This Space is no final frontier. Rather, it's just begun as a new place for digital and experimental art.
A free and public website aimed at discovering the best emerging digital artistic talent around the world, The Space opened yesterday and is launching with a weekend hackathon hosted by the Tate Modern in London, a first for the formidable institution. Born from a partnership between Arts Council England, the BBC, Open Data Institute, and other cultural groups, it's “a gallery without walls,” says Alex Graham, chair of The Space. The Space is putting out an international open call for projects, the first round of which is due July 11. The projects will be funded by the partnering groups with amounts ranging from £20,000 (about $34,000) to £60,000 ($101,000) for an individual commission, and up to 50% of the total cost. Each Friday, new collaborations will launch.
Among the first installations are pieces from high-profile artists, including Marina Abramovic, who broadcasted live on the site at midnight last night, and Ai Weiwei, who has an interactive piece on The Space. There will also be a live, Google hangout theater project with actors in London, Barcelona, and Lagos and directed by Erin Gilley.
“There’s a profound shift, which is the latest shift in the interface between technology and art," says Graham. "We’ve always seen artists in the forefront of any technological shift, from the printing press to photography. Now, the web and digital is facilitating possibly the biggest shift we’ve yet to see. [The Space] wanted to be in a position where we could help create a space for artists to support them during this shift. It’s an opportunity for us to break the traditional boundaries.”
Ruth Mackenzie is the launch director and the curator of The Space. With a background in theater and previously the director of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad (in conjunction with the 2012 Olympics), she’ll be managing a team of producers and helping to evaluate the kinds of artists and projects that will be included. “We’re expecting 50 commissions per year, and we’ll showcase both well-known and unknown artists, coming from digital, tech, creative industries, and talent anywhere in the world," says Mackenzie.
Open Data Institute cofounders Nigel Shadbolt and Tim Berners-Lee, who is often credited with helping invent the World Wide Web, leaped at the chance to be part of this project. "We're trying to develop the next generation of technology, and per Tim’s vision, see humanity connected," Shadbolt says. "We must show what the art of the possible is, creating economic, social, and environmental value. We see data as an essential part of an artistic enterprise.”
That's where events like this weekend's hackathon at the Tate come in. Open to the public, there will be more than 100 different artists and technologists taking over the Turbine Wall gallery. Their wide-open assignment: take any piece of data and turn it into art. The museum estimates that 10,000 visitors will hit the Tate this weekend, and will thus will be exposed to the evolving productions during the hackathon.
“On the eve of London's first ever Tech week, it is absolutely right that The Space launches at Tate Modern with the world's largest Art Hack," London mayor Boris Johnson said during a pre-launch conference.
Ai Weiwei, the famous Chinese artist not much loved by the Communist Party, has supplied some of his own personal data for the hackathon, dating back to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in which thousands died due to poor city building codes. "Let’s make an effort and a world with more possibility," Weiwei said about The Space. "Thanks to this new way to communicate and express ourselves.”
Despite the splashy launch, marketing challenges remain very real for The Space. With goals of reaching over 10 million people over three years, with 20% in the 18-25 age group, and 20% coming from outside the U.K., the project is ambitious. And, Mackenzie notes, “We don’t just want audiences. We hope that people themselves can develop their own creative skills and muscles. We want to show that art can still be at the center of political life and debate.”
Meanwhile, there may be clear guidelines for evaluating the open call for projects, but what there is not much of yet is transparency. The team is seasoned, and has impressive experience in the art world, but Mackenzie acknowledged that the evaluation criteria would be subjective. “The art chosen will have to comprise something of a banquet. Not everything can be savory. My team and I will make the curatorial choices.”
That sounds a bit like the traditional art world, with it’s walled gardens and highbrow curation. What happens if they receive thousands of projects, and many are incredible? That’s both the best- and worst-case scenario for the artists hoping to be chosen for the impressive sum of investment and commission.
The hope is that, as The Space evolves, technologists like Shadbolt will help Graham, Mackenzie, and their artistic team come up with innovative solutions, even to curation. For example, crowdsourced voting could play a part in helping select wining projects. If The Space can indeed become not only a website on which artists can emerge and be discovered, but also a prime example of collaboration across the technology and art sectors, an interesting new vision for what a museum can be will emerge.
“Where is the Banksy online?" asks Open Data Institute CEO Gavin Starks. "How do we better stumble across art in the online space?”
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