What is the best website for placing art
Never again dreary viewing rooms
How to make a good online exhibition
March 26, 2020 • Text by Anna Meinecke
Nobody has to like trade fairs. The opposite has long been considered chic. But wouldn't it have been kind of nice if the viewing rooms at Art Basel Hong Kong had been designed in an aesthetically pleasing manner? What if you had offered visitors to the digital exhibition stands more than slides in white cube aesthetics and price tags?
Portrait of Bob Bicknell-Knight. Courtesy of the Artist.
The corona pandemic presents the art world with new challenges. Your actors - from very big to very small - are now pushing their way onto the Internet. Those who respect themselves can show their exhibitions online. The result, however, is often extremely unsatisfactory.
Bob Bicknell-Knight has experience with online exhibitions. Instead of white walls, he offers visitors to his platform “isthisit?” meanwhile 95 unusual, exciting, sometimes bulky shows that look very different from what the big institutions and galleries want to sell you these days. He talks to gallerytalk.net about exhibition formats as an art form.
gallerytalk.net: Various galleries, museums and trade fairs are hectically setting up online viewing rooms. As someone who has been exhibiting online for a long time: How do you feel about the current activism in the art world?
Bob Bicknell-Knight: It's interesting to watch it - and also how quickly it all happens. I think it's great that people are now appreciating online projects more because of the pandemic. Most of the new “online exhibitions” I have seen so far, however, do not consider the actual medium of the Internet at all. It's not about interactivity, and it's not about what you can do with a website.
These “online exhibitions” are basically a picture or video of a work of art accompanied by text about the work of art. At an online art fair, for example, a work is digitally processed so that it looks like it is hanging in a white cube. In such “online exhibitions” a simple website is used like a white wall. And they think of galleries, museums and trade fairs in a similar way to the walls of the offline exhibition spaces that they usually use. I am sure: Many institutions consciously ignore the fact that you can do a lot more with a website than simply arrange pictures next to text. Maybe because the way they do it is quick and easy to put on a show. Or they just don't care to take other, more interesting and interactive paths.
What factors should exhibitors consider before planning an online exhibition?
There is a lot there, after all, you can do a lot with online rooms. Average users spend less than a minute on a website - statistically this corresponds roughly to the time that people spend in a gallery space that can be physically entered before going to work. You have to consider that! All visitors to an online exhibition can simply close the tab with one click and continue to watch their favorite series. The online exhibition format must therefore be exciting and stimulating. It has to entice visitors to stay on the page. Of course, the art has to be exciting too. But if it's presented in a bland and dated form, no one will look at it online.
Screenshot from wwwwwwwww.jodi.org. Courtesy of JODI.
What is the specific difference between the clean online showrooms of large institutions or galleries and your exhibitions on the “isthisit?” Platform?
A good online exhibition is a work of art in itself. I am trying to link the format of the exhibition with its content concept. Anyone looking at the exhibition should find themselves in an environment that can be explored. Visitors * should become part of the staging through interaction in order to discover the individual works that are hidden in the total work of art. Perhaps larger institutions don't do this because it can be a bit tricky for visitors to navigate this type of experience and “find” the art on display.
For many of our readers, that may sound abstract at first. Do you have a specific example that might help you understand your train of thought?
One of the main websites of the Internet art collective JODI represents the idea in a very extreme way. You click through text snippets with hyperlinks and explore a kind of work of art. Or Cassie McQuarter's “Black Room”. This is a browser-based game in which you have to change the size and shape of the Internet browser in order to advance. Both examples are individual works by artists, but I follow the same approach with my online exhibitions: the path to art is already a work of art.
Cassie McQuater, Black Room, 2018 (silent). Video game, duration variable. Courtesy of the artist.
If our readers * want to get a quick insight into what is possible with online exhibitions: Which three shows on “isthisit?” should you look?
There are several shows on the platform that put the idea of interactivity into practice well. One of them is “When I Grew Up (my own private ZAD by the sea)”, a group exhibition curated by Data Rhei in 2018. Works by Louise Ashcroft, Iyas D-Toth, Corentin Darré, Adem Elahel, Lisa Fetva, Fleury Fontaine, Hanne Lippard, Erin Mitchell, Jonathan Monaghan, Sara Sadik and Claire Serres will be shown. Ugo-Lou Chmod designed the card for the exhibition. Various letters are placed on it, which move across the screen and leave a trace in the process. If you click on it, you can see the work of the artists.
Then there is a show that is a little simpler: “Please don't stand in the middle of the road waiting for me to get you on camera”. I curated it myself in 2019. The exhibition is based on a route on which different images appear. If you click on it, you can discover works by Aram Bartholl, Petra Cortright, Benjamin Grosser, Joe Hamilton and Pilvi Takala.
When I Grew Up (my own private ZAD by the sea), 2018 (Installation view). Courtesy of Data Rhei and isthisit?
And finally I would like to say “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to Instagram it, does it really happen?” recommend. ITS KIND OF HARD TO EXPLAIN (IKO) curated the exhibition in 2018. Originally the group included the artists Corey Bartle-Sanderson, Steven Gee and Oliver Durcan. You have invited other artists and authors to each produce a piece of text that relates to one of their texts. So every new text referred to the previous one. The show itself was incredibly interactive - but more for the artists than for the visitors.
It seems to me that I have to be much more concentrated online when visiting an exhibition than offline. The worlds are complex, the navigation is not familiar ... Is it simply a matter of getting used to?
As I said: if an online exhibition is done correctly - that is, interactive and captivating, it certainly demands more from its visitors. On the other hand, the interesting offline exhibitions demand more and more, right? It takes longer to experience and understand. It is important not to give the visitors of an exhibition the responsibility for gaining knowledge, as large museums do, for example, by simply arranging texts next to images.
Aram Bartholl, Map, 2006–2019. Steel, aluminum mesh, steel cables, 900 × 520 × 20 cm. Courtesy of the artist. Photograph by Anne Foures, ‘From here on’, Rencontres d’Arles photo festival.
What makes a good artistic presentation on Instagram?
That is up to each person individually. But one should remember that Instagram is the most important marketing tool for artists at the moment. There you can effectively sell yourself and your work to the whole world. Personally, I try to make my profile as clean and easy to understand as possible.
What has made the internet attractive as a place for artistic creation?
When I said “isthisit?” In 2016 was the easiest, most economical way to learn what it means to be a curator - and what it could mean. I had never thought about it before and was incredibly naive. At that time I was still doing my bachelor's degree in fine arts. I had only just started to get excited about artists like Constant Dullaart and Harm van den Dorpel, artists who use the internet as a medium. I wanted to be a small part of this digital space. None of my friends made art that suited my interests. That's why I turned to the internet and created a platform through which I can interact with hundreds of artists and curators who are interested in work similar to me.
isthisit? issue 6. Cover art: AES + F, New Liberty, 1996. Digital collage, c-print. Courtesy of the artists.
And why did you stay on the internet?
To this day, I am absolutely thrilled that it is possible to work with so many different people from all over the world simply by sending emails from my London apartment. And I like that anyone with an internet connection also has access to internet-based art. That's why I become “isthisit?” keep going for a while.
Bob Bicknell-Knight is an artist, curator, and publisher. He lives and works in London. On his platform “isthisit?” He has curated online exhibitions since 2016 and also invites other curators to participate. He also offers an artist residency. Under the title “isthisit?” a print magazine is also published.
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