There are Times and Places: Online Exhibitions Before Online Exhibitions Were a Thing
Digital exhibitions have become a common and expected alternative in the current era where we have been unable to view art in person. However, the form of the online exhibition is longstanding and there are many projects that have been working to define the genre well before the onset of the pandemic. Koffler.Digital is one such example. A free online program associated with the Koffler Centre for the Arts, Koffler.Digital has been producing digital programming since 2016. This digital space has two key initiatives, first to provide space for experimentation in digital mediums, and second to create space for conversations at the intersection of social justice and artistic practice from a range of perspectives.
In October 2019, Koffler.Digital launched There are Times and Places, curated by Letticia Cosbert Miller. The exhibition showcases work by Wuulhu, Mani Mazinani, Coco Guzmán, asinnajaq, and Dayna Danger to reflexively explore the way that we interact in digital spaces and how the internet both functions and fails to create alternative spaces for building community and sharing knowledge. This exhibition uses the digital realm to create an exhibition space that is essential to the show and irreplicable in a physical gallery space.
"Enter There are Times and Places" Button. Source.
Upon entering the exhibition site, the visitor is confronted with a colourful home screen full of movement reminiscent of an early 2000’s Tumblr page ornamented with floating cursor-sensitive graphs, an assortment of raining emojis, and a periodic droning ambient track. As you begin to scroll through the content it becomes clear that the page is fully outfitted with early internet iconography including a roflcopter and the infamous dancing banana gif.
There are Times and There are Places, Title Page. Source.
Viewers can scroll through the page to access the four digital projects that make up the exhibition or use the 8-bit inspired navigation bar at the top of the window.
The curatorial essay, Time, Place and Cyberspace: who gets to play and how written by Emma Steen begins with a pair of questions from Metis Cree filmmaker and director Loretta Todd posed in 1996. She asks “what ideology will have agency in cyberspace?” And further, “will cyberspace enable people to communicate in ways that rupture the power relations of the colonizer and the colonized.” This inquiry reveals the goals of the exhibition which seeks to question the power dynamics of online spaces and beyond this, use the digital medium to make art accessible to audiences that are often left out of formalized art spaces. In this space, viewers are free to interact with the work on their own terms, unobstructed by the pressures and gatekeeping of the art world. The work purposefully complicates the boundaries between the artist and the viewer by emphasizing viewer interpretation, interaction, and participation with the work.
Wuulhu, Emergency Indingeous Meme Machine, 2019. Source.
Of the four projects, Coco Guzmán’s What is that? stands out with its humorous tongue-in-cheek approach. The work simulates an imagined archaeological dig by aliens after all humans have "died by each other's hand" in the not-so-distant future. Upon entering an animated archeological site, the visitor selects where to dig and is presented with a piece of technology and three interpretations by the alien civilization exploring earth. The visitor then makes a selection, cementing this interpretation onto the newly occupied land. Upon unearthing a polaroid camera, the game asks, “what is this?” “A very weird experience.” “A mirror that is always late.” “Or a very rude thing that sticks out its tongue.” While the options are both cute and humorous, they reflect on modes of knowledge production and the way that understandings of the world and communities can be misinterpreted and shift over time.
Coco Guzmán, What is that?, 2019. Source.
Unlike the other three works in the show which are highly interactive, asinnajaq and Dayna Danger’s video Intimacy Piece returns the audience to the position of a viewer but keeps them close through the pull of mystery. A zoomed-in black and white video rests on a pool of water zoomed in on a pair of figures that never seem to touch. In her curatorial essay, Steen reflects on the tension of this piece stating: “Together we share in the neverending search for something meaningful in a space that is by design devoid of affect.” As we are currently confined to interacting through the internet this piece is especially visceral. As the bodies slide by under the water the viewer is tempted to reach out and touch them, reminded of the paradoxical distance and isolation imposed by the internet as it seemingly holds us together.
When most online exhibitions simply seem to be in pursuit of replicating physical spaces, the collection of these works in an online format proposes the potential of thinking through the online format in a more intentional way. As I contemplated how these works might come together in a physical space, I was confronted with an image of myself playing on an iPad in an otherwise empty room. These works feel made for the web as they consider the internet as a space of exploration, critique, and interaction. In this case, the online format is of irreplicable value, removing the physical and social boundaries that have barred many from art spaces, in favour of screens and an exploration of interactive digital media to engage a wider range of participants. While There are Times and Places is deeply engaged in developing an open and accessible online space, the influx in online exhibitions has necessitated a critical reflection on the use of digital spaces. While the online realm permits spaces for collaboration and community building among like-minded individuals, Steen points out that “cyberspace remains a space of default whiteness.” Thus, as we consider how the digital world allows marginalized communities to exert personalized agency it is important not to do so without question.
Mani Mazinani, Bounded, 2019. Source.
View the exhibition here, in indefinite cyberspace.