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A matter of taking up the challenge

[November 26th 2004]
Word Processing
Alan Currall, Word Processing, Video, 1995. Featured at the Electrohype Biennial 2004.

A matter of taking up the challenge
What's up with the Danish scene for electronic and computer based arts?

This week the third Nordic biennial for computer based art opens in Malmoe, Sweden. This biennial is backed by a conference and a panel debate. All this is organized by the Malmoe based organization Electrohype. The theme is 'Perspective', which means that the show features both historical and current perspectives on electronic and computer based art. The conference ' Experimental electronic art in the Nordic region - recent history and current conditions ' will also, as the title implies, focus both on the historical and current conditions of the Nordic scene. Artificial has assisted by participating in the reference group for this conference.

This is a major event in the region and we would like to recommend it to anyone with an interest in contemporary art. By working with a medium and a technology that most of us spend a great deal of our waking hours by, the computer based arts gives us a chance to examine our relationship with the omnipresent technologies of our time. As these art forms deal with technology and technological culture, they point out an obvious direction for contemporary art at this point in time. Even though the focus of the biennial is electronic and computer based art forms, you don't need to be a computer scientist to enjoy. Some works need a tad more catalogue studying than others, and some works will be pretty straight forward - just like at any show of contemporary art.

Which way to go?
These are hard times for electronic and computer based art forms in Denmark. Being based in Copenhagen, Artificial experiences first hand that the Danish scene for electronic and computer based art forms is having some troubles. In Denmark digital artists and organizers often refer to the lack of public and institutional interest, exhibitions, funding and educational opportunities. From the individual artist's point of view there is often a general sense of isolation from the traditional art scene, especially in relation to the meager access to exhibition opportunities, and a widespread (and thus contradictory) sense of being 'the only ones doing anything'.

One key factor in the status of electronic and computer based arts is the attitude of major art institutions. While participating in the organization of the Electrohype panel debate, Artificial quickly found out that the large art institutions in Denmark mostly declined to participate - often on the grounds: 'We don't know enough about the field to participate'. Why is there still a general lack of interest from the large institutions? Experiences from abroad have shown that computer based art forms can in fact be integrated into the practice of art institutions - just think of SFMoMA and Whitney. At other places, separate new media institutions have arisen as parallel frameworks (ZKM, Ars Electronica, Transmediale, etc.).

Electronic and computer based art forms encompass a number of art forms made with and dependent on computers and electronics. Some are harder to exhibit than others. Some require a number of hardware available, some crash easy and must be reset a lot. Others are available only via the internet and might not need actual exhibition space. Internet art (or net art,, etc.) is often intended to be experienced on the screen and an online gallery space might very well be the best way to exhibit it. It is an open task for one of the Danish museums to create a curated online exhibition space and thus present internet art to the museum's audience - via the internet. It is so obvious and has been done before - but not in this country. It is a challenge to exhibit these art forms, but not an impossible one.

Soeren Pold, who is the leader of the current research project 'The Aesthetics of the Interface Culture' and founder of the Digital Aesthetics Research Centre at University of Aarhus, has some ideas as to how one can improve the conditions of digital art in Denmark. Soeren is one of the speakers at the Electrohype Conference 2004. One way is to publicly rethink the tradition of digital art:

'If we cannot get money and support by stating digital art as a revolutionary new art form which breaks with traditions and needs its own institutions, perhaps we should start trying to sneak digital art into the canon and tradition, by arguing how digital art is continuing earlier movements made by artists that are now established and unavoidable, such as Per Hoejholt, Else Marie Pade or Fluxus and the Situationists'

Pold continues: 'We need to manifest the digital art scene and the environment, so that the politicians and the public can't overlook it as easily, as they do today.'

In our opinion this means cooperating on a larger scale on both a local and regional level with participants both inside and outside the field of computer based art. Only by connecting our individual efforts to put focus on the scene and connect it to a wider cultural field we can achieve a reasonable level of activity, visibility, interconnectivity and hopefully more attention and support. As digital technology is so widespread, there is absolutely no reason for computer based arts to exist as an isolated field.

Maybe there's hope
It is important to point out that there have been many important and qualified activities within the field, and that many people are working hard to bring electronic and computer based arts to the public's attention. A number of individuals and organizations (e.g. Artnode, Afsnitp) have manifested themselves and created many great projects - but mainly on the fringes of the established art institutional framework in Denmark. Some recent large festivals have established connections with educational and art institutions. In August 2004 the software art festival Read_me took place in Aarhus and earlier in 2004 the RADAR festival showed a wide range of digital and electronic works. It should also be mentioned, that Danish institutions have shown sporadic interest over the years. The National Gallery - Statens Museum for Kunst - did touch base briefly with the Danish digital art group Artnode for the show 'User's Club' in 2001. Also, The Museum for Contemporary Art, Museet for Samtidskunst, in Roskilde has taken steps in this direction, and has an upcoming show with 'real-time art'. A very important initiative to mention is the New Media Forum - a interdisciplinary group working to create visibility and understanding of new media - many of the participants represent large art institutions.

A main issue in Denmark seems to be that the institutions need to update their knowledge of the field, catch up and start exhibiting. The educational institutions should put even more focus on the topic and - as ironic as it might sound - an extensive network needs to be created for the extremely fragmented creative efforts - a network for the networked bunch (!). Maybe one day the Nordic region can live up to its self image as a region with a leading position regarding the use of information technology.

The Electrohype Biennial opens Friday November 26, 2004 at Malmoe Konsthall, Sweden and runs until January 23 2005. The conference takes place in Sunday November 28 and Monday November 29, 2004. The panel debate with the main question 'H ow can we create and maintain a good environment for electronic art in Scandinavia ' takes place Monday. The Danish art institutions will be represented by Tine Vindfeld from ARoS (Aarhus Art Museum) and Soeren Krogh (New Media Forum/ Kulturnet Denmark).


More info about the biennial and conference:


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