Between the Art Canon and the Margins: Historicizing Technology-Reliant Art via Curatorial Practice
2. Expanding the Canon
2.1. Display Issues in Exhibiting Technology-Reliant Works
2.2. Exhibiting Digital Histories
Curators like to believe that the activity of curating art—which sometimes (but not necessarily) includes the collection of art—is the necessary precursor to the historicization of art. […] Yet what if instead of looking backwards—assuming those named things which are collected […] are the subject of art history—we look forwards, to how the early stages of curatorial activity (the finding, naming, and showing) inform what, from the wide world, is to become a possible subject for art history in the first place?
2.3. Whose Histories?
- The aesthetics of the piece and the context within which it was created. As mentioned earlier, the ‘naïve’ aesthetics of the work was one of the first points of criticism. However, amongst the arguments in defence of the art collective was the realisation that their work is “deeply embedded in aesthetics of Japanese art and culture which may require some translation” (Christiane Paul’s response to the email thread). One might as well see this as a ‘culture clash’; the UK traditionally separated art from design, whereas in Japan the two are usually indistinguishable (Beryl Graham’s response, with a reference to Charlie Gere’s (2004) Tate paper “New Media Art and the Gallery in the Digital Age”). Furthermore, TeamLab integrate numerous references from Japanese history and culture in their work which, however, cannot be easily understood from a Western-audience perspective. The first work that one witnesses when visiting their headquarters in Tokyo is a screen with an animated story showing how agricultural work takes place in the rice fields throughout the year. Informative and yet entertaining, one of the first things they mention is that they want to communicate their ideas without excluding the ‘fun factor’ or becoming overtly educational in their nature. Equally, a funny-looking frog that appears in many of their interactive creations is, in fact, Choju-giga, a central character from one of the oldest picture scrolls in Japanese history, dating back to the 12th century.11 My Japanese acquaintances could automatically read all those references, aesthetics of the image, and humbleness of the spectacle itself, whereas I had to ask endless questions only to begin to comprehend the ways in which they saw their work and managed to combine commercial and artistic projects. The above logic certainly informs their practice, which, in turn, generates issues relating to the context and receivability of non-Western or non-canonical art that can be applied to numerous contemporary cases of technology-reliant art, and the subsequent questioning of the tools we have, as researchers and/or exhibition visitors, to decode the messages conveyed.
- Curatorial choices that placed What a Loving and Beautiful World outside the main exhibition space of the AI: More than Human exhibition. Although other works were exhibited outside The Curve (where the largest part of the exhibition was shown), they were all on the same floor level. However, one needed to change floors and enter a separate space to experience the TeamLab piece (Figure 4). Understandably, this could only be shown in an isolated space with no other visual or sonic interference but its placement in a separate location still conceptually excluded it from the rest of the exhibition. Institutional logistics aside, the politics of space play an essential role in the understanding and historicization of a technology-reliant work.
3. Conclusions/Towards a Holistic Exhibition Regime
Conflicts of Interest
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Oliver Grau’s (2003, pp. xi, 4) Virtual Art—From Illusion to Immersion provides a useful mapping of this terrain, focusing on computer-simulated virtual environments and a genealogy of old and new media of illusion. Graham and Cook (2010), Mondloch (2010), Kholeif (2018), Shanken (2010), Meigh-Andrews (2006), and Trodd (2011) have equally chose one specific term as a consistent point of reference (whilst acknowledging the problematics of this definition), explaining how its characteristics represented the respective objects of study and research interests. For an analysis of the ‘question of definition’, see also Elena Papadaki’s (2014) Curating Screens—Art, Performance, and Public Spaces (doctoral thesis).
This point of the curator’s role is also raised at various times in the published discussions of the BALTIC series, as well as in the—now defunct—CRUMB forum.
At the workshop ‘Digital Audiovisual Preservation in Communities of Practice’ (Presto Centre and Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, Paris, 4 December 2013), Pip Laurenson (Head of Collection Care Research, Tate) presented the challenges that arose when copying obsolete technologies (such as a Sony ½ inch tape) onto new formats, in order to preserve the work and enable its future exhibiting. In the international declaration “Media Art needs global networked organisation and support”, the pressing issue of major works that can no longer be shown or are disappearing is addressed (http://www.mediaarthistory.org/declaration, last accessed on 24 June 2019). The preservation of digital data is a fertile subject of research, although it expands beyond the scope of the present paper. However, it demonstrates that there is a history behind technology-bound pieces, as well as exhibiting limitations that both need to be known and acknowledged by curators.
“[…] thus Internet-founder Ted Nelson might see hypertext where art critic Jack Burnham sees sculpture or media theorist Lev Manovich sees database-driven video narrative” (Graham and Cook 2010, p. 1).
For a further analysis of the context/content dichotomy and subsequent curatorial judgements of quality, see (Dare and Papadaki 2016).
Videographies—The Early Decades (The Factory—National School of Fine Arts, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, 13 July–31 December 2005).
More information from the official link from Barbican Centre website: https://www.barbican.org.uk/hire/exhibition-hire-bie/digital-revolution (last accessed on 24 June 2019).
Conrad Bodman, Guest Curator of Digital Revolution, on a clip promoting it (“Welcome to the Digital Revolution”, link as above).
Official exhibition link from the Whitechapel Gallery: https://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/electronicsuperhighway/ (last accessed on 24 June 2019).
At the same time, a quick YouTube or Google search reveals a plethora of home-made videos from exhibition spaces and exhibits, that are usually taken by visitors without permission and then uploaded online.
Interview with TeamLab in their headquarters in Tokyo, June 2018.
© 2019 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Papadaki, E. Between the Art Canon and the Margins: Historicizing Technology-Reliant Art via Curatorial Practice. Arts 2019, 8, 121. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts8030121
Papadaki E. Between the Art Canon and the Margins: Historicizing Technology-Reliant Art via Curatorial Practice. Arts. 2019; 8(3):121. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts8030121Chicago/Turabian Style
Papadaki, Elena. 2019. "Between the Art Canon and the Margins: Historicizing Technology-Reliant Art via Curatorial Practice" Arts 8, no. 3: 121. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts8030121