Monday 13 April 2015

At Dubai’s Global Art Forum, technology takes centre-stage

By Tajudeen Sowole

Whatever fear or enthusiasm anyone had for the future of art appreciation in the context of technology, a broader perspective emerged during the ninth edition of a section known as Global Art Forum (GAF) at the Art Dubai Fair, in UAE that was recently held.
  With the theme Download Update?, presentations from participants such as writers, promoters, art dealers, among others that were extensively discussed seemed to suggest that there is more to embrace in the way technology, particularly, electronic and internet drive art.
  Indeed, the last one and half decade has brought drastic changes to the medium through which art is appreciated or appropriated. And clearly, technology has shown that it has no respect for sentiment, and not ready to be slowed down by traditions. From museum to art marketing, even creation of art, technology has really changed how art is handled.

Participants during GAF 2015

Co-directed by Turi Munthe, a media entrepreneur; Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a communicator on social, political and economic matters and Shumon Basar, author and GAF's director-at-large, the gathering did a surgical analysis that had no favourites among the two basics of art - modern and contemporary.
  Under the topic Strangers, Welcome New Invisible Publics, Day 3 of the forum started as presenters shared Latin American experience and a proposed Palestinian Solidarity museum challenge in areas of accessing as well as keeping collection in the traditional form. From each of the presentations by Gala Berger, artist and co-founder of Museo La Ene Galeria Immigrante, an Argentina who explained the difficulty in maintaining a facility for museum in her country, to Jack Persekian's narration of the fragility of having a museum building in occupied Palestine territory, came argument for a non-physical structure in archiving.
  For example, Persekian, a curator, founder and director Anadied Gallery and Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary in Jerusalem, said, "Palestinians in Palestine, Lebanon, the U.S. like to maintain collection." He, however, noted that "archiving has problem of securing collection" from donors. He suggested to the various institutions "to digitise and have online archive." With a virtual museum, the collectors of historic Palestine materials "would release them for photography."
  But the Palestinian challenge of having a museum, perhaps transcends the issue of a physical facility or online, said Persekian.  Quite a number of institutions, he disclosed, have potentials towards having a museum. "Collectivity of the institutions, is also a challenge in creating a national archive." He recalled that the proposed-museum, in the 1990s was “a museum of memory." The idea, he explained, was truncated "after The Intifada."
  In fact, the Palestinian museum challenge appears like a typical example of how technology could bring a solution. "If you build a museum in West Bank, other Palestinians in Israel would not have access to it because of the law." He stressed the urgent need for a virtual museum "to address part of the Palestinian questions." One of such issue to be addressed by the museum "is that Palestinian history is more than the 1945 catastrophe that created the state of Israel."
  As pathetic as Persekian's Palestinian museum challenge sounds, the increasing fragility of heritage sites at conflict zones also makes digitisation of archival materials and online museum more pertinent. For example, quite a volume of ancient literary materials were reportedly torched by the Malian rebels during the war in that country two years ago.   
Also, currently, UNESCO has the challenge of restoring damaged heritage sites in Syria and Iraq.
  On the next topic, Architecture Effects: Moving On After Progress, aimed at looking at the endangered future of the architect and other professionals in the business of building, in a digitised environment, the introduction and real substance of the presentation seemed to be competing for attention. As eloquent as the presenter, Troy Conrad Therrien, curator at Architecture and Digital Initiative, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Museum was in his presentation, the depth of the intro, which apparently was too long appeared to have created a lull moment.
  Among the profound areas that technology, in the past one and a half decades, has made strong change in art is online marketing and sales of art. Via the opening topic of Day-4, Values, Virtue and Virtual, the competitive edge, which online sales and marketing of art poses to the traditional outlets was discussed and debated. Financial Times art market columnist, Georgina Adam led the discussion that included Sebastim Cwilich, president of Artsy, a art collecting and education resource; Thomas Gailbrath, Managing Director, Auctions at Paddle8; and Ander Petterson, Art Tactic founder.

  While the behavioural pattern in Jpeg mentality keeps growing to the emotional detriment of conservatives in the art market, an online market said to be growing at astronomical sped, several hundred of million dollars yearly does not look like another ‘fad’ ready to surrender to the traditional outlets. As delicate as buying art has been (perhaps still), the online market has demystified the fragility perception. In fact, Petterson argued that "the online market is larger than expectation." But the debate about buying art that you do not see or feel physically continued. "Whether the idea of buying art you do not see physically is ideal, is another debate." For Cwilich, it "makes more sense to transact online."
  Online selling, stressed Gailbrath, does not make authenticity less potent. "We require the same standard as other auction house: otherwise you lose trust." Perhaps speaking for those who still view the jpeg revolution with suspicion, Adam asked: "Shouldn't there be interaction between a buyer and the art?" It's just a delayed process that the time lapse makes no difference, so Petterson explained. "The trust here is that at the end of the day, the collector still feel the work," anyway. Still on trust, jpeg or any soft copy of image should not be blackmail, said Gailbrath.
  "Seeing a jpeg and making a choice is not so different from viewing a catalogue in print," Cwilich, agreed. He recalled that in 1999/2000 the apprehension was justified as "e-bay and Amazon failed to sell online because the technology then could not sustain it."
  However, the future is the ultimate decider, so suggests Gailbrath's experience from his interaction with a collector and observing a two-year-old child. He narrated: "four years ago, a collector told me online that art selling might be a fad. But my two year old who flips through the TV screen would be comfortable to buy online in the future." And beyond the generational shift in how people communicate, technology, he predicted, might come up with a more advance way of selling art via soft wares in the future.
  Between the traditional and online selling of art Gailbrath did not see a competitive space. "It's to the detriment of traditional selling; no competition." He boasted that "every month we increase our sales." 
 The 2015 edition of GAF had opened in Kuwait with the fist two days held ahead of the Art Dubai preview. Day-5 of the forum had topics like The World of in the Age of Digital Natives scheduled for presentations by Laurent Gaveau, Head of the Lab, Google Cultural Institution and Basar; and Middle East Team Building by artist, Abdulahi Al Mutairi; Simon Castets, director and curator, Swiss Institute Contemporary Art; and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, curator, co-director of exhibition.
  Recall that at the 2013 edition of GAF, curator, Bisi Silva; artist, Emeka Ogboh; writer, and Tolu Ogunlesi shared Nigerian experience in art appreciation. Day 6 of the year’s Global Art Forum, focused Lagos as a mega city that is re-shaping art contents of artists. At the non-African audience-dominated forum, Silva gave an overview of Lagos as a city of paradox, despite its chaotic and fast pace characteristics, people across the country come to search for fortune.
  The 2015 edition’s speakers in Kuwait and Dubai included Jawbone founder, Alexander Asseily; M3/Relativity design director, Christopher Bevans; Google Cultural Project director, Amit Sood; and digital education innovator Ayesha Khanna. Artists, writers and curators include Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Amar Bakshi, James Bridle, Manal Al Dowayan, Cécile B. Evans, Omar Kholeif, Dan O'Hara, The Otolith Group and Troy Therrien.

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