Britt Donahue-Asst. A&L
The rapid changes technology has brought to our daily lives have left many artists with questions about what this increasing digitization means for humanity. What do we lose when the majority of our social interactions take place on a screen? And what do we gain when distance is irrelevant? What does a life look like when it takes place virtually?
Back in October, Rhode Island College hosted a digital art exhibition in the Bannister Gallery called “Forever/Fornever.” The exhibition, curated by artist Chris Romero featured talented artists from around the world; Morehshin Allahyari, Jacob Ciocci, Kenta Cobayashi, Terrell Davis, exonemo, Miao Ying, Akihiko Taniguchi, Lu Yang, and RIC’s very own (Frank) Wang Yefeng.
Forever/Fornever showcased art created using new digital media technology, resulting in art that looks very different from anything before it. For his take on what it’s all about, I contacted Romero to ask him a few questions.
What can you tell me about yourself, your art and your experience on curating new media shows?
I work primarily as a curator and writer focusing on new media art. Another way to describe this type of work is time-based media, or simply media art. I’m interested in how technology and digital culture shapes and changes our lives in social and political contexts. I am particularly interested in learning more about art outside of a western perspective.
Briefly describe the Forever/Fornever show.
Forever Fornever came about following a research residency I participated in while in Tokyo. The show is about observing the lines between the physical world and the virtual world. Oftentimes we think our lives in these two realms is separate, but I would argue that at this point the two have completely merged. Of course, many individuals don’t use technology and some do not even have the internet, but for a majority of people living in major cities, media influences life in a way that it never has even in the past ten years. So Forever Fornever, is about those borders between two realms, but also about breaking down international borders, and about the border between the present and future, which I also view as blended together.
What is new/digital media art, and why is important in the artworld?
Hmm, this is a big question.
Foremost, I believe new media art is different from digital art. Digital art falls into the category of new media art, and new media art falls into the category of media art. I consider any artwork that utilizes technology in some way as media art. To me, technology is not reserved to things you can buy at an electronics store. It can be a car, or forks and knives. However, new media art can be described as works using video, television monitors, and other devices. Generally these two things “new media art” and “media art” are analog. Whereas, digital art is of course digital. Digital art requires technology as we often describe it – computers, cell phones, the internet, and so forth.
Joseph Beuys as a sculptor and media artist for using ephemeral fat.
Nam June Paik as a new media artist for using old televisions.
Lu Yang is a digital artist who uses high-definition and computer animation software.
I don’t like to prescribe to definitions too often, and using the word “new” to describe something is often silly, but, these terms are useful when we speak. They do however help to describe different moments in time.
Time-based media is a more proper term as it is about how the artwork changes radically over time. Generally, artworks in this category need much more care in terms of conservation when compared to a painting or sculpture. The works are fragile or ephemeral, in a temporal and spatial sense. They can change in appearance depending on the type of room you put them in or the type of display they are played on.
I’m not sure these types of artworks are important to the “artworld” per se. The art world is often driven by fads and economic factors. For the artworld, maybe this type of art can at times provide spectacle and variety, but certainly many people in the artworld avoid these types of art. That is often because they don’t understand it, it is too complicated, too difficult to exhibit, or because they come from a background that dictates painting as the one true art form. Maybe then, it is important to the artworld as a way to destroy conventions of what art is or can be.
More importantly, media works are important to the world in general. These types of works can bring new visitors into museums and galleries, it can show possibilities and break this notion of high and low culture in and outside of art. The best media works can also talk about social and political issues in ways that other art forms cannot. I suggest viewing Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s “Level of Confidence” in this regard. Media art is important because it speaks to the times we live in. It shows us that art does not have to be only reserved for painting and sculpture. Any material can be a creative medium.
What is your inspiration and influence as new media curator?
It has changed from time to time. There was a moment I was very interested in video games as an artistic medium. I focused a lot on installation art and interactive/participatory art.
I still enjoy artwork with these components, but increasingly I am interested in illustration and animation. Recently, especially in regards to the political climate in the US and the “artworld” I have taken an interested in working with artists from outside of the US. I especially want to work with artists outside of western ideologies and conventions. I want to break down borders and work with emerging and underrepresented artists.
What’s your thought process when you start curating a show?
I think about my own experiences in daily life, what am I concerned about? Death, love, an iPhone addiction? I see my digital life being deeply connected to my everyday mundane life. Reading fiction also deeply affects my inspiration for exhibitions.
Pop culture? Y2k? 9-11? How much do they influence your curatorial project?
These topics definitely influence my projects because they are things I have seen and experienced on a daily basis.
Pop culture is always a factor. But it isn’t common pop culture like listening to a Kanye West song. As an example, I’m currently working in Korea and I’m fascinated by how the local culture in Seoul uses the messaging app Kakao. A friend of mine named Yaloo is also creating a works about the imagery from Korean make up commercials.
Y2K influences me the least out of these topics, but I’m sure it is there. That time period was strange, seeing the millennium change. But it is certainly overshadowed (rightfully so) by 9/11. Maybe Y2K is kind of poetic then, everyone was expecting either the world to collapse from technology or that we would enter the millennium like Will Smith’s song, with flash and pop. Instead we got 9/11, followed by the economic crash, followed by our world today run by fear.
I can’t say how these things affect my curatorial work outright. I was pretty young when 9/11 happened. I didn’t even know what curating was back then. But, I certainly have spoken to most people in my life about where they were that day. And that day certainly affected politics and the world we live in today.
What can you tell us about the kissing tv? What was your influence? Are there any other pieces you want to talk about?
Well, this work is made by the Japanese artist duo Exonemo. They’re well known throughout Asia, but haven’t really cracked the shell of NYC yet. They began working together in the 90s producing all types of things. The piece is meant to be humorous, but it is also a deep observation of how our lives – in their intimacy or coldness – has changed due to cell phones, Skype, and so forth. My influence in featuring that artwork in the exhibition was to make a clear statement that our relationships have changed drastically due to digital technologies. The way we fall in or out of love is dictated by devices. Is this way of living, with cell phones in our pocket and WiFi in the air, going to be permanent or temporary?
The post-internet is a popular term in new media art work. How does it relate to your show since there are works in the show using internet or web as a platform?
In the exhibition, I think only Miao Ying and Terrell Davis might be considered as post-internet artists. But I’m not sure to be honest. They’re work is highly digital and has a “digital” aesthetic. But I wouldn’t say they are. Brian Droitcour’s article “The Perils of Post-Internet Art” in “Art In America” is a nice summation of my views on the term. I think the term is a bit challenging. Who gets to say what is or isn’t that type of art? And what kind of person makes it? And it gets dicey because if we are basing it off of that, we could also be thinking about race, gender, and so forth. Who gets to be a post-internet artist, and what if you don’t want to be considered one?
It feels at times like a blanket-term for anyone born after the internet, but I know that isn’t what it is. And now it feels like museums and curators use it as a term to basically describe millennials who make art with computers or print objects with photoshop gradients. So, this feels like a bit of ageism, where the old is scoffing at what those young kids are doing. But the other side of that are people using the word in a way that sounds like a “cool-kids club” sort of thing. You might not get to fit in the term, but you want to. So you put your screen on the floor and add some house plants.
New media, time-based media, and digital art are more about genre. Whereas post-internet art seems to be more about a style or aesthetic. It’s kind of like being a painter who is a fauvist. But even those terms come with their own problems. I imagine many post-internet artists would hate to be called a new media artist or time-based media artist, even if that is that is the museum department that would collect their artwork.
What are you working on now?
Now I am finishing up a residency in Seoul! I don’t have many big plans other than traveling and reevaluating what I want to do and focus on. I enjoy being in Korea, and learning about the artists here. I think the best thing I can do is see the world and meet artists from different backgrounds and identities that are not my own.
If you want to see the Forever/Fornever exhibit for yourself, go to