glass magazine || Digital art? [insert label here]
Digital art? [insert label here]
Glass speaks to Jason Bruges and United VIsual Artists about the art genre that's set to shape the art world and physical space as we know it
Digital art is now a prominent genre on the art scene. Whilst it is not unfamiliar to the art world (artists such as Jenny Holzer, James Turrell and Brian Eno have been undeniably instrumental in pioneering it since the 80s) a wider appreciation of digital art has only taken place over the last few years. With advances in technology facilitating vast creative experimentation, digital art has provided audiences with new levels of social interaction, communication and sensation – and is grabbing our attention just as much as the Chapman brothers’ phallus-faced mannequins or Banksy’s street art did. Through light, sound, kinetics, augmented reality, movement, installation and more, or sensors that produce some of these when activated by an audience member, digital art is engaging us in a way no other art form is able to. It has also irreparably changed the way we relate to and understand the space around us and is challenging ordinary human perception and, fundamentally, it has permitted audiences to experience art on many new levels.
Defining it as "digital art" has been controversial, although it does provide what most would deem a suitable enough signifier of its contents. This genre is also found within the categories of new media art, digital installation art, interactive design, interventional art and design. There are plenty more, probably because – along with its creators – it spans so many different fields within art, industrial, interactive, narrative and graphic design, architecture, computer engineering, programming, animation, kinetics and so on. What is most evident about digital art is those who are good at it: fine examples of it can be seen in what Jason Bruges Studio did by way of Mimosa for Philips Lumiblade, what United Visual Artists fashioned for High Arctic at the National Maritime Museum and what Troika achieved in Cloud for British Airways. With institutions like the V&A exhibiting their work at the Decode exhibition in 2009-10 and with digital art festivals such as Alpha-ville, onedotzero, Yota Space, Ars Electronica, Kinetica, Abandon Normal Devices and Coded Cultures gaining more recognition each year, this genre is being propelled further into the art world’s limelight.
Leading player in the field, Jason Bruges Studio has exhibited work at an international level at various galleries and museums including the Tate and the V&A, as well as making works for both corporate companies and private art collectors. Jason Bruges has designed the Becks Green Box – developing a virtual world for the project and phone app as well as a gallery of 3D canvases that host a series of augmented reality artworks. Jason Bruges Studio is also creating a digital water feature for Westfield in Stratford this year. Speaking to Jason Bruges about how he defines the work they create at the studio, he says, “What I’d like to think sets us apart from the rest is that we work spatially. Things are embedded and integrated. We produce assemblages of things that play with space and are less about surface.”
Much of their work is also site-specific and installation-based. Last year at Yota Space, the arts festival in Russia, they exhibited a piece which required audience participation called, PeaSouper, in which they responded to the space given to them, as opposed to filling the space with a pre-made work. “Perhaps one day, we’ll create something that moulds itself into any given space. Something that a curator can take out of a box and watch as it maps itself into a space or against a wall.”
Such a hypothesis as Bruges’ lends well to ideas surrounding digital art and the ability its creators have to think differently about space and how it is manipulated or used in imaginative and innovative ways. In addition to this, the discourse surrounding this new art genre, that arises particularly at its many festivals between all those that make the art – as well as scientists, thinkers, academics and art critics – is also starting to pose questions about the way we experience art and entertain philosophical analysis in often bizarre yet exhilarating ways about how we live.
As for the staff at Jason Bruges Studio, are they called digital artists? “We get dubbed many things – creative technologists, hybrid artists. I like to think we’re a hybrid of many labels,” says Bruges. “Someone once called us digital interventionists, which I like because it acknowledges the spatial aspect of our work and the interactive, inquisitive side whereby we are intervening with people’s common perception of things.”
As well as speculating on how one describes the people working in this field, Jason Bruges also contemplates the name of the genre, “There’s a huge web of different definitions out there and I don’t think we know the outcome of them yet. But it’s exciting when you look at all these weird technologies coming together to create something very sensuous and ultimately multi-sensory.” With such talent and with their name connected with a variety of projects embracing many areas of culture, Jason Bruges Studio have already played a hugely active part in shaping the future of digital art.
United Visual Artists (UVA) is another highly regarded collective of artists, designers, technologists and programmers, whose work Volume, with Massive Attack and Virgin Media’s Speed of Light reflects the scope and range of their talents. UVA’s Ben Kreukniet reiterates the point, “We don’t come from one industry but many,” he says. Much of UVA’s work is also site-specific and concerned with explorations of space, specifically “the combination of light and sound to create a space”. Kreukniet notes that, “In the past it was all about what you could do with technology, but now it’s about what you can do with it artistically.”
How digital art is utilised is perhaps what will define its quality – right now an audience who doesn’t understand much of its technical side and for whom it is fairly new, is often wowed by its very impact. There are many production and media companies that are currently deploying the methods used in digital art into advertising and marketing via techniques such as building mapping, video projection and holography – though not necessarily as well as UVA and Jason Bruges Studio do. Kreukniet says, “There are a lot of people interested in the tricks surrounding it, but we’re more interested in the ‘art’ part.” He also adds that, “The beauty in the genre lies in an audience not knowing how it works and just being surprised by it.”
Another consideration that may define how digital art develops, and one which Kreukniet briefly addresses, is investment in digital art. “The business side of it can be a bit inhibiting,” says Kreukniet. “People have started to create digital canvases for walls in people’s homes,” he says, commenting that, “The advantage of digital art as a software is that you can replicate it.” Digital art can literally be emailed and those who work with it can share codes, programmes and software. “Therefore, artists can make one thing and sell a million, much like a CD. There’s an Andy Warhol approach in it.”
This flags up a potential disadvantage however and it seems that the genre is reaching an impasse – if digital art pioneers chose to go down the route of producing digital art like a song on iTunes, or make aspects of its technology endlessly reproducible, it may hinder not just its success, or its power to make money, but its worth. There is however, another path and it is one that art critics and collectors used to more traditional areas of art, are beginning to take. They are seeing original works, uniquely created by the artist in this new genre, as a valuable art investment and digital art as the next chapter.
It makes sense, with the art market so saturated, and genres within it reaching critical mass, for collectors to seek out what is new and different. In addition to this, digital art hasn’t just been accepted into the art world, finding its own niche, but is has the potential to become the ultimate genre, mirroring (and organically growing alongside) the progress of digital culture in an age of information overload and technology that is only going to continue to expand. Those who hold the power to mould it and critique it, along with those who are influential in it and those who make it and sell it, will have to choose very carefully the ways in which they channel digital art into the art, corporate and consumer domains.
There are many artists in this genre who deserve recognition. Individuals and collectives such as Troika, Mira Calix, Anti VJ, Quayola and Joon Y Moon are just a few and are becoming a significant players in this new art movement. As for us, what can be said about the appeal of this genre? There are two answers. Firstly, its new popularity sits comfortably with (and is largely instigated by) the cultural impact all things digital are having on us. Secondly, when comparing this digital art, or this "new art genre" to others, ask yourselves this – we’ve been observing art for years, why be happy with merely looking at it when we can participate in it, experience it and even activate it ourselves.