In times like these, in which we can only dream of a visit to the Louvre or of touring the new exhibitions on social networks, little is said about all those artistic expressions that use interaction with the public as part of their creation.
Museums, cultural spaces and galleries are in a phase of transformation, rethinking their model, but in this post I’m not going to talk about trends or how, in my opinion, the cultural centres of the future will be, as you’ve probably read a few of those. Rather I’m going to reflect on where the digital user is situated in the new exhibition and online projects.
The creator-work-user connection takes place in many different exhibition scenarios, both physical and virtual, with one of its most important objectives being to make the production of artists visible, although this statement has many nuances. Who decides what is art and what can be exhibited? Which artists and why? Or how much is invested? In all the answers, the public comes into play, the target of the exhibition, and the role we want them to play when they attend.
The visitor to an exhibition hall is free to surround a piece and perceive, though without touching, its textures and dimensions; to find that dialogue with the space or with other pieces; to interact with the artefacts available; to take photos with the pieces; or to enjoy a sensory experience. There is no doubt that it is not the same to enter into a piece by Cristina Iglesias in a room as it is to see it photographed on a screen. And that’s why the digital public wants much more.
Boring physical exhibitions continue to be produced, that don’t expect anything from the spectator and oblige them to take a route, in many cases contemplative, through a series of projects that don’t know what they want to tell, or unambitious, where the title of the exhibition only marks the interest of the curator. And as was to be expected, online communication is unidirectional and is focussed on attracting this public to the on-site venue.
Not long ago, during a visit to an exhibition at the CAAC Seville I coincided with a group of students from the Faculty of Fine Arts. All of them, mobile in hand, were more interested in who the artist was and how she had developed it than in what the project in front of them conveyed. In my opinion, this public that has the profile of a digital user had been left out of the exhibition. They simply abandoned the tour after a brief glance because when they visit the museum they want to be active spectators. Those who question and relate to the works.
To cater to this digital audience, hybrid exhibitions, which develop a discourse with an online and a physical presence, are very interesting. The online space allows visitors to access not only new information, but also to express their opinion and even generate a community around the exhibition.
What happens then when the exhibition space moves into the field of the virtual? How does the creator connect with the digital public?
Faced with the lack of a public in person due to everything related to the health crisis, the internet makes it possible to access art spaces and galleries that open their doors, thousands of kilometres away, through multiple virtual exhibitions. A concept that today goes through different formats, from the publication of digitised and curated artistic works with a narrative discourse, to 3D or 360 degree images that integrate the architectural space. Although in my opinion, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Virtual exhibitions that are conceived as digital spaces, only accessible through the web, must attend to a public that has at the click of a button all the possibilities that the internet offers, demanding a higher level of participation. And that, just as in a physical exhibition, it must be placed at the centre, presenting strategies that are developed through hypertextuality and multimedia.
History shows that concepts of different kinds can coexist, allowing expressions to be enriched and coexist in harmony. We saw this with the discovery of photography, which many predicted as the end of painting. Paradoxically, in digital media it is easier to decipher and translate to the user what the author wants to tell us with his piece, or the new discourse that the curator contributes, and therefore it is necessary to take advantage of it and put it at the service of the user.
This is an opportunity to reflect on hybrid exhibitions and the new, more active audiences that visit exhibitions. It is not a good strategy to attract them through social networks if the exhibition does not offer them the possibility of interactivity, for example, by using their mobile phones to look for more information about what they found interesting. From now on, the two media will have to coexist: face-to-face, in a hybrid form, and virtual. Each one produced for its target audience, as we must not forget that technology is a tool that is here to stay.
Image of cover: Virtual exhibition MINUCODEs by the artist Marta Minujín through Google Arts & Culture – Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. Visit the website for more information.
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