Curator Carmen Stolfi on art in the digital age
20 feb 2014 by Ashton Chandler
Carmen Stolfi is an independent curator based in Rome who collaborates with commercial and non-profit institutions in Italy and the USA as a curatorial coordinator and writer. She contributes to Juliet Art Magazine, Famo, and ATPDiary. art:i:curate speaks to her about art in the digital age, online art platforms, and curating new media art.
AC: Do you feel exhibiting art online takes away from the “aura” of an original work of art (according to Walter Benjamin’s writings) or do you think it’s important for viewers to have the chance to experience a work of art online that they may otherwise not have access to without the Internet?
CS: No, I don’t think it would be taken away. The issue of the lost “aura” of an original artwork when connected to immaterial art reminds me of Chris Burden’s performances intended as actions to be experienced here and now. Besides, it is usual for Tino Sehgal not to document any of his performances emphasising that specific transitory moment as the real essence of performances: an experience of production, de-production and re-production the audience contributes to create by storytelling, by recounting it afterwards. If we intend art as a pure gesture that doesn’t necessarily release a product - leaving instead traces of experience - and as a conceptual action in which the identity of the artist is strong, then yes, I feel we can consider online exhibitions along the same line as traditional ones.
What I see challenging in exhibiting art online concerns the way works can be displayed without altering the nature of them. A full comprehension of the artworks is needed in order to properly deliver the background, cultural message and roots, technique, and their relation to the space.
AC: What is your viewpoint of the rise of online art platforms in general and how do you think they are shaping the way the current art world functions in terms of serving as a marketplace and digital gallery?
CS: I am very favorable to the rise of online art platforms as they are open and democratic tools of research, information, documentation, and exploration. Depending on the service, I hope online art platforms encourage competition between galleries/commercial spaces in the marketplace. What I see they are doing hitherto is to serve as channel of promotion and visibility for artists and art institutions, improve and provide information on local art scenes. As for the latter aspect, I am now in the process of launching a new website soon that functions as an art resource and a practical guide of art galleries, exhibitions, and reviews of the latest and best art in Rome.
AC: Do you foresee viewers visiting traditional galleries less as they can access artwork from their personal computers and mobiles?
CS: No, I don’t. I think there will always be a public enjoying art in brick and mortar galleries as there will always be people reading hard copy books. To be honest, I would like more and more viewers visit traditional galleries just like more and more people research, discover, and even buy art online. The rise of contemporary art awareness and sensibility is something that I expect from the interaction between virtual and traditional galleries. After all, would that be really different buying art online than buying shoes and dresses online having tried them on before in the real life?
AC: While online art platforms are a fairly new concept, new media art is not. Which artists have you come across that have been most effective in applying new technologies in their work whilst commenting on our current digital age?
CS: Ryan Trecartin, Petra Cortright, and Beatrice Marchi. The three of them, though from different angles, share a research focused on the aesthetics of Internet and TV-reality programs by using YouTube-based videos, webcams, emoticons, selfies, and avatars as well as languages and characters which are typical of absurd, kitschy, and off-colour situations à la Jersey Shore & Co. I find all of the three practices very interesting in the way they offer a reflection of our modern youth generation and comment on the digital era by pointing at the overproduction of images, the loss of intimacy and privacy, and the overexposure of people to information.
AC: How do you as a curator embrace and adapt your practice when working with new media art?
CS: With a focus of research on communication, I explore the communicative potential of new media artworks and their way to efficiently investigate, explain and comment on current events and socio-political phenomena. We live in a highly technologised society, and art – if really contemporary as it claims to be – needs to be up-to-date and use anything good modernity has to offer to express an effective content by using the proper medium in order to reach people. For example, I love the way Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal creates aesthetic experiences via the Internet by working on the relationship between the viewer and the artwork. His interactive installation Domestic Tension (2007) transforms the passive experience into an active participation: viewers can log onto the Internet to contact and shoot the artist with paintball guns. The message here is to raise awareness of the lack of privacy in the digital age as well as the violent and suffering life the Iraqi people face every day.