How Art is Getting to Grips with On and Offline Space

Francesca Gavin
Feb 2, 2014 8:19PM

In an increasingly digital world, art is no longer just something to experience in a three-dimensional space. Artists, galleries, and institutions are now seriously exploring how to make art that works online, offline, and in the blurry space in between.

Many artists that started working with technology have moved increasingly into sculpture—perfect examples are Cory Arcangel’s kinetic objects, Aleksandra Domanović’s robot-like sculptural hands, and Ryan Trecartin’s embedded video installations with Lizzie Fitch. There seems to be an immediate connection with virtual space and three-dimensionality. Canadian artist Jon Rafman points out, “In my work the virtual and the real are constantly bleeding into one another. My 3D-rendered images function as prototypes for real-life objects.” The work in his series, such as New Age Demanded and Brand New Paint Job,both exist as digital images and 3D rooms or objects.

Brenna Murphy is an artist who makes work online and three dimensionally, both under her own name and with her group MHSR, working with sound installations and sculptural instruments. “I find that working fluidly between all of these modes can open new doorways at the crossroads,” she says. “Making sculptures with an awareness of the internet can bring an expanded dimension to the physical.” Murphy uses CNC routers, laser cutters, and 3D printers to manifest physical objects from her hyper-digital landscapes.

Commercial galleries are beginning to focus seriously on artists who have practices that cross between the digital and real. Galleries including Team and Untitled in New York, and Future Gallery in Berlin, are showing work from artists who play with this intersection, like Tabor Robak, Brad Troemel, and Artie Vierkant.

Undervolt & Co. is an interesting new online video art label run by artist-curators Yoshi Sodeoka, Nicholas O’Brien, and Johnny Woods. The label was begun as a way for artists to publish and distribute their digital moving image artwork beyond the limitations of YouTube, Vimeo, and the frame of the internet browser. “Physical media seems dead and buried, so we are trying to discover a new way to encourage more concentrated viewing,” Woods notes. The dream of the project is to create a community of collectors, who are enabled to support and experience digital artworks in a slower, more focused way. Pieces by Sabrina Ratté and Jimmy Joe Roche, for example, are meant to be downloaded and played offline. As O’Brien highlights, “The internet is saturated with so many things and we are accustomed to the convenience of it. But maybe it’s time to go one step backward for a little bit and review what’s been good about offline experiences. I’m sure there’s a lot of good things we can learn about by doing so.”

Legion TV is a London exhibition space in Haggerston that grew out of an online space. “What we wanted to explore with our online projects was the notion of the ‘hand’ and the impact digital technology and digital systems are having on the way we interact with one another,” the director Keira Blakey notes. They have shown a number of artists online who do not normally work in that area, for example the installation artist Samara Scott who created a meditation of materials and texture made from a stream of over 120 pop-up video clips on the gallery’s site. Their online shows, like real exhibitions, are transient and only shown for a month or two. “It’s really important to us because that’s the nature of the internet, it’s transient.”

Museums are now taking online artworks seriously, as extensions of their curatorial aims. The New Museum has established a notable program of monthly online commissions and projects, the latest of which is by Oliver Laric, an artist who emerged online but has worked with sculptural objects and installation to great success in real space. For his project Lincoln 3D Scans, he scanned and published 3D models of work in the collection of a small museum in Lincoln in the UK, which were uploaded for artists to re-appropriate as they chose. The conversational results are fascinating. The Serpentine in London and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris have also started online exhibition projects. The screen is no longer the sad younger sibling to the grown-up white cube.

Francesca Gavin