Keeping Culture Alive Through Virtual Experience
Even as lockdowns are lifted and vaccines are becoming more and more accessible, we are still very much in a pandemic. Some restaurants and stores maintain strict policies around masking and temperature checks and everyday people, who otherwise might not, are watching the actions of politicians to see how their daily lives will be affected. Through virtual viewing rooms, galleries are striving to continue working with artists and for a public audience of viewers.
The efforts to approach this new and enduring reality, while also keeping culture alive through providing an access point to the arts, are being undertaken in notable ways through institutions. For example, the Oslo-based Munch Museum is showcasing works from Edvard Munch, including his famous The Scream, but also introducing, or in some cases reacquainting, audiences with over 7,000 pieces that delve deeper into the psychological pain and varied mastered techniques of the artist, going back as far as his childhood drawings.
Paris' Galerie Frank Elbaz is hosting a debut show, in person, with painter Kenjiro Okazaki titled TOPICA PICTUS/Rue de Turenne, which will run through May of this year and features art that focuses on the theme of “Being Able to Go Anywhere Because We Are Not Able to Go Anywhere”. Simultaneously, the gallery is also presenting virtual viewing rooms for the works of artists like photographer Ari Marcopoulis and surrealist painter and sculptor Madeleine Roger-Lacan.
Beatriz Esguerra Art in Bogatá continues their pre-COVID roster of 3D virtual tours with recent works by artist Consuelo Manriquee on display for an exhibition titled “Mending the Female Spirit”.
Credit photo: BASTIAN
Locally in the UK, BASTIAN’s, Rauschenberg exhibition Metal, Ink, and Dye: Late Works from Captiva Island, shifted from a planned live exhibition to a virtual one - inevitably, or at least potentially, increasing the possible audience size through increased visibility.
Much like Art Basel’s OVR: Portals, which focus on “artistic practices that interrogate the parameters that have shaped our contemporary condition”, the BASTIAN show, featuring narrated video, examines the social and economic state of the US in a way that is simultaneously reflective of the artist’s own time and the state of the Western world today. These examinations are especially relevant in the light of a new normal and a search for new ways of being, as a cultural institution or otherwise.
Speaking with BASTIAN’s gallery director, Ross Thomas, for LAPP about the new format of the show and its importance, the ins and outs of these adjustments and their significance in maintaining a thriving arts culture came to light in unexpected ways.
Credit photo: BASTIAN
Did the concept of virtual viewing rooms feel like a natural method of keeping culture & the arts alive, or was it more of a necessary response to the current COVID-19 lockdowns; something that just seemed feasible while facing limitations around who could go where and when?
"We recognised the need to expand the gallery’s presence in the digital sphere well before the COVID pandemic arrived. As the move to digital became the norm and online interaction and consumption of art became more commonplace, we viewed the development of a dedicated online viewing/exhibition space as [a] natural progression in the gallery’s evolution.
As a result, we were already well placed to transition elements of the gallery operations/exhibitions online when the COVID lockdowns came into force as we had all the necessary infrastructure already in place."
The virtual show being organised, now seems to be in line with the purpose of COVID restrictions. Would you say that work that ties into our simultaneously limited, and in a way, increased ability to experience art through various viewing rooms, should focus on a subject matter that addresses the specific circumstances allowing for an increase in this sort of engagement with art?
"No, I think that would be a limiting factor – which in terms of the creative process for the artist you would always wish to avoid. I don’t think it’s a necessity to only show works online that respond directly to the concept of the viewing room or are more easily presented in that way.
The digital approach democratises the consumption of art – nearly everyone has a mobile phone so everyone can engage with art online if they choose to – why limit what those people can see just because the vehicle they are using is a digital one.
That said, I think some of the most exciting works to come out of artist’s studios in the last two years have been direct responses to the COVID lockdowns. This period of inward reflection for artists whilst they are confined to their homes or studios has, on the whole, been a hugely creative one, so I think we will be seeing the fruits of this labour for a long time to come."
Do you see Metal, Ink, & Dye,... or the audience perception of it, having changed as a result of mounting this show virtually?
"Our current presentation sits in a sort of limbo between the physical and the virtual. The exhibition is fully installed in the physical gallery space but can only be engaged with online. It’s a nice stepping-stone between the physical and the digital but it means we didn’t have to compromise anything when it came to how we wanted to exhibit work.
With regard to audience perception, that’s a tough question – I hope it hasn’t and from the wonderful feedback we have received I don’t believe it has!"
What were the logistics of converting this show away from an in-person, more traditional gallery viewing system? Was a new curatorial approach necessary because of the change in venue or accessibility?
"Our curatorial approach to installation didn’t change at all, but we added additional digital features knowing the work would only be visible online. These involved producing a narrated exhibition video to guide visitors around the space to mirror the experience they would have in the physical gallery but also producing a VR walkthrough to adapt the physical gallery online. Logistically we had to contend with producing all of this content prior to the lockdown coming into effect but once finalised everything exhibition-related could be handled remotely."
Have your own thoughts about exploring these latest works shifted in response to the way that the exhibition will now be presented?
"We are constantly seeking to challenge the cemented narratives of art history and introduce fresh approaches through our exhibition programming. But, yes, in a wider sense I think the COVID-19 has certainly accelerated our transition towards a more concerned digital approach and as a result, what can be achieved in the digital sphere that we can’t or aren’t able to do in the physical space.
We are excited about how our next steps in the virtual world will become a key part of the gallery history in the future."
Written by Ashley Jones