THE TECHNOLOGY BUBBLE THAT HASN'T BURST
by Alexandra Baraitser
Let's face it; we can't escape the modern world - not now! Not today, not this week and not any time soon because right now we are relying more than ever on technology. We need it for building our websites, purchasing food, socialising, posting blogs - and as a result our smartphones, tablets and laptops are in constant use - but how have artists been utilising technical equipment and all things digital during the lockdown and is an obsessive use of digital technology good for our health?
Isolation impacts physical and mental health and social deprivation has a damaging effect so we know that social interaction is key for wellbeing. Modern communication technology can help alleviate this terrible feeling of isolation that we are experiencing and may be a useful coping strategy for those who feel lonely when working from home. Increased and sustained use of social media, for example, may be socially beneficial, and it is therefore inevitable that more and more people will be connecting in this way during this period. Additionally, social networking platforms provide opportunity for like-minded individuals to get together in a virtual space and provide each other with support and encouragement. Day by day I see more artists joining Instagram, Twitter and Facebook hoping to become the latest networking expert or art marketing guru. It's certainly worth downloading the app and having a go. Socialising through this sort of platform is not the only thing that we are enjoying that is making us 'mentally' happy; for example I know many people who are dedicating hours of their time downloading files for their entertainment (films or music) or resources for research.
Another question is 'what can we do with this time to get something positive back?' Well, artists could look at new and effective ways to communicate ideas, engage in dialogue and boost sales. For example, they might use online platforms to post blogs, arrange more conversations via email and phone and perhaps share information on the latest art prize.
Alexandra Baraitser in her studio, 2019
Photograph by Jasminephotographypage
Robert Dunt Interviews Tate Curator Juliette Rizzi at Picasso 1932
The COVID-19 crisis has meant that artists are in danger of having their livelihoods destroyed and so it is vitally important that they find new ways to sell their work - for example to make promotional videos of their studios or create online exhibitions. I have also witnessed a new phenomena: the rise of the video conferencing service which provides opportunity for online learning and networking. In addition there are public podcasts, interviews, films, photos, blogs and essays to choose from online, but how do we select something to follow? Take YouTube for example. Who do we choose to watch?
Someone who stands out from the rest is painter and YouTuber Robert Dunt, founder of the art review site ArtTop10. Dunt reviews exhibitions and interviews artists on his iPhone encouraging them to be open and honest about their work. He says that 'working with the iPhone is quite interesting as it means doing something that is accessible for many people, which is kind of the ethos of ArtTop10'. Each completed movie is edited by the artist himself with Final Cut Pro on an iMac. Robert Dunt recently made a film about artist Ken Kiff at Turps Gallery, London in which he talks with Marcus Harvey and Anna Kiff about the paintings on show. In another video he takes the viewer on a fly-on-the-wall virtual tour of Damian Hirst's show Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable – it's a sort of relaxed running commentary and even though it is recorded you feel that you are right there with him at the Venice Biennale. These are undoubtedly easy to watch, laid-back, hand held documentaries. It's strange to think that this was already available before self-isolation! You can check out Dunt's gorgeous abstracts (painting, prints and installations are inspired by music and explore the use of colour in a contemporary context) by visiting his website and view his films by searching for ArtTop10 on YouTube.
Robert Dunt working on one of his large Distortion Form pieces 2018
Rosalind Davis is well known for using the internet to publicly promote herself and her work. She shares podcast interviews about her curating career, collaborations with artists and her teaching (she gives tutorials on subjects such as organising a self-curated show) and photos of her shows. She is the curator of Collyer Bristow Gallery which has been championing artistic talent for the last twenty seven years. The gallery's current show Me Myself and I which was due to come down on June the 10th will be extended to November and will be open by appointment in due course. The gallery is highlighting each artist in the show on the gallery Instagram page – so if you miss this show, don't worry, you can see the work directly from your own living room! Davis is a cross-disciplinary artist who has exhibited widely. A recent work Border Controls, made collaboratively with artist Justin Hibbs for their exhibition at Kaleidoscope Gallery, is a large scale sculptural installation that brought together different aspects of both artists practice into direct dialogue with one another. Rosalind Davis is an artist whose central concern is the transformation and reconfiguration of space through multiple disciplines. Beginning with the highly rationalised and objective language of architecture, she dis-assembles its geometries to re-create new and multifaceted spaces. Davis is also the co-writer of What They Didn't Teach You At Art School. The book, co-written with Annabel Tilley, advises artists on how to thrive in a fiercely competitive art world and was produced soon after Annabel Tilley and Rosalind Davis worked together to set up the London-based arts organisation, Zeitgeist Projects, and The Zeitgeist Open (2012-2015). Rosalind tells me that she accidentally sparked a nationwide Twitter debate when she asked the question 'How do you survive as artists?', which led to the opportunity to write the book. Tilley writes 'I first met Rosalind when she was running a new gallery in New Cross in 2011. The gallery itself, in a studio complex, turned out to be a spacious corridor, and the actual wall space between the doors to studios. It was mad but brilliant, and so typical of Rosalind, always full of ingenious ideas - shrewd, astute - and a gifted curator.
Annabel Tilley in her Hastings Studio, April 2020.
Photograph by Brian Bailey.
Rosalind Davis and Justin Hibbs with their collaborative site-specific installation Border Controls at no format Gallery 2018
Hastings based artist Tilley, who is very computer savvy, admits that she came late to Instagram but was an immediate convert. She writes 'Artists are visual people, and I for one, thrive on a regular dose of visual stimuli, and derive great comfort and enjoyment from the daily back and forth I have with other artists on Instagram'. During lockdown she has been posting images of her drawings and paintings that are for sale tagged with the hashtag #artistsupportpledge. The online 'Artists Support Pledge' encourages artists to sell their art for up to £200. When they reach sales of £1000, they pledge to buy another artist's work for £200. Annabel Tilley makes work that brings together a huge love for art history and museum collections. Tilley's background in the theatre, and a father who worked in films and encouraged her photographic view of the world, is much in evidence in her paintings that often present a flat, static, graphic colourful presence of 2D objects in a 3D space. Tilley graduated from the University of Brighton in 2003 and has lectured on professional practice for artists at universities. She teaches experimental drawing, collage and sketchbook workshops at East Sussex College and West Dean College.
I have noticed an increase in the number of virtual exhibitions. I myself have curated this month an online project: Judith Tucker, one of the artists invited to exhibit and who showed online for the first time, sees the show as having a positive impact. She says '[this project] ...came at a really opportune moment for me in lockdown: I was gradually emerging from a long bout of COVID-19, one that I was been lucky enough not to be hospitalised, but unlucky in that I had every symptom and still now a lingering fatigue and daily variation in energy. I had been just managing to struggle upstairs to my studio where I had two small paintings, part of my ongoing series Dark Marsh, close to completion. The opportunity to show these meant that I used every last ounce of energy and just pulled them off in time.' The exhibition 'has been key in forging new ways of making connections, and along with Instagram, seems to be opening up ideas of how to develop intimacy through distance'. Online shows (to quote Tucker) are complex as they are 'both simultaneously proximate and distant'. Judith Tucker was asked for the exhibition to make a video of her studio space during lockdown. She says that at first she was nervous about the element of risk and vulnerability in putting a space that is usually concealed into the public domain but was pleased with the results and therefore happy to share. She writes: 'So, paradoxically, social distancing and online shows also open up hitherto private workspaces, and like my paintings we are allowed odd instances of intimacy and glimpses and insights into areas we might not previously have been invited to see. Having made it, and put it online, and looking at the other artists’ videos and the subsequent conversations and discussions with friends, artists and others have given me a sense of renewed engagement.' Tucker, whose paintings explore the meeting of social history, personal memory and geography is a senior lecturer in Painting at Leeds University and is currently marking papers and teaching students online.
"Paradoxically, social distancing and online shows also open up hitherto private workspaces, and like my paintings we are allowed odd instances of intimacy and glimpses and insights into areas we might not previously have been invited to see"
Judith Tucker, Dark marsh: winter tangle, 2020
oil on linen 30 x 40 cm
So if you are one of those artists who have never done any of this internet stuff before - how do you start? There are plenty of resources online that can help you and a few books too: I have already mentioned What They Didn't Teach You At Art School which has a section giving advice on social media and how to write a blog. If you need to set up a website of your artwork there are some free and easy to use website building tools that you can use such as Squarespace and you can easily search for 'how to guides' on the Web. If you need general help about using the internet you could try Wikihow.com's guides – it even explains what URLs are. If you need advice about 'thriving and surviving' as an artist, Justin Hibbs and Rosalind Davis are giving online workshops that cover the topic of representing yourself online. The course starts in June and is run by Clayhill Arts. There are more classes taught under lockdown via Instagram - why not try out one of the great artists lectures from The Essential School of Painting, with Dan Coombs, Liane Lang, David Mach and Guy Allott.
Most of us should have been taking advantage of the internet years ago and now we are forced to. Like the Primark clothing store chain some of us have never had a website, now the pressure is on to compete with the rest of the art world and get connected. If we get our timing right, the internet will be our lifeline. So let's not delay, start downloading that app or podcast, you'll be healthier for it - and you never know you might just cash in!
Alexandra Baraitser, Caustic Café, 2020
oil on canvas, 67 x 75.5cm