The original issue of Curating the Digital (Issue 45 April 2020) came from a conversation between Dorothee Richter and myself following a short publication produced as part of a commission by Omsk Social Club in 2018. The focus was to establish the historical and contemporary nodes of making through digital media production in contemporary art and curation practices. The articles and interviews translated in this issue track those conversations and lead to a widening of a speculative digital practice, both curatorially and artistically. The addition of new voices from across China, expands a deeper articulation of the theoretical becoming and historical grounding of today's practice across curation and the digital.
This expansion from historical contextualisation affords opportunities for common narratives to emerge and new strategies to form, for example, Lu Yang‘s, Live Motion Capture Performance (2022). Curatorial practice has broadened over the past 20 years and new ways of displaying, thinking, doing, and presenting contemporary art has radically influenced the approaches to the experience of a public display. Digital presentations of practice through virtual galleries and online platforms have shifted ways art can be experienced as much as its own production. The development of net.art through the contextualisation and canonisation of post-internet art has exemplified this trajectory. This issue looks to understand the negotiation of common space and commonality through digital realms and the embodiment of digital manifestations in physical life and vice versa.
Historical narratives presented by Richter herself, alongside deeper considerations of collections processes by Sabine Himmelsbach at HEK Basel. Himmelsbach focuses on the specific challenges an institution has to deal with when curating and collecting media art. This is done from the personal perspective of HEK, using examples of the institution’s three main trajectories—presenting, mediating, and collecting digital art—and also addressing how public understanding can be developed within the social and political complexities of art and media technologies. This article provides an insight into how institutions can respond to changes in art forms and propose strategies for immersive learning programmes and how to treat the medium with respect. The other core thread was a sense of ‘being’, more specifically what does it mean to experience curatorial manifestations digitally and how our physical self is, in some ways, mutually entwined. Through interviews with Helen Hester and KA Bird, I wanted to convene spaces to tease out the labour and domestic context surrounding digital work, in both art making but also the ramifications it has on everyday life. The notion of the everyday and what it means to be digital and physical simultaneously became a central concern of the issue.
Dorothee Richter’s opening line in “Curating the Digital. A Historical Perspective states: [Digital Media] with their material infrastructures, their image production, their ideological constructions, and their acceleration, have changed and influenced all ways of living, of being, and being with.” Speculating the change of being-with and of the world (and others human and non-human) is an enticing proposition for cultural and curatorial thinkers. In making this proposition Richter begins to peel back the top layer of, what I see as, a wider critical concern presented by the speed in which being and experience has changed especially in the realm of cultural production, and more specifically what is defined as being-with and of the world. Who has power to define these fundamentals of existence, and, quite crudely, for whose benefit?
The effect on living in the world with the speed of digital influence is a far broader and deeper consideration across multiple fields, but specifically for curation, the speculation of being-with in a digitally melded ecosphere re-writes the (un)rules of engagement. When dealing with the making, processing and experience of practice since the birth of dot/com, Hotmail, second life, Chatroulette, and so on, the role of the curator has also changed over the last 30 years through conceptual shifts from the educational-turn, relational aesthetics, new institutionalism and more presently the role of the curator towards communing experience, facilitation of practice and seeing curatorial actions as an exchange of engagement-with multiple nodes of practice rather than narrating the world from an objective clock tower.
It is clear that the overall topic is expanding in many directions; therefore, the issue as a much-needed start to discuss curating under digital conditions. Each interview, artwork, and article establish, through contemporary practices that rework or examine the relationship of place, automation, labour, and archives, a relation to technological effects in production under varying political and social constructs. It is the amalgamation of many years of reflection and collaboration. I am excited to present and bring together the thoughts and words of such a variety of strong and needed voices that exist in the art, political, and academic worlds through a new viewpoint and into a different world than the original publication. The issue also seeks to consider media artworks that are process-oriented or immaterial (for example, only software), or networked systems and how they exist in gallery collecting processes and preserving of media art.
There are in-depth interviews: the first interview verges on trying to understand the politics of the digital in art-making and activism as well as in curatorial or collecting practices. In the second conversation, Paul, KA Bird (an artist based in Middlesbrough, UK), and Helen Hester (Professor at University of West London) discuss the role of the manifesto in a digital form through the Xenofeminist manifesto. They go on to consider what role art institutions can play in questioning gender, automation, and ideas of community through developments in digital technologies and communication platforms. The second interview is between Joshua Simon and Ruth Patir on the purpose and directions behind the exhibition In the Liquid, curated by Joshua for the Print Screen Festival in Bat Yam, a quarter of Tel Aviv. The project stretches the curatorial agency extremely far, insofar as the works shown are not artworks as such; these non-things are stretched along a circular rotunda of lightboxes, vitrines, and screens, suggesting a long-form sentence with no beginning or end, as described in the interview between Joshua and Ruth Patir: “The exhibition included, among other items, a 3D ‘glow in the dark’ printed gun, a bitcoin bank coin, a 1080i graphic card, a video of a 1984 Macintosh commercial, a book about the art of seduction, and hundreds of cans with Silicon Valley’s super-food Soylent Green.”
Alongside these interviews we have re-published one of the 3 commissioned artworks for the issue from the collective known as New Scenario. New Scenario have produced four posters that seek to demonstrate tools, routes, and suggestions for making works or curating in web browsers and in real life or traditional gallery spaces. These posters/works consider the curators’ influences on the setting, in which they choose a certain location, situation, or scenario for the (image) production or their influence on the stage design of the work. To round off the two artist commissions that are presented is visual essay of a three-person action poem performed by three computer-generated voices that looks to question routes of navigation or materials such as tarmacs or the fibre-optics that allow us to scan the web as spaces of divergence and utilities for alternate experiences.
What makes public space real? Is it the notion of touch, material, consciousness, ideology? The addition of new interviews with Chen Xiaowen, Li Zhenhua, Bi Xin, Zhou Jiangshan, Yang Jing and Artist Y offers new perspectives and positions towards the debates discussed in the original issue. The first of the two interviews between Chen Xiaowen, Li Zhenhua, and Bi Xin explores the development of curatorial histories and digital art through China. Specially focusing on the inter-generational developments since the 90s to present day. The conversation expands what and who is defined as curator particularly in line with the early Chinese curatorial approach, in which artists were also curators, and the current trend meaning these forms are less common, in line with the western shift of artist-led curation becoming far more prevalent across digital curatorial activity. The interview gives a chinese context to digital curatorial histories that can be read alongside key moments explored by Richter in her essay for the original issue from an additional perspective. This historical contextualisation is supported by a second interview with Zhou Jiangshan, Yang Jing and Artist Y in which they explore, through practices both beyond and informed by the white cube, the multiple paths and actions employed through digital art making and digital modes of communication and display specifically informed by works such as Screen Room and Games Site. The conversation reflects on the distribution, circulation, and consumption of images, the impact on definitions of curation through online and offline forms of content creation and the uniqueness of network structures in China in reflection on western approaches to network and image generation.
This Translated issue alongside the two new interviews hopes to expand the perspectives on art-making and curating that consider forms of production through contemporary digital networks as well as increased reliance on digital technologies. Originally published in April 2020 at the beginning of the Global COVID-19 Pandemic, the world, and its relationship to the digital, has dramatically changed. Re-reading the original contributions alongside new articles and artist contributions from creatives, interesting propositions can be seen compared to the world and viewpoints framing the original conversations.
The (.pdf) publication, “Scene Afterform: Bona-fide Sites and the Meta Community :)” mentioned as the starting point for the original issue, pulled together eleven small propositions for a digital future and ideas for how curating and artworks function in the wake of URL. The intervention by Omsk Social Club at Migros Museum fuer Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, was part of the series, “Speculative Curating”, curated by Dorothee Richter. For me, as one of the editors, the issue made it possible to form questions around what is community in a digital narrative and what is the relationship between the digital and IRL (in real life): “I have reached a conclusion that the defining of categories of URL and IRL being separate is tokenistic and does not politically enable any progress. This conclusion is arrived at through interviews with Helen Hester and Amanda Beech, who have offered great insight into how digital is a material that is just as real and physical as the hardware that frames it. Taking this into account I will now go on to present the articles you will interact with on the following pages.”
When I first introduced this issue I wanted to ask the reader to think of the work being presented as the possibility of creating something that repositions the status quo. More precisely, an attempt to contextualise what might create a ‘commoning’ idea, shaping our network as a community in this digital globalism. How can we get closer together and not further apart? How can these tools help to bridge? “the digital as a platform, and not as a blueprint” (conversation with Helen and KA Bird). I call for the reader to do the same through this issue. Its ideas are legitimate, and the works need to be considered with serious reflection and contemplation.
Paul Stewart is a researcher and Curator in critical practice and social engagement focusing on democracy and knowledge exchange, and critical pedagogy as a curatorial and artistic methodology. Curated over 20 exhibitions across the UK and Europe. Author of Art, Critical Pedagogy and Capitalism (Routledge 2021) co-author a new monograph on Educational Aesthetics with Bloomsbury (due 2024). Founder of the Middlesbrough Art Weekender and The Alternative Art College. Innovation in academic study and curatorial learning. He is a Principal lecturer and co-leads the MA Curating Apprentice at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Teesside University. He co-founded the Middlesbrough Art Weekender in 2017 and has set up collectives including the Alternative Art College (2011-2014) and currently co-running Bad Spirits with Dawn Bothwell.