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Digital Art at ARCO - an indicator of the markets of technological art products?

Reviewed by Marcus Neustetter
Director, The Trinity Session, The Gallery Premises
Johannesburg, South Africa


After most workshop, discussion and exhibition experiences of technology focused art in the context of Europe, I return to my context in South Africa and am stumped for a few days in positioning these experiences locally. While the exposure, the potential for new partnerships and the intellectual engagement is overwhelming, the local practicalities and limitations redirect my attention to the necessities, such as practical survival and need for education and development. Returning from ARCO and its discussion forums, however, the transition from a place with an active digital art scene and strong contemporary art market, to the local reality, was easier. The vast challenges in the dysfunctional third-world art industry, the sporadic and low-key explorations and experimentations with creative uses of technology, and the misappropriation and misrepresentation of these activities on the global platforms usually leave me lobbying for more sensitive and inclusive global processes at platforms, such as ARCO.

What helped address the contextual gap of difference was the question that Gerfried Stocker posed to the invited panelists on the discussion forum ‘Directions of Digital Art’, challenging opinions on the future of digital art. How do we see the future of digital art? This brought forward fundamental issues of the very term digital art, classification of the medium and criteria that seems to define this mode of production.

Particularly exciting in the responses, especially by the panelists representing a point of view from the developing contexts (such as, homogeneously described as, Africa, South America, India), in my opinion, was the simultaneous diversity and similarity in the presented environments, the experiences, approaches, and the logical deductions. Ideas around self-organization, survival, education, and community were present in various presentations of these individual speakers, creating exciting links for unpacking and evolving questions of locally relevant approaches and applications.

This was juxtaposed by contemporary artistic examples and historical reflections by artists and historians, which alluded to a return to the simple reflection on the processes of engaging with a system (be it the context of a society, a technology or modes of communication), interacting and enabling audiences, and acknowledging artistic intention as a definition of an artwork.

The resulting discussion presented perspectives on this openly defined space of digital art in relation to the contemporary art industry. This also highlighted new communities, audiences and markets that come with the domain of new technologies.

With the overburdened question, Is it art?, presenting itself towards the end of the discussion of the position of digital art, the exciting aspect to this particular exchange was that beyond the conference hall it was being dealt with practically at the ARCO exhibitions.

While an exhibition series was taking place at the Centro Cultural Conde Duque, presenting an impressive curation of digital culture, such as the high-end Digital Transit exhibition (ARS Electronica and Medialabmadrid), interesting meeting points of art and new technologies found their ways into the halls of ARCO. Not only did the Blackbox act as a platform and the Telefonica Foundation exhibition present their new media prizewinners, but digital artworks could be seen amongst the more traditional media in various gallery stands.

After the panel I was interested to find out more about these works that were appearing within this art market platform. After several discussions it became clear that these artworks were, in fact, being traded in the art-market beyond the specialist galleries, such as Bitforms in New York. I was not only pleased to hear this in response to the above-mentioned discussion, but also in my personal position around the necessity of market development for the digitally focused artworks.

Usually this type of exposure just reminds me of the vast gap in my local industry, larger than the digital divide, a gap between the art and its underdeveloped markets. A gap that makes me question the survival of digital art that wants to emerge as technology becomes more accessible and prolific, but currently has no industry to tap into or develop. So, I return to South Africa after my discussions with my fellow panelists and an experience of ARCO, and I find that while the gap will remain in the near future, the very nature of the discussions in this forum and the inclusion of the digital artworks in the context of the traditional art industry gives me hope that the production of digital art will become not only an item of trade but also one that in itself can too develop new markets in the art industry through its technological networks and inclusive communities.




Updated 1st April 2006

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