Commodity Fetishism And Post-Internet Artists: A Q&A With Curator Ché Zara Blomfield And Artist Daif King
Back in May we did a week long exploration of the digital arts market, where we looked at everything from how net artists can make money online to how digital art can be conserved, and the challenges facing galleries looking to display this type of work.
And while the debates surrounding the issues affecting this part of the art world will continue, as it jostles for attention and exposure, the appetite for digital art is as strong as ever. While many people flock to the big tent pole exhibitions held at Tate Modern and its ilk, there’s just as much interest in the smaller exhibitions, both online and off, showing digital artists’ work. Sometimes the offline galleries can seem few and far between, but that landscape is changing as more and more spaces crop up to showcase this type of work to a public who wants to consume it.
One of those places is The Green Room in East London, set up by Ché Zara Blomfield. It’s a new exhibition space founded this year that showcases digital artists—both well-known, like Rafaël Rozendaal, Petra Cortright, and Jon Rafman and not-so-well-known like Matthew Johnstone—in a gallery environment, while still maintaining the integrity of the work.
The latest artist to exhibit there is New Zealander Daif King with “Gold Card” which opens today and runs until September 3rd. The exhibition features his sculptural and painting work which is partly inspired by lo-fi software like MS Paint, Tumblr, and fashion blogs and explores our relationship with materialism. To find out more about the gallery and King’s new work, I emailed off some questions to the both of them.
First up is Ché Zara Blomfield, followed by Daif King.
The Creators Project: What interested you about creating a new exhibition space for digital artists?
Ché Zara Blomfield: For me the work of “digital artists” is encouraging and interesting. I believe the work by The Green Room artists (and a few more I would love to work with!) is participating in the role of what I think contemporary art should do: respond critically to the contemporary environment.
Because of this I don’t really agree with the title “digital artists." I find categorization difficult, and I know I’m not alone in this. Other titles including: net artists, internet-related artists, post-internet artists, and digital natives have also been coined—the latter two I am more comfortable with because they allude to digital technology as something that has happened already rather than something that is foreign or separate. Better clarifying what these titles suggest is important too, like encouraging an understanding that “digital artists” aren’t only working on computers and post-internet doesn’t mean that the internet is over :s
Gloss, by Daif King
So they’re contemporary artists as much as digital artists?
The artists I am exhibiting are contemporary artists in the sense that they are looking at their current surroundings and engaging with the languages of contemporary society. Through this they are able to express their views, which often include looking at the implications of technological development (in the widest sense).
Their practices include digital platforms, because technology is a contemporary tool. I set up the space because I didn’t see much work in any gallery in London that was giving any relevant commentary. When I was researching these artists it was to be all of their first solo presentations in the UK—but since the inauguration that claim has had to be revised due to Jon Rafman’s “9-Eyes” exhibition at Saatchi and Matthew Johnstone’s solo at Jerwood.
In a interview Jon Rafman said: "It’s only Cory Arcangel and Ryan Trecartin—digital artists of my generation—who have been allowed into the higher echelons of the art world.” This is changing, but in the UK it’s happening slowly.
Do you think bigger galleries, like Tate Modern, should be representing digital art more?
I believe the role of the institution is to provide access to a range of art, which in turn can tell us something about our history. Although, as an example, at Tate Modern the public funding which supports this notion is only 38%—so patrons support a lot of it and patron sponsors have different specifics, which are reflected in the Tate’s acquisitions and exhibitions (many patrons for example specify the money is used specifically to buy ‘paintings’). Larger galleries provide the link between institutions and the role of younger, smaller galleries which is to present contemporary art.
Digital developments in institutions at this stage are related to education and are mainly situated outside of the gallery (on the internet) or isolated to a specific space. For instance there’s the Google Art Project which is, currently, a documentation of collections of art from 156 major institutions from around the world including Tate, MoMA, and the National Gallery. More explicitly commercial developments include ArtStack “a discovery tool with a social element—find a work of art that inspires you” which is speculated to be funded/set up by Gagosian in order to see what art is “trending.” And Art.sy “a free, open-access platform where you can discover, learn about, or collect art”—after you get an invite. You can see a list of funders here.
Over time, with new developments in software, and as technology becomes more accessible, these digital aspects will become more intertwined with the gallery environment. It’s worth noting that Tate Modern (according to their Wiki Page) is the “most-visited modern art gallery in the world, with around 4.7 million visitors per year” while artist Rafaël Rozendaal “attracts a large online audience of over 25 million visits per year.”
Study for King’s installation
What sort of problems do you face (if any) by exhibiting digital art in a physical space?
For artists like Rafaël there is a clear distinction between screen-based (web) works and physical presentation—I see this as an interesting challenge for exhibiting in a gallery.
Earlier in the year at The Green Room we exhibited six videos by Petra Cortright, for this we used flat screens. Giving a video work the isolation of a screen in a gallery environment is important and provides a very different experience to watching on your PC. The choice of screen is something foreign to many artists who work on their computer, so it becomes a curatorial decision and one that often depends on budget (at this stage!). The reformatting of video files is almost always a nightmare, but luckily the artists I work with have a pretty good handle on their software/freeware! ;D
You’re exhibiting both well-known artists and not-so-well-known. What criteria do you use to choose what artists to exhibit?
I’m attracted to artists who have a strong sense of what they are interested in and are able to express this visually throughout their body of work. To some degree I am an ‘internet curator.’ I research thoroughly on the internet, meaning that different online modes of presentation these artists use also determines my attraction to them.
I’m interested in how networks operate and how artists use this to their advantage and similarly interested in the idea of ‘nodal points’ (from William Gibson’s Idoru>). Most importantly, the artists I have chosen to exhibit at The Green Room critically engage with a varied range of, what I refer to as, ‘symptoms of our contemporary society.’ They communicate issues I feel are important, so I’m eager to help in this process.
Red Onion at Room Temperature, by Daif King
The Creators Project: How does your work in the exhibition explore the Marxist term “commodity fetishism” as stated in the press release?
Daif King: Maybe that’s a slightly outdated term? That term was related to the DIRECT relationships between the producer and consumer. Now what we are consuming or producing seems more abstract. The images you consume are often not of real items, or even advertising anything—for example, a re-blogged jpeg of a tracksuit that sez “I HAVE GIVEN UP” all over it. You are drawn to it, because you think it can say something about who you are, though it’s quite an absurd idea, and with only a digital presence. Although sure, we are still being used as commodities in the way that through these images we are used for market research for real items. So it’s like we’re not defined by what we are actually physically using or making as much.
I like the more modern way Sut Jhally describes how commodity fetishism works today:
1) Utility/idolatry—where commodities are freed from being merely utilitarian things.
2) Symbolization/iconology—where commodities serve as abstract representations of social values.
3) Personification/narcissism—in which they are intimately connected with the world of interpersonal relations
4) Lifestyle/totemism—in which the first three stages merge to define the group under a singular lifestyle. TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK.
Your sculptures are based on found images on Tumblr and fashion blogs. Why use these places as the basis for your work?
Perhaps when one lives near the beach, one might be compelled to construct driftwood sculptures or paint rainbows onto river stones?
Daif King’s research
Is your work celebrating materialism? Or criticizing it? Or both?
More like research. The language of materialism is so seductive, it’s paralyzing. I’m looking at using the language that we all are fluent in to draw attention to signifiers that have us in their headlights. So I’m skirting that fine line between what is appealing and what is repulsive. By re-contextualising and abstracting symbols and cliches to their extreme end point, they illicit this kind of Pavlovian response where you don’t know why you are drawn to them. That said, I would hate to come across as preachy. I always thought the the worst thing to happen to the conservation movement were hippies, for example.
At the moment, people are interested in 90s culture and exploring the aesthetic of that decade. What do you think people in 20 years time will refer to as the main aesthetic of this current time period, the early 2010s?
I think the 90s represented a time of optimism and forward momentum—though our experience of these trends are mediated through advertising and various cultural discharge, and tend to be short-lived (eg: the post-OBAMA/HOPE). In the 90s this was an attempt to keep people believing in the great ascent of Western lifestyle. It seems that around then was the ending of the naïvety of the idea that we could solve our problems. The idea that technology and products alone could “save” us didn’t seem limited. Nostalgia has a fogging effect that obscures the view we have of the present. Hey, It used to be a medical term. But of course you can’t ignore the amount of recycling happening. Perhaps we are just getting started on an everything-ism phase. We’re becoming aware that the future won’t all be Syd Mead-style sci-fi landscapes, but more like a a shit-ton of recycled cultural rubble. It will be interesting to see what fun and interesting things will be mined and re-used.
The Green Room
Lower level, Rich Mix
35 – 47 Bethnal Green Road
London, E1 6LA
Open Sunday 12-5 and by appointment.