Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Danger of Curatorial Regression

I've been getting into some more dissertation research this afternoon (thank you twitter), and it continues to amaze me just how much information is held within social media and networks. I know that this is a very, very obvious point. But seriously, the amount I'm learning through a series of never-ending links is outrageous.

Picking up on hashtag trend #artsdigital, I've been following the days discussion prompted by Nesta's Digital R&D in the Arts forums held in Manchester (info here) happening right now.

"Nesta, in partnership with the Arts Council England and Arts and Humanities Research Council, has launched a £7 million Digital R&D Fund for the Arts. This will support research and development projects that use digital technology to enhance audience reach and/or explore new business models in the arts."

From a pilot fund which began in 2011, there are a couple of interesting case studies that I've been having a look into. Reading through some examples of successful collaborations between art and technology has helped me understand what a huge category of practice this really is: there are many different ways in which art can engage with technology, and indeed, how technology can engage with art. Whilst innovation and arts strategy progression are fascinating, changes in how we see/value art and technology (separately and together) surely induce some problematic situations for a number of roles in the arts.

This case study in particular has raised some concerns for me:

CultureCloud – pioneering new ways of curating exhibitions and engaging with artists and audiences online

New Art Exchange with Artfinder and Birmingham City University

(Link here)

The above documentation of the project certainly illustrates multiple benefits that the scheme produced: 'widening horizons'  was mentioned, as was an experience of developing and understanding the relationship between art and technology. (I really liked the idea of a 'resident technologist' found in another case study: Happenstance - I thought it was a brilliant and boldly experimental role that really worked for that project). Another point that I appreciated was that this kind of scheme really concerns itself with inverse power play; and it is true that with ever-developing accessible forms of media and creative technology, more people have more options in terms of making and what is made.
Having said this, for me the real focus of this project seemed blurred: the technological medium for the strategy of the show seemed more important than the art. A democratic facebook vote for the public's favorite piece is certainly a way of letting people interact with the art world, but that does not make the art interactive - nor is this a revolutionary concept. Whilst arts competitions are brilliant opportunities for creative workers, they do not result in an effective art exhibition within the gallery space. It was said that the scheme resulted in a 'chaotic' mix of random works, and thus as someone who places importance on the art of curation, the resulting exhibition shown on the above video did absolutely nothing for me.

Thinking about and acting upon progressive technological advances in the arts (and in particular in the galleries) signifies exciting new possibilities for our experience of art, and it is brilliant that organisations like Nesta exist. But let's hope that one technological step forward will not have to mean taking two curatorial steps back.