Since encountering Culture Cloud and the nature of originating partner organizations New Art Exchange and Artfinder, a core question for the evaluation team concerns the very nature of art online, its definition, mode of consumption and, indeed, the expectations of all involved in the relationships forged around artworks.

Here, we can identify a number of ways of thinking about art and the online world related to this project that will be helpful in evaluating its R&D dimensions and the nature of any innovation in the relationship between gallery, art, artist and consumer.

Firstly, we can identify work that is produced in the physical world in the traditional manner, representations of which are then digitized – as with much of the material offered on Artfinder’s site or indeed those preview images of exhibitions at NAE found on its website. Then there is work that is ‘born digital’ and is then circulated online. In this category, we could include anything and everything, from digital photography to installations that make use of digital materials such as screens showing websites. I would argue that, in such cases, such work reproduces those practices of art that rely upon the presence of the original artefact in the particular space of a gallery or exhibition space and thus its singularity. In both cases so far, art works (digital or otherwise) are made elsewhere and online platforms are merely a means of circulation of the work.

In the case of Culture Cloud, the role of New Art Exchange as originator for the project, its anchor and destination for the artwork submitted is crucial. We’ve made several trips to NAE in order to get a feel for the physical space of the gallery and its environs. We’ll say more about the specificity of that space but for the moment let’s think a little about the distinctions between the nature of conventional works of art which are made for exhibition in the space of the gallery and those others made online in order to clarify the nature of Culture Cloud’s place here.

When we last visited NAE, the exhibition in progress was Rashid Rana’s ‘Everything is Happening At Once’. Some of the detail of Rana’s work is best appreciated at the site of the Saatchi Gallery. The controversial ‘Veil’ series, for instance, is available to the voyeur, who will no doubt zoom in on the pornography which is used to make a meta-image of a burqa clad figure. This feature is made readily available courtesy of several images of vary degrees of clarity and perspective. What is interesting about such images is that the pixelation of each will not allow one the closeness afforded by the original art work itself when one is in its presence. Furthermore, none of this detail, whatever the possibilities of a high resolution ‘pan and scan’ option for online, can do justice to the presence of any one of Rana’s works as a physical object. There may be something in the manner in which the aura of a work of art is challenged by its reproducibility but then there is also something in the particularity of such work that builds its statement from thousands of mass-produced images. This quality is especially resonant in drawing attention to the representation of women in this conjunction of the inscrutable (yet oft remarked upon) burqa-clad figure and the endless parade of women objectified and dehumanized through the lens and pose of pornography. As one guide to a Rana exhibition states (this from one of the Culture Cloud gallery partners):

Rana challenges culturally constructed, negative stereotypes of women, commenting upon the twin forces of religion and commerce that reduce an entire gender to meaningless cipher, the shocking invisibility that results from the ultimate exposure. (http://www.cornerhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Rashid_Rana_gallery_guide.pdf0).

The sheer presence of such pieces as objects in time and space is an important aspect of the work of Rana and indeed all other works of art produced in this way and for public engagement in the gallery or in the homes of collectors. This quality raises an interesting set of challenges to the idea of work presented online and its mediation for the scrutiny of those familiar with the gallery or those new to art, who might be engaged as a result of the project’s presence and accessibility in digital form.

In the case of Culture Cloud, the stipulation for artists registering is that: ‘images must be in JPG or PDF format with a Minimum 500px’. Here then, the work is to be judged in the first instance in a mediated form which trusts to each artist to do the best by their work within the limits of this stipulation. Thus, it will be important to have a clear and meaningful image to submit to the online forum but this does anticipate questions about whether certain kinds of work will be favoured because of the way in which it is mediated. Will work be seen to its best advantage or, if not, will it be tantalizing enough and suggestive enough to prompt an interest amongst voters of who want to see more of the work ‘in person’.

While it might be possible that some submissions might be ‘born digital’, it seems that Culture Cloud’s innovation lies in the circulation of art. It is certainly not in keeping with what we identify as a further way of thinking about art in terms of that which is made for and out of the online world, i.e. is that which utilizes some of the essential technical-aesthetic possibilities of things like HTML, Flash, interactivity and so on. The Quora site identifies what I have in mind here with the question it poses:

What are the most impressive works of art made for the Internet? Do not include works of art which have been made for offline display, and then later displayed on the Internet. (http://www.quora.com/What-are-the-most-impressive-works-of-art-made-for-the-Internet).

Dan Phiffer, maker of ‘new media art’ offers several interesting links in his response to this question:

http://9-eyes.com

 Christophe Bruno’s Google Adwords Happening

Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries (hard to choose a single work)

 Lair of the Marrow Monkey

 The ‘Copies’ project is particularly interesting for the manner in which it makes a virtue of digital reproducibility and some of the threats that entails in its provocative projects.

During ’99 0100101110101101.ORG is in the limelight for its copy-paste strategy, carrying “fake” over to a digital format for the first time. Over one year they entirely copy and duplicate three websites: Hell.com, Art.Teleportacia.org and Jodi.org. Pure data duplication, no meaning, no theories. Hell.com immediately threatens with an international lawsuit for copyright violation. The international press (The New York Times, Le Monde, Britannica, Haaretz) realizes that, in the friendly world of net.art, there is an organization dedicated to systematic data duplication and identity forgery. This provokes a wave of debate about the “commercialization of web art”, authenticity, copyright and the very nature of digital art.

Such sites are worth exploring (as well as others recommended by generous respondents on Quora) in order to assess the necessary qualities of art forms and content originated online. Whatever we think of such work and its level of success as art, its online quality tends to make the function of the gallery irrelevant and perhaps even familiar concepts of art and artist are left behind. One of the reasons why such innovations are a step beyond the aims of Culture Cloud perhaps lie in the fact that ultimately NAE as a physical space has a cultural attachment to its geographical locale in Nottingham and a role to play there. It cannot detach itself from its place, mission and duty to launch into the sometimes impossibly abstract ‘nowhere’ of the web, however big the potential audience online might be.

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