Inside The NYC Museum Devoted To Showcasing And Preserving Digital Art – Forbes
Thereâs a particular paradox that comes with digital art. In theory, work that is composed from ones and zeroes should be endlessly archivable and infinitely copyable. But in practice, rapid-fire obsolescence cycles and almost impossibly vast amount of digital output means that even potentially important digital art is rarely saved or shown in any meaningful way.
âA thought experiment I like to share is what to do if an artist created a work using Windows 95, but the moment you turned on the machine a decade later, the piece broke because Microsoft forced an auto-upgrade,â says Will Nathan, founder of The Current, a New York-based non-profit institution and museum focused on digital art.
Another issue for digital art: Its endless ability to be copied and manipulated means it can be difficult to trace a pieceâs true origins, creating challenges for those who wish to archive or show them. âPhysical objects of art have carbon dating to determine the essence of their provenance, but digital art only has fragile metadata, if anything at all, to place the works in historical context,â Nathan says. âWe may look backwards in a hundred years and have only the foggiest recollection of who, what, when, where, why we created what could become some of our most important art.â
This issue is what lead Nathan, who was an early employee at Buzzfeed and founder of the interior design startup Homepolish, to start The Current. âMy original plan was volunteer at the nearest digital art museum, but I quickly realized that there was no digital art museum and so I decided to make one,â Nathan says.
The Currentâs official mission is âto showcase, study, and preserve artistic works that engage technology to expand the boundaries of creative expression.â In practice, that means digging through vast expanses of digital drawings, photos, videos, sounds, VR experiences; and finding ways to save and exhibit historically important works alongside compelling newer pieces. Through mid-December, The Current was housed at a two-story space in Soho where select digital works produced between 2008 and 2016 were on display to the public. The space also hosted events (a recent late-night dance party sold out almost 200 tickets) and other programming aimed at building a community around digital art.
The main floor of The Current space was devoted to an exhibit called âTest Patterns,â a selection of works curated by The Currentâs Kelly Rae Aldridge that âplay with the ideas of experimentation and calibration.â In practice, that meant several pieces that seem to fuse computer-generated perfection with slight human-generated flaws. In Matthew Biedermanâs âIterating Color Field, Sorted and Measured Three Times,â a rainbow-colored collage is projected onto precisely placed physical rulers, so that the color breaks line up perfectly with the ruler lines, down to the millimeter. In âKTTVâ, a video piece by Casey Reas and Philip Rugo, slight changes to actual broadcast signals result in a video stream with an absolutely off-putting signal-to-noise ratio. Small sections of order seem to peak through an ever-changing chaos of color.
The downstairs featured a separate exhibit called Transfer Download (produced Kelani Nichole of the Brooklyn-based gallery Transfer), which showcased a dozen experimental digital video and animations projected onto a three-sided triptych screen. Whereas many of the upstairs pieces were cerebral and designed to drive conversation, Transfer Download was visceral and even a bit meditative, with some visitors choosing to sit surrounded by the screen for hours while images swim past their periphery.
Going forward, Nathan is hoping to drive more conversation about digital art. While the institution vacated the Soho space in mid-December, it is in the process of formulating a longterm plan for building a community around digital art, and is currently crafting plans to collect and commission new works. âThe road ahead is arduous, and to some may appear quixotic, but itâs important to point out that all of NYC’s world-renowned art institutions began with a simple idea and a group of people with passion,â Nathan says. âThe opportunity to further digital art and bring public awareness to this important form of expression presents just such a challenge.â