Notes on Curatorial Ideas For Digital Media

by Anthony Espino on October 12, 2011 · 18 comments Annotations

Zoolander & Hansel at the New Museum

“If I were a curator” rants are always the best; you get years of napkin-scribblings in a matter of minutes, and every now and again you come across something honestly new. Net artist Duncan Alexander has offered a few digital art exhibition ideas over at his blog Hypothete, and we just have to quibble with a few of them.

1. Salon-style projections of GIFs covering walls. I’m thinking something like ITP’s Big Screens projects but lots of little images. Horror vacui. Who was it that said GIFs are only good in groups?

The idea of hanging newfangled artworks in an oldfangled style isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Instead of referencing the salon, why not use the virtual environment as a referential context? The verticality of the salon doesn’t retain much meaning today, but the constant unidirectional top-to-bottom movement of browsers, word processors, chat rooms, and terminals offers a rich vein of meaning. In fact, we don’t even need to speak in generalities here: artworks made for or Computers Club, for instance, are specifically made in vertical dialogue, and adding that aspect back into the work in a gallery display would be a welcome addition.

2. Offline Store: Store that sells different mass-produced net art objects every month (like photo rugs, USB drives, etc.). Takes out the middleman – no need to copy the original when you can send the file to the manufacturer. Artists may not have say as to how their work is displayed.

Net art swag could definitely provide some cash for an artist or gallery, but there are plenty of venues that can do this already – even Cafepress allows for this type of production. Working with artists to come up with merch types that best highlight the work, or indeed best highlight the distribution process itself, has potential. Alexandra Domanovic’s “Nineteen Thirty Stacks” are a good example: they’re PDFs, but their visual content transforms when they’re printed and stacked. This might require less curatorial creativity, but the artist should have full control over the representation of their work despite it’s ubiquitous accessibility.

If you’re not interested in merch, dead drops (Aram Bartholl’s concept for shows that live in USB drives embedded in public spaces) offers another solution to embedding net art information in physical space, though that idea only goes so far. Or, you know, so we thought until we saw this (note the USB drive in the sculpture’s hand). Can we get more art with functioning digital reproductive organs?

3. Bigass lenticulars/holograms – one day, Joel!

It’s a good idea, but custom holography might be too pricey for most artists – it’s doable as a production medium, but it’s hard to imagine anybody having enough money to get invested in the material and process in any real sense. Oliver Laric, though, might have found an affordable solution to utilize this effect. Of course, the labs which provide these services have their own ready-made oeuvre to explore, and that could be fertile ground.

4. OS: operating system-themed works. I have at least two large works planned for something like this, just need a wealthy, loving patron. Reach me at!

This is a refreshing idea. The move from strictly offline digital art to almost exclusively browser-based work has broadened art’s audience, but that’s not necessarily always a worthwhile objective for art. Jens Haaning’s Turkish Jokes, for instance, involved the artist pointedly limiting his audience, broadcasting jokes in the center of Oslo solely in Turkish; Turkish-speakers laughed, then noticed other people laughing, then formed a (fleeting) bond. Audience scope is a malleable thing, and has potential as an art medium – operating system-specificity is a way towards that.


Duncan Alexander October 13, 2011 at 12:14 am

I have a “quibble” with your patronizing tone, Mr. Espino. God forbid I toss out a few vague ideas for my 20 or so followers to read. Next time I’ll doodle a few of these to you can take offense at my ballpoint pen. A couple of meta-quibbles:

1. I had no intentions of evoking fond memories of the 1840s, but I guess you run that risk with the art crowd. GIFs are all different sizes and shapes. Think more hieroglyphic. Have you seen the in-chat search?

2. ” …the artist should have full control over the representation of their work despite it’s ubiquitous accessibility.” Why? Do you think that digital art looks the same from computer to computer? It’s part of the condition.

3. This is your saving grace. Now I don’t have to do a hologram sticker painting, and there is a work by Oliver Laric that I like after all.


Will Brand October 13, 2011 at 4:45 am

Wait, what? If you’ve got a problem with “quibble”, I put that word in; I don’t really see, though, where this post is patronizing or offensive. You put some ideas out there, we thought some of them were good, we repeated them and added our own commentary. You’re free to disagree and all, but I’m not sure this response is commensurate.

That said, I like your response to 2. The fiction of the neutral computing platform is outdated, particularly given how much work goes into maintaining it. Given that, I don’t get why you don’t get 4; isn’t it the same concept?

Duncan Alexander October 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm

The Qubble with Quibbles (spoiler: it’s the quadroquibbicale):
I was annoyed that parts of the post position ideas in my rant as unattainable, “not exactly groundbreaking,” or just dumb e.g. the Cafepress remark. I don’t need to be told that, though I suppose in hindsight Anthony wrote what he did to open up the floor for links. I don’t polish my blog posts because most of my readers are already familiar with elements of these projects, as I constantly share my research on feasibility over Facebook, G+, Twitter etc. I understand the intention for the many, but as a direct response the post assumes I’m not aware of a lot of variables.

Let’s move on and look at #4. I see what you’re [Anthony is] saying, but I don’t think Turkish jokes are the same sort of shibboleth as OS elements. The intentions behind the art are different – limiting understanding by language vs. reinterpreting GUI elements and branding (corporate origin, ironic reinterpretation & juxtaposition). It’s not as if Windows users find Macs or Mac jokes unintelligible, or vice versa; everybody gets Clippy and the Spinning Beach Ball of Death, right?

Anthonyespino October 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Duncan, I apologize if you were offended by the tone of the writing. But I saw this as an opportunity to address these provocative ideas so as to further the dialogue on curatorial practices dealing with digital media. This was also an opportunity to link a few sites that I felt were worth mentioning, and quite frankly deserve some exposure to the AFC community: Hypothete being one of them. By writing about these ideas, we’ve obviously taken them seriously, and believe that they’re relevant ideas to be discussed.

That being said, I do appreciate your response to the post and agree with your point on idea #2: I understand that there are some minor differences from computer to computer based on technical variations. But ultimately, I was simply suggesting that in a gallery context, the artist should be prompted with the decision on how their work is distributed or the form it will take in the space.

Duncan Alexander October 13, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Thank you for your response, Anthony. I now understand where you’re coming from. Let’s talk about #2 some more, as I think our point of contention is the most interesting part of our discussion right now.

Depending on computer and browser settings, the display (and therefore perception) of a digital artwork can change radically. Take this recent Rhizome post for instance: Cory Arcangel created a very small video of pixels in 2002 that he stretched out on a webpage. This allowed him to make a long video of big, sharp pixels that took a very short time to download and run. Now in 2011, the same file appears blurred to our modern browsers because different upscaling techniques are used to “enhance” scaled images, videos etc. Here’s another example: I use Mozilla Firefox to design my GIFs. Frames within a GIF carry information on their individual durations and redraw methods, so one frame might be named “frame 30 (20milliseconds) (replace).” Firefox has proven to be the best browser I can find that “honors” this duration, as I’ve tested my GIFs in Safari, IE etc. and most tend to make decisions on my behalf and slow down that duration. For a “seizure GIF” (I get that a lot) that requires very quickly changing colors in order to hamper the viewer’s perception of color, this is a huge detraction. That said, I have no control over what browsers people use, so I suppose my viewers are probably divided in their feelings, assuming some of them “get it.” 😉

How important is is for digital artists to anticipate the hardware/software variations in their audience? That depends on your intentions. I wouldn’t be surprised if two people liked a digital artwork for completely different reasons because of their chosen browser/hardware which translates to consumer preferences. I think the ultimate assumption that many digital artists make – and I would love to hear a few more voices on this – is that regardless of hardware setup the art is “good enough” or is viewed appropriately by “enough” of their viewers, or that it doesn’t matter because it’s just stuff on the Internet anyway. For the conscious artist there’s always this element of resignation, and I think that’s interesting.

Anthony Espino October 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I completely agree that browser-to-browser, hardware-to-hardware variations will create subjective experiences. If a curator was producing a Speed Show( for instance: if the cybercafe has all Windows operating systems, and Internet Explorer as the default browser, this could provide interesting opportunities for different translations of the work. Not only is it interesting to see the changes over time as certain html languages become obsolete, it could also be exciting to see how the works are altered in various outdated software conditions-especially if the scripting relies heavily upon current developments in HTML5, CSS3, etc.

I like your Cory Arcangel reference because it brings up an important topic, which, speaking of Rhizome, there was a discussion (that I couldn’t attend unfortunately) on how the affects of time and the evolution of software and hardware creates a challenge for preserving these works. I’m curious about the idea of these works being “augmented” if you will, to the hardware and software present at it’s temporal period of creation. Arcangel’s “Data Diaries” are a mild example considering we can still hop into photoshop and reproduce the original appearance of the images, but I’m interested in the idea of works that somehow suffer the same irreparable damage as a result of an advancing technology and how that changes the meaning of the work.

Perhaps this ( is a relevant illustration of this discussion in a completely offline interface..

Jesse P. Martin October 13, 2011 at 4:36 am

3. Who. Is. Joel.

Duncan Alexander October 13, 2011 at 10:30 pm
Jennifer Chan October 17, 2011 at 11:12 pm

With digital/ art/web-based media art on this blog there is a huge fixation on the opinions and activities of those working from Chicago and NYC (postinternet, wut?). 

What about these examples? (though a little regressive and kitschy, these deal with curating web based work in an entirely different way whether aesthetically or discursively) from Istanbul

From Italy (ha ha)

Canada +


I believe all the above were not for profit except for the RAM show in Waterloo Canada where I wrote the curator a nice lil email telling her she didn’t include any women in her survey of epic north american media art. I also think charging entry for a web-based media show is rather paradoxical (remember FREE at the New museum? lol) 

Not to inject too much of a regional discourse around it but the exhibitions that do manifest IRL (in offline spaces) do require people in one place to mount them, so the curatorial conventions of those institutional/cultural contexts would determine how the work would be installed too–besides being influenced by what happens online.

Jennifer Chan October 17, 2011 at 11:15 pm

and what would you offer as a curatorial recourse for digital media best-fit?

Curators have been trying to work through the problems of “projection” and websites since 1998 and they’re still doing it, as Nic O’Brien has mentioned here:

Here is a Fantasy October 19, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Curating inside of a museum or gallery has its own specific sets of problems, just like curating anything online. It’s not that problems are bad things; they’re part and parcel of producing art. Ex. the canvas is a problem of painting and the body a problem of performance. 

What I want to see more museums doing is recognizing that the gallery space isn’t the only way to put on shows. In light of budget cuts and museums trying to save money, having a regular, consistent program of online exhibitions would benefit the goals of the institution, as well as bringing in a wider range of artists and audiences. 

It should be easy enough for institutions to get on board with a consistent program of online exhibitions. But, yeah, so far, not so much.

Jennifer Chan October 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm

^ just stirring the pot; I agree mostly with what you listed–these exhibition methods are tired formats. just not sure whether it was productive…

Duncan Alexander October 18, 2011 at 1:12 am

Jennifer, I would love to respond but I have no idea who specifically you are addressing or what order your posts are in. I’m totally lost on your recourse statement.

The idea behind SELF-LOVE is solid, as it actually plays out the Internet
Curation Endgame of “take anything from anywhere regardless.” FREE was pretty lulzy, but it’s a nice parallel
that we’re all shelling amount massive amounts of money to greedy
corporations in order to have barely functional access to the Internet
so that we can expand the scope of the Internet, their product in a sense. Obviously FREE wasn’t doing it consciously, but someone could.

I see what you’re saying about SS/BYOB as deflective from addressing the medium. My favorite work from the latter has always been the trolls (critics? 😉 ) like the NYC lobster guy. However the formats were still footholds for digital art media in a physical space. They’re new, people are still getting it, and the waiting can be frustrating sometimes. That said, your comment about being interested in non-Internet-aware Internet art in a physical space is really bugging me, and I wish you would elaborate. Most of your examples seemed to be very Internet-aware, Internet-self-aware.

Cell Tango from RAM looks a lot like idea #1, BTW:

Duncan Alexander October 18, 2011 at 1:16 am


Jennifer Chan October 19, 2011 at 7:46 am

Ugh I was unaware that my posts would appear in reverse chronology. I was just talking to the article’s writer (Anthony) and other art critics in general. Bitching, as usual. 

Jennifer Chan October 20, 2011 at 12:33 am

I enjoy the lobster collabs too. You’re right, those examples (except for RAM) are internet aware–perhaps too internet aware. Maybe “non-internet-aware” was the wrong word because there are people who still work with tech but just not in such a conceptual way (I’m thinking of ITP kids in the interaction design programs or people like wendyvainity and refback who make tons of video that appear like video art on YT)

I suppose I mean I’d like to see real folk who make creative stuff on the web to just show work in public, the same way some people just upload with their supersincere YouTube vids. (With what I had read before on eflux or somewhere videoclub paris does these guerrilla curated screenings in private and public)
in toronto there was also something called filmfort where people would show random stuff.

i feel like the article and our conversations are beginning to draw [curatorial] dichotomies of:
– too internet-aware = insular and formulaic shows
– too unaware = terrible installation

while neither might be totally true of what’s happening, it might be worth speculating what those who don’t identify as conceptual-artists would do (i.e. musicians, commercial videomakers, activists, ) if they wanted to show their work. I was just proposing they might be more inventive because they wouldn’t be thinking of the one-or-other (museum or out) kind of decisions.I remember going to a NYU ITP student thing where everyone had set their work in progress stuff up, about 30 people showing in there and it was totally geeky, and like BYOB but not much of it was fronted as art, more just like design. I really enjoyed that atmosphere… it seemed less serious even though BYOB and SpeedShow are supposed to be informal, theyre like institutions of their own now. 

Christopher Guest October 18, 2011 at 1:28 am

What about making a gallery app?

Guest October 25, 2011 at 8:18 am

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