Transfer is a gallery whose time has clearly come. Along with current mainstay 319 Scholes, the new not-for-profit gallery will be introducing Bushwick to a series of net artists you need to know (A. Bill Miller, Rick Silva, and Lorna Mills are just the next three). But even more overdue is the gallery’s business model; Transfer sells collectible items ahead of the shows, like books, inkjet prints, and gifs on devices, and all proceeds go to realizing the physical installation component. “Transfer is not about selling artwork,” founder Kelani Nichole tells me, but the idea is more about “support pre-opening vs. high-priced collection and relationship management post-exhibition.”
Transfer’s not alone in that ethos; similar models are being tested by Jen Dalton and Jennifer McCoy’s Auxiliary Projects, and klausgallery.net’s e-book series. Co-founder Kelani Nichole also brings an outside perspective, from several years as a user experience strategist (currently, at Big Spaceship) with a background in art history and philosophy. Kelani returned to the art world in 2010 when Philadelphia’s little berlin gallery opened its membership to non-artists. There, she worked on a series of ambitious projects, like Flash Flood (a show installed on deaddrops throughout Philly), BYOB (an evening of self-projected art), Distributed Collectives (a group show of F.A.T. Lab, Manifest.AR, and Computers Club) and get>put (an upload/download group show). Nichole tells us how she found net art, false starts, and navigating the tech world and the ‘just-fucking-do-it’ attitude of Philly’s collectives.
Was there much interest in net art in Philly?
No. It was tough, Philadelphia has a booming tech scene, which I was very much embedded within from my involvement in BarCampPhilly [a creative-tech conference] and IndyHall [a shared workspace for freelancers]. But within the art world, there were very few venues and active artists working with evolved computer-based practices. That is changing of course, as Breadboard emerged, ExtraExtra (now defunct) ran a number of new-media/net.art focused shows, and Vox populi and others occasionally hosted new-media works.
Transfer is trying out a new model of fundraising for net art, and I know you did something similar with “get>put>.” Have you been brainstorming ideas for a while? Is there anything you’ve tried that didn’t work? And are you looking at all at previous attempts to fund net art?
Absolutely, my partner and I have been developing this together for some time now, testing out a few ideas at >get >put and also paying close attention to models like the Art Micro Patronage, which I discovered through Lindsay Howard’s show on that platform. Many of the artists we’re working with have also tried various models of selling (A. Bill Miller, Rollin Leonard) and raising support (Alexandra Gorczynski, Carla Gannis) for their own work which are a source of reference and inspiration for us as well.
I have a lot to say on this point, the way that digital art is funded is something I have been interested in for quite some time. Working professionally in the web and understanding the scale of the economy around doing business online, participating in half-a-million dollar web projects on a daily basis, while at the same time working with little berlin, gave me a DIY ‘just fucking do it’ attitude to producing exhibitions that I am proud to bring to NYC.
Transfer is not about selling artwork, in that, the saleability of work will never be a deciding factor as to what is shown in the space, nor will the success or failure of a show be measured by how much sells. Obviously every artist we work with is interested in selling work, and we are too, as it helps grow the practices we love and are supporting in this space – but at the same time we understand the reality around collection of digital work, the challenges of new media and net.art and the free model of the web, the still emerging visibility of folks working with computer-based practices, salability of the medium, preservation in the face of obsolescence etc.
So instead of tackling this all head-on, we’re hoping our pre-sale platform can bypass some of this messiness by offering smaller editioned works in kickstarter-spirit before a show, shifting the burden of purchase to support pre-opening vs. high-priced collection and relationship management post-exhibition). If it works, this can create a sustainable support model that will allow our artist collaborators to take their work to the next level, getting it in front of the right folks, exposing the myriad of forms digital practice can take and hopefully will help better establish this type of work to become a hit with collectors.
Would you say your focus has changed at all since you started curating?
Yes, my curatorial career is quite young and continues to evolve, for sure. When I began curating my first show, I was really just immersing myself in another side of the Internet which I knew was out there but that I hadn’t really engaged with too much prior to 2010. As I started to dig into research for what would become ‘Distributed Collectives‘, I discovered I am explicitly interested in the ways the Internet facilitates collaboration in artistic practice. This interest continues to evolve, as I consider my work at Transfer a collaborative project with the artists, a relationship that is absolutely mediated and enhanced by the Web.
A number of other projects, such as Flash Flood (a show installed on deaddrops throughout Philly), and BYOB allowed me to further explore ideas around technology’s relation to the gallery space. I took my research in this direction for my second independent exhibition, >get >put [an upload/download group show] is the manifestation of a year and a half of research and work with six artists that completely changed my relationship to Internet-based curating.
Was there one artwork or artist who made you particularly interested in net art?
Yes. Travess Smalley [whose work was in “get>put” and “Distributed Collectives”] was my first real studio visit with an artist working with a rich computer based practice. Looking back I can’t believe how lucky I am that he took the time to meet with me and show me the inside of his computer, studio and work process. I had reached out to him in a cold email (along with a shitton of other artists who were part of FAT and Computers Club) and because he is such a sweet soul, he was totally open to meeting with me on an upcoming trek to NYC. Once I saw his practice my understanding of this thing I had stumbled on was forever changed. He continues to be a pivotal character in my practice – his piece was the first artwork I’d ever sold – and the decision to do what I’m doing now was definitely influenced by conversations over drinks with Travess and his lovely partner Kaela.
Is there any project that you are particularly proud of?
Now that it’s happened, I have to say I’m very proud to have accomplished opening our own set of doors to the public. This is a sense of ownership I haven’t ever felt over a space and I’m so excited for what will happen within our walls in the next year.