it into the wider dialogue on the involvement of individuals and institutions in the spread of ideas through the internet, and melding these ideas with the physical world. Both of these panels can be streamed online below.
Technical difficulties and crowd noise did make many of the Internet Week panels difficult to hear, and the titles of both panels were a little misleading, but they enabled some interesting discussion between arts professionals who are definitely participating in and influencing how art and the internet will continue to be intertwined.
“Has the Internet Made Everyone an Artist?” on Wednesday was moderated by CJ Follini, the Co-Founder & CEO of WelcometoCOMPANY.com, and it included Paola Antonelli, senior curator at MoMA, artist Ivan Toth Depeña, artist Sarah Small and Susi Kenna, the director of Contemporary Art for Excursionist. Despite its title, the panel was really more about the challenges for artists on the internet and for museums that collect and exhibit digital art. Click here to stream it online.
All of the panelists believed that the internet is a benefit to artists in terms of visibility and accessibility to opportunities for funding and exhibits, but that it is also a challenge to show work in a way that adequately represents it, or compliments its real world equivalent. Sarah Small, whose Tableau Vivant performances involve hundreds of participants, said that while the internet is a great form of exposure, she prefers to be hands on and personable. The videos of her work are meant to be documentation, not the art itself.
Ivan Toth Depeña, who worked on the “Shape/Shift” interactive video installation at Internet Week that used 3D data taken from the event to create an increasingly complex abstract visual, stated that the public access to the internet, and the curatorial launching pad it can be, are beneficial, but that presence doesn’t equal artistic existence. There’s still a tangibility that needs to be experienced offline.
However, there is also that art created to be experienced online, often for an early internet that no longer exists. Paola Antonelli of MoMA has worked extensively with design in new media through curating exhibits like Design and the Elastic Mind (2008) and Talk to Me (2011), as well as in her first MoMA exhibit Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design (1995), for which she even set up a website before one existed for the MoMA itself (which you can still view online). She emphasized that art has to be experienced in the context for which it was created and said that MoMA conservators look to get the code for digital art so that it can be preserved in spite of changes in online formats.
Antonelli also brought up that even online art cannot be completely fleeting, especially if digital art is to be something that is collected. Yet as Susi Kenna pointed out, people have long been buying art that is not permanent, purchasing more the idea. She and the other panelists all agreed that the internet was a discovery tool, not a place where they go to purchase non-digital art, though one wonders if that is true anymore since the rise of the VIP online only art fair and other online art services (Artspace, 20×200, Artsicle, etc.). Yet in presenting art, the internet still lacks the physical resonance of a studio visit.
On Thursday, the “Digital Gallery” panel was concentrated on bringing tech works into museums and transporting collections and art to the web. The panel was moderated by Julia Kaganskiy, the global editor of Vice’s The Creators Project, and included Piotr Adamczyk, data lead for the Google Art Project, Christiane Paul, the director of Media Studies Graduate Programs and associate professor of Media Studies at the New School, John Rothenberg, a partner in Sosolimited, and Zoë Salditch, program director at Rhizome. Click here to stream it online.
Like the “Has the Internet Made Everyone an Artist?” panel, there was a lot of talk on how work online is often a documentation of the original piece, and therefore a separate experience. There was also more discussion on accessibly, although this panel got deeper into the ideas of ownership on the web, exploring the fact that although all this art is viewable online to anyone at anytime, that doesn’t mean it is owned by the public. It can instead be a new form of public art, with Zoë Salditch mentioning Rafaël Rozendaal, who builds websites that are created as works of art that are sold to collectors, yet still viewable by the public online.
The platforms for experiencing art online have greatly evolved in design and functionality in recent years, especially through the Google Art Project, which Piotr Adamcyzk said aims to have the best and most standardized online documentation of the pieces on the site. While the Google Art Project still can’t replicate experiencing works in person, it does allow viewers to see at once works by an artist that may be scattered around the world.
With the internet being a great portal to discovering art, bringing digital art to a museum audience remains a challenge, with most museums not even having the infrastructure to display it. Christiane Paul, who organized Cory Archangel’s Pro Tools (2011) at the Whitney, said that a whole network had to be installed for that exhibition and an antenna placed on the roof, and that ongoing support came from the museum’s IT department, which technically was responsible for the offices and not the galleries. Then there are the conceptual challenges in communicating this art to an audience who doesn’t understand the material, and also to those who understand the technology, but not how it relates to art.
Like Pro Tools and art found online, it is hard to replicate the specific aesthetic attained through each piece of technology or a certain version of a browser. As Piotr Adamcyzk said, net art doesn’t expose its own process like paintings, and it isn’t possible to easily see all the original technology that went into a piece. John Rothenberg estimates only 5% of Sosolimited‘s audience sees its interactive environments and multi-sensory installations in their original form, with the rest experiencing representations online. Christiane Paul stated that it was important to move fast with best practices of conservation, and that some net art has already been lost because it worked with some glitch in an old web browser or other outmoded technology. Nevertheless, she said that the success of games preservation gives her hope, and that there are those collecting hardware and writing emulations so that these works can be preserved and viewable in their original platforms. Zoë Salditch said this preservation is important as a legacy to the future of what was seen by the web audience of the past.
While art and technology have always overlapped, the panels at Internet Week on art in the digital age demonstrated just how much the lines have blurred between the two, and how discussing their relationship to the rest of the web and art at large is especially pertinent now.
Internet Week was May 14 to 21 in New York City.