From Primary to Mediated Experience – and Back
Your Excellency, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you.
Today I’d like to briefly present you my point of view on the issue “Primary vs Mediated experience” as a contemporary art curator with a focus on the internet as a place for art. But before starting my talk, I’d like to ask you to do something for me. You all may have a networked device hidden somewhere. If you do, please take it off, open your browser, and Google “Rafael Rozendaal”, and select www.newrafael.com. Then click on “websites” in the menu and click on the most fancy image. What you are now experiencing is an example of internet art. Not a reproduction of an artwork – that’s the real thing. There, on your screen.
Although it is mostly perceived today as a place of mediated experience of art, the internet has been an amazing context of primary art experiences since its early years. I should better say an “unprecedented place” of primary art experiences, because of its unique overlap between a public and a private dimension: what happens online takes place simultaneously out there, in a public, shared environment; and in the very private space of your screen.
This is the first homepage of jodi.org, a web project launched in 1994 by a Belgian / Dutch couple (Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans), and one of the absolute masterpieces of web based art. In a 1997 interview, they declared:
“When a viewer looks at our work, we are inside his computer. There is this hacker slogan: “We love your computer.” We also get inside people’s computers. And we are honored to be in somebody’s computer. You are very close to a person when you are on his desktop. I think the computer is a device to get into someone’s mind.”
This form of primary online experience is still possible today, and this is one of the ways in which the internet is not replacing, but working alongside the museum (and one of the places where the museum has to put its foundations). So, if I can give my two cents to the Qatari authorities, here we go. You found an amazing architect to build your museum. Now, please find an amazing architect to build your museum website. And when you got it, ask artists to do artworks for it. It would be a great way to involve a different kind of audience, on a different level.
With the development of Web 2.0, however, the web evolved more into a mirror of reality than a world onto itself. Since the early 2000s, a new generation of artists realized it, and started collecting web content and provocatively valuing mediated experience more than first hand experience. Seth Price famously asked in Dispersion (2002 – ):
“Does one have an obligation to view the work first-hand? What happens when a more intimate, thoughtful, and enduring understanding comes from mediated discussions of an exhibition, rather than from a direct experience of the work?”
Interestingly, the question mark disappears in the following statements:
“I enjoy interpretations and mediated experiences: books about books, exhibition catalogs, interpretations of films. Some of my favorite artworks and movies have only been described to me.” Oliver Laric 2010
“mediated experience is by far the most accessible version of a work, and this in itself is important. Art has long been dominated by individuals and institutions who want to control the distribution of images” Artie Vierkant 2013
“I like the direct experience of documentation, because I love the Internet. This is where I primarily experience art.” Parker Ito 2013
What today is called Post-Internet art is based on these premises. Expanding on the same concepts the Link Art Center, the organization I co-funded in 2011, is about to launch 6PM Your Local Time, a platform project where artists, institutions and galleries from different cities and countries open together and document their events on social networks under the same hashtag, as if it was a single event. Check it out at http://www.6pmyourlocaltime.com/.
We ran a test event in London in November 2014, and I realized something that now looks pretty obvious to me: that the more we experience mediation, the more we realize the importance of primary experiences. If you don’t believe me, try virtual sex.
Museums will still be important in the future, after all; and the internet will become the best way to get there.
Thank you very much for your attention.