Image: ©Andy Smith. IRL to URL. Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead.

Blog Post: IRL to URL

15 January 2018

Image: ©Andy Smith. IRL to URL. Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead.

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Blog Post: IRL to URL

Sat in front of a large projection screen, the words “IRL to URL” hovered atop a vast background of ‘chroma key’ green. A colour synonymous with the dubious relationship between digital simulation and real life, it both excites, due to its endless simulative possibilities, and produces an air of anxiety and scepticism around the fictions it casts. Situated within a 'post-truth' era and within an auditorium of those ready to discuss the role digital technologies play in contemporary art, sitting within its green glow seemed fitting.

Rupturing the logic of the green screen, and placing us firmly in the here-and-now, the panel discussion subsequently kicked off. Cropping the many different definitions of ‘the digital’, the panel, (Beryl Graham, Heather Corcoran, Emily Mulenga and Ben Vickers) scrolled through the heterogeneity of the internet experience, and discussed the difficulties of web-based or browser-based art. As Heather Corcoran inserted, while we jump “from business to leisure to sex to boredom”, if “we’ve all just got up from our computer [and] we’re coming to a gallery to have a different kind of experience”, how might net-art works fit within the rhythm of the bricks-and-mortar gallery model? Ultimately, and in light of the event, I think the answer to this question still remains yet to be answered, and requires continued discussion and experimentation from artists, curators, academics, critics, lecturers, technicians, computer programmers and gallery-goers (the list goes on).

Considering the current state of digital technologies, the illustration of the alchemist in his workshop was cut and paste alongside the example of Steve Jobs in his garage. Ben Vickers proposed that if the figure of the alchemist is ‘conjuring’ things into the world, these technologies which are being produced are in fact grounded in our reality, rather than existing in another. This is possibly why things such as ‘fake news’ have emerged as unwanted, dangerous pop-ups within everyday life, because reality is becoming an increasingly contested ground. With this in mind, when splitting up into smaller groups, to discuss how these ideas and problems might surface in our own, individual practices, our thoughts turned to distribution; skill; authorship, and whether or not artworks needed to be grounded in an object or concrete form to provide commercial viability.

In the afternoon, when discussing peer mentoring with artist Chloe Cooper and ArtQuest a “leave the schmoozing at the door” system was adopted. After discussing what might constitute a ‘safe space’; whether or not a space of safety is one of productivity; and what methods of feedback and development we might find most effective, we tested Liz Lerman's ‘Critical Response Process’. By assuming the rolls of artist and responders, each group followed the ‘statement, question, question, opinion’ structure, whilst being restricted by timings and content. This fixed framework proved impossibly difficult to stick to, due to its regimented nature, but very useful as a strategy for considering what approaches might work for individual practices. (See here for the forthcoming peer mentoring session with Chloe Cooper and ArtQuest)

Opening Saturday with a practical advice session between David Blandy and Steve Fletcher, Blandy began with his film, ‘Tutorial’ (2016). Using the style of the YouTube tutorial, Blandy discusses where “the singular idea comes from”. This was followed by a presentation about life after art school, and developing a sustainable practice. Fletcher then continued to browse the practicalities of copyright, editioning, selling, marketing and distributing work. The discussion was followed by a question and answer session with Blandy and Fletcher, and an opportunity to receive feedback on any practical issues or intrigue, (or to hash out critique of the art market structure).

To finish the day, Nicola Singh and Mark Garrett each hosted a workshop group. Garrett addressed the practicalities of presenting oneself as an artist, and artwork online, considering what to conceal, and to reveal of our practices. Nicola Singh unsubscribed from the routine symposium/workshop style, in addressing how to write about our individual practices. By prompting us to mindfully consider the voices of those around us, we attempted to cache a list of verbs to describe what writing can do in relation to a practice (examples: ‘engender’, ‘sex-up’, ‘explain’, ‘support’, ‘disguise’). Once a big-data list was compiled, we rendered a selection of the words into forms in play-dough. By linking the word to a shape, it allowed for an opportunity to grapple with the analogue physicality of a virtual concept.

IRL to URL, in its diverse mix of speakers and approaches towards ‘the virtual’, not only considered how digital technologies might shape and distribute contemporary practices online, but also how we might continue to think digitally within the analogue world.


by Sophie Bownes