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Burning onto a hard drive. Percentage completed 99%

El Pulpo. Plataforma Fotográfica

Lunes 20 de junio de 2016, por Montse Badia

Burning onto a hard drive. Percentage completed 99 %
About the exhibition, reception, distribution, marketing, collection and preservation of digital works

Moving images, and image-time are two of the vehicles more widely used to experience image in contemporary society. This is precisely why many contemporary artists work in this field. This type of image brought by technical devices of image generation and distribution, determines a extended perception of time, which is not unique and specific, but continuous. Nothing new so far, the novelty lies now on the changing implications and relationships created in the art scene in terms of creation, exhibition, reception, distribution, marketing, collection and preservation. Let’s focus on what happens once the work is produced, and ready to be burnt onto a hard drive so that it can be reproduced.

Moon sections, and perception understood as participation

With this type of works and installations, the space in a museum traditionally static and ready for presentations now turns into an open space for projections. Sometimes, the artist Jeff Wall has underlined that museums should compulsory have a sun wing, as well as a moon section that would allow the development of cinematographic experiences.

Contrary to the white cube, the black box creates a space for projection, and also for suggestion, where public can experience images in movement as enlarged images that stimulate senses, whereas the distance between the inner self of the spectator, and the visual representations becomes blurred. The space allocated for the exhibitions is metamorphosed and turned into a cinema, where, like Boris Groys presented in his symposium Concepts on the move (ZKM, Karlsruhe, 2001), “the need for darkness creates an individual state that merges with the structural impossibility to see a video piece until the end. This lack of visibility is a challenge for the spectator, and the perception has now turned into participation.”

Videos, films or sound pieces require a perception period that often exceeds the time we usually allocate to this type of works. This decides the way in which we imagine an exhibition. Not every single piece of art fits in an open space. There could be visual and acoustic incompatibilities. Festivals, video programs, cinema halls, dark rooms where the projections times are indicated (especially for videos of long duration), are suitable to show this type of works. As Groys says, perception can turn into participation when an empowered spectator who has been provided with all necessary details to decide how s/he wants to visit the exhibition, how s/he wants to organize her/his time and what pieces s/he wants to see complete or partially.

Distribution and marketing

In recent times, professionals of the arts (artists, curators, institutions, and so forth) have somehow had to redefine their roles and functions. Also and without any doubt, art galleries have had to rethink their approach dramatically, because one of its functions is to collaborate closely with artists, and also to help them develop artistically. Another one is to be part of the most commercial aspects that have seen how objects turned into processes or digital supports that questioned traditional values, such as for instance, unity in their works or questioning original versus copy criteria. By default, with digital supports the contents can be copied an unlimited amount of times from a master copy that does not really have to be unique, but thanks to their no compression, and other formal features is the version from which all sorts of files and formats are created to be later on reproduced.

This doesn’t mean that certain conventions should be abolished, nor that artists should refrain from producing limited editions of video pieces, but at the same time, these copies might be randomly available on the Internet, be it in an authorised or unauthorised way.

Distribution and marketing are two faces of the same coin that can be approached from slightly different perspectives. There are distribution companies who deal with copyrights of visual works for exhibition, and there are also art galleries who sell videos to be the new additions to private and public collections.

Collecting videos and other digital supports

All these contradictions and questions trouble the minds of artists, curators, and gallery directors, but not only them, this domino effect affects as well to collectors. As we have discussed further up, institutions as well as private collectors should rethink the exhibition formats, but also the purchase and preservation means. An illustrative example of this is Richard y Pamela Kramlich’s collection, held in San Francisco. For a start they refurbished the space in their house so that they could set up and show the video pieces, and the video installations of their collection. And in 1997 they founded the New Art Trust to promote research and preservation of videos and other formats of productions based on temporal functions, in cooperation with museums the likes of San Francisco MOMA, Museum of Modern Art New York, and Tate London, who at the same time have been involved in co-productions and co-acquisitions.

To add new videos and other digital supports onto a collection has got some practical implications and conservational issues that are not that relevant for example, when acquiring photographs, paintings, drawings or performances. Amongst other things because the buyer, or the collector incorporates to their collection a digital file saved onto a hard drive (or a link to a file hosted in a server) that functions as a master copy to create their own copies of the exhibition. New Art Trust in San Francisco, and recently Screen-Projects in Barcelona have recently drawn up a sales contract where they mention the exhibition rights acquired with the work, and the possibility to migrate and update to new formats or technologies, should the current supports become out of date.

Digital works are based in technology, but at the same time their immateriality links them to a volatile present in constant change. To a collector it can be a problem the fact that s/he has acquired a digital piece of art for thousands of euros (or dollars), that can be seen at no charge on the Internet, although we have to bear in mind that they are no longer the exclusive owners of that piece, but the facilitators of the accessibility to that piece of work (and some more in the future), transferring their role of legal guardian to facilitator of new productions.