Shwetal A. Patel and Calum Kerr
Our world today is one of increased digital interaction. We use our phones, our computers, our tablets, for almost all activities, and technology has become part of our daily lives.
The effect that this might have on art, its production and its appreciation, is something we are only starting to understand. In order to examine this issue more closely, researchers from Winchester School of Art gathered together some of the most forward thinkers in this area for a symposium entitled ‘Analogue Audience/Digital Interfaces’ which was held at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, on Tuesday 24th November.
Organised by Shwetal A. Patel, a PhD student from WSA who was recently part of the judging panel for the prestigious BMW Art Car series, the event also included WSA’s Head of Research, Ryan Bishop, Head of School, Ed D’Souza, and the school’s Winchester Gallery curator, August Davis.
‘Analogue Audience/Digital Interfaces’ was an attempt to discover something of the nature of the consumption, appreciation and understanding of artworks and how this is changed when a digital interface is interposed between artwork and viewer. The intention was to explore the notion of the ever increasing digitisation and dissemination of art in the internet era, and also to explore philosophical and ideological issues and use this as the beginning for a larger discussion of our age.
The selection of the speakers and moderators was made so as not to distil pre conceived notions or neat ‘take aways’, but rather to gather a diverse range of voices that could set up important questions and examples of what was going on in the field.
The first speaker was Hannah Redler from the Open Data Institute and she talked about a recent exhibition she curated titled ‘Right Here Right Now’, an exhibition of contemporary art engaged in digital culture, at the Lowry until February 2016. She is also the Open Data Institute Curator in Residence, and a consultant art curator for the Institute of Physics co-curating ‘Light and Dark Matters’. So Hannah brought a wealth of experience of working with artists who are using technology and digital technologies in interesting ways.
Ashley Wong, Head of Programmes and Operations at Sedition – a leading online platform for artists to distribute work as digital limited editions for screens & tablets – discussed Sedition as a platform for artists (including Bill Viola, Tracy Emin, Damian Hirst, Elmgreen & Dragset, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Wim Wenders etc) to release their work as digital limited editions for experiencing on tablets, TVs and smart phones. During her presentation she explored several examples of practices of digital artists who are engaging audiences in different ways with technology in their work, and also discussed the interdependent relationship of the digital and physical in the post-digital age.
Robert Montgomery is a London-based, Scottish artist. He occupies a delicate space between street art and academia. His simple, graphic poems have been plastered, often illegally, over advertisements and billboards internationally, as well as being available (copyright free) over the internet. Montgomery was initially inspired by the graffiti artists of East London, the poetry of Philip Larkin, the philosophy of Guy Debord, and the French student protestors of May 1968. Montgomery became interested in the Situationist tradition while following the writing of Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard during his time at Edinburgh College of Art.
During his presentation Montgomery gave an example of a 22-year-old from Culver City who tattooed one of his poems on her arms and emailed him the image through social media. His studio has since followed how the poems he writes get posted by people on Twitter/Facebook/Pintrest/Instagram etc and how his poem ‘The People You Love Become Ghosts Inside Of You And Like This You Keep Them Alive’ travels out into various communities of people beyond the contemporary art audience and gets used in sometimes unusual and expected ways.
James Davis from Google Art Project talked about this landmark initiative from the world’s largest and most influential technology company. Davis described Google Art Project as an online platform through which the public can access high-resolution images of artworks housed in the initiative’s partner museums and institutions. The fast expanding platform enables users to virtually tour partner museums’ galleries, explore physical and contextual information about artworks, and compile their own virtual collection. By using an internet connected webpage, he showed the audience the “walk-through” feature of the project which uses Google’s Street View technology. Davis largely repeated the stated Google’s position/s and heralded the technology and platform as one that essentially provides “access to art and culture to anyone with an internet connection.”
Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern was in conversation with Ryan Bishop and their free-form conversation expanded on some of the Tate Digital initiatives as well as personal insights into running a museum the size of Tate Modern in the digital age. Tate believes that Digital media is an important channel for inspiring, challenging and engaging with local, national and international audiences. Interestingly Dercon stated that although their current Alexander Calder exhibition had received rave reviews from the art and mainstream press and that social media activity had been high, the opening week attendance has been unusually low. This goes against the idea that popularity on the web leads to great footfall at exhibitions.
As a result of the symposium there is now a platform to build upon, and a chance to open the discussion up to audiences and scholars through the internet. The entire event is being transcribed from the 3hrs and 42 mins of audio (links to be provided soon). This, it is hoped, will lead to new questions and possibly some conclusions. After the event, Shwetal Patel commented, ‘I feel this area is very fast moving and we are kind of guinea pigs of the digital revolution. Tech companies, artists, institutions and audiences are still feeling their way through the many changes and opportunities and it will take some time for the ground to settle and for concrete conclusions to be drawn. The lens of time and history will help.’