The more I go visit exhibitions, the less I feel excited about traditional, ‘ordinary’ art. I probably like 20% of the paintings I see, not to mention sculptures. On the other hand, the more and more I experience non-traditional art, the more I fall in love with it. Multimedia art is going to be more and more central in the art scene in the years to come and everyone should start approaching it and talking about it. Because contemporary art focuses not just on the contemporary, but also on the future: on what technology has been achieving in the past years and what innovations it will bring in the next decades.
If this first paragraph actually had that much power that the reader started googling ‘multimedia art’, or ‘multimedia art gallery’, it will be verifiable how one of the galleries looking to this digital future is Annka Kultys Gallery, in London. It focuses precisely on future generations of artists who work mainly on digital platforms: this represents a challenge not only because the program of the gallery furthers away from the ‘normal’, ‘traditional’ art, but also because it forces to ‘think out of the box’, in curatorial and commercial terms. It is easy to hang paintings on a wall, but how do you handle the projection of a video? Do you use headphones, or do you keep the audio on? And who wants to buy an app made by the artist if you can also find it for free on Google Play?
And these same questions have been asked when preparing the last exhibition Non-Places, a solo show by the Swiss artist Marc Lee – which, by the way, closes tomorrow, on 25th May! It comprises four artworks, four apps designed by the artist that underline how every space, every environment is inevitably connected to the online world. Through these apps showing in real time the tweets that people uploaded in a certain location, it becomes clear how virtual space is nowadays a huge, new world, almost mimicking physical cities but with no real connection to them, if not only for that ‘location’ icon we activate on our phones.
And to have an even clearer sense of this, the app 10.000 Moving Cities – Same but Different, AR (2018) underlines how even in the area where we are standing right now, people are tweeting and the environment is being absorbed by virtuality. With AR and an iPad, we are able to see blocks forming simil-buildings containing tweets people have been uploading in that same area where we are. But wait… a sheep! Weird animals start appearing on the screen. This apparent randomness reflects nowadays’ confusion: our human world is destroying, for no apparent reason, the flora and fauna of the Earth. Places are emerging and environments are constantly changing, which has an important impact on animals, insects, and all those ‘other’ beings around us.
This parallelism is actually quite powerful, and if, on the moment, we laugh at seeing a sheep on the gallery floor and we are more focused on enjoying the AR experience, on our way home we reflect about what we have seen, and we finally analyse the artwork and the important meanings it hides.
And the same happens with Me, Myself and I, the most interactive AR app of the four. The same concept of buildings made up of blocks is used once again, but in this case they need to be filled with the visitor’s face. The phone takes automatic shots with the internal camera, and each of them goes and fills a block. The user is required to travel across this multi-faced city until every block is filled in order to access the next level. There are 6 levels in total, and while the first one requires 2/3 minutes to finish, the last one could also take up until 30/40 minutes.
Apart from the fact that visitors unconsciously help one another finish the levels, one of the most impressive things about this ‘game’ is, once again, its practicality, how the visitors have the desire to fulfil the practical features the app has. They want to be part of the artwork, not just a contemplative audience. And the same happens: the visitors become aware of the message the artist is trying to communicate by seeing their same faces literally stuck on the buildings of a virtual city. They reflect on the message, narcissism and the cult of oneself’s images, at the basis of nowadays’ society.
The thing is, I hope that visitors actually think about what they see, and they don’t forget the whole experience as soon as it is over. AR, and all the other important technological innovations employed in art, are some of the most powerful artistic mediums today because they are the news. No one (or, at least, just very few people) have VR visors in their homes, and as soon as a new VR exhibition is on it is bombarded with visitors because they all want to live this new experience everyone has been talking about. But the meaning conveyed by the artwork cannot be forgotten: the medium has to be just a way of enhancing what the artist has been wanting to communicate to the world. And, maybe, this is the biggest challenge of technology and multimedia art: presenting an artwork is not enough, the visitors also have to be guided through its usage.
But at least it is a challenge, and it stimulates the art-world to think in new terms. Without challenges, there is only boredom.