As we enter our second period of lockdown in England, the arts and how they stay afloat are a cause for concern. With rules involving social distancing and galleries and other venues facing closure, artists have had to look beyond the possibility of there being a physical viewing option to present their work and have instead turned to online platforms.
Exhibiting work virtually online is nothing new, but has until more recently been viewed as something extra; a practicality to assist previewing or posts to attract attention. These days there is a considerable difference between an online exhibition and scrolling down your phone through Instagram or Pinterest.
There is no denying the impact a physical space has on the overall experience of the audience when encountering an artist’s work. Robbed of the physical space, it could be said that presently an artist’s options are considered limited, restricted and have yet to be fully established in the virtual world. With this new wave of exploring and viewing artwork, there is a fear that the artist’s voices and effect have been limited and watered down, that the works have dwindled and become more digestible and with that comes the fear of the work lacking impact.
On the other hand, the artist’s role has changed and developed through the means of an online presence. Technological advancements have given opportunities for artists to manipulate the way in which audiences view and experience art. 3D generated virtual reality can give the audience a novel experience. Different types of platforms enable artists to place their audience in an alternative world, such as through video tours, 3D tours, live radio and video streaming.
So how can online exhibitions move in ways to ensure their impact and create further dialogue through the digital space? The answer to this must surely lie to a large extent with the curation process, as it is through the actual presentation of their work that artists create dialogue. A digital platform can become a mere representation or re-enactment of the physical exhibition with more attention to camera lens, angle, movement and direction through the exhibits.
It can also be an invitation to further embrace technology by adopting an avatar and exploring the exhibit using a VR headset. Such advancements have the effect of encouraging artists to rethink the presentation of their work and offer audiences the opportunity to experience something different.
However, the concern here is not only about how artists have adapted, but how much audiences are willing to adapt themselves. Being one click away, an online exhibition in theory provides greater access, freedom from time restraints and is less costly than a more traditional physical exhibition space. Even so, to the more discerning viewer the inability to employ all the senses and engage more meaningfully with the exhibits will surely be a hindrance to their overall experience.
What this amounts to is that the future for the artist rests with their ability to show resilience and the ability to adapt. One way of demonstrating this is by the increasing use of technological advancements in order to reach their audience and continually create the means to engage in meaningful dialogue. In doing so they will open up alternative pathways for reflection, variation and communication. Ultimately the measure of success rests with the ability of the art world to negotiate these uncertain times and be continue to be characteristically resourceful and inventive.