Art in the digital age

Technology-driven art that changes with the speed of an electric charge presents special challenges and opportunities for museums.

india Updated: Jan 23, 2006 12:05 IST

Technology-driven art that changes with the speed of an electric charge presents special challenges and opportunities for museums that draw fans with timeless works such as those by El Greco, Titian or Dali.

If the computer-generated image changes by the second, how can art lovers take home a coffee-table book or a poster? “I think it does have a future in museums,” Kurt Kaufman, 23, a student at the Cleveland Institute of Art, said after seeing the eye-catching “All Digital” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland.

The exhibit, which opened on Friday, continues through May 7. The exhibit has a different look at every turn: There’s Charles Sandison’s “Index” with jumbled encyclopedia entries projected on the floor, ceiling and walls; Lynn Hershman Leeson’s computer-generated “talking head” that responds to questions; and Paul Chan’s “Happiness,” a sometimes idyllic, sometimes X-rated digital animation.

The show reflects “objects that have their own lives,” said Kristina Hooper Woolsey, who has developed interactive multimedia with Apple Computer. The items have their own behaviours and characteristics, she said.

Take Leeson’s “DiNA,” for example if you’re willing to step up to a microphone and address a wall-sized computer image of a woman’s face, which gently nods in anticipation of a computer-generated conversation.

“Is it smelly in Chicago,” a museum visitor asks. “Not if I can help it,” DiNA responds. More people step forward to try their hand at a conversation with a pleasant face on a wall. “Whom do you love,” one asked. DiNA, perhaps misunderstanding, responds, “Thank you for telling me.”

Another try at the lover’s question elicits an ambiguous, “Let’s stick to the issues.” DiNA, wading into the contemporary political scene, eyes onlookers and announces that she doesn’t see any Republicans or lobbyists, drawing chuckles from the artsy preview crowd.

Leeson, speaking at a symposium marking the exhibition opening, hinted that the “artificially intelligent virtual” people she has pioneered in art have sometimes taken charge. “I think they’ve used me,” she said. The high-intensity, fast-moving tech world is the way young people experience life, Barbara Tannenbaum said. Museums need to respond in kind, she said.

“To attract younger people, they need to show videos, they need to show interactive works.

That’s a direction museums will follow along,” she said. When art goes from canvas-based paintings to computer-generated light shows it may seem odd, but other progressions through history like moving beyond paintings on bowls were just as striking, Tannenbaum said.

“Each age has a different way of looking,” she said. “What looks normal and realistic to one age seems abstract and unrealistic to another.” “The convergence of art, science and technology has enriched, transformed and, in many cases, revolutionised artistic practice,” Margo A Crutchfield, senior curator at MOCA, said in the catalogue.

The future of art

Some eye-catchers at the All Digital exhibition at MOCA
• Index
a jumbled encyclopedia
entries on the floor, ceiling and walls
• DiNA
a talking head that responds to questions
• Happiness
a digital animation

First Published: Jan 23, 2006 12:05 IST