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Take It From Here by Ott Metusala and Erki Närep

Konstanet – between the digital and the material 0

Keiu Krikmann from Tallinn

Art is doing well on the internet – increasingly, art is mediated to the audience via screens. As a result, to a certain extent, art has become flat; the screens have exiled it to the flatland. But I am not saying that in the wistful voice of a digital dualist; on the contrary, I very much agree with the idea that online and offline are not separate worlds, and that the experiences online and offline should not be judged differently or arranged in a hierarchy based on what someone perceives to be more “real”.

In any case, whether we talk about touring museums on Google Cultural Institute, or looking at ‘(post)internet art’, the screen denies the art object materiality. It becomes an image and the lines between the object and its documentation become blurred. This process is accompanied by the emergence of different ways of exhibiting art. One of the most recent examples is The Wrong – New Digital Art Biennale. Although The Wrong has adopted the rather traditional format of the biennale, in addition to curated online exhibitions, it includes various apps, art blogs and online galleries. The Wrong still also incorporates offline events and residencies. Even though we may spend most of our time at the flatland and looking at digital images, the materiality is not completely lost from contemporary ‘internet art’.

In October, Rhizome organised a panel discussion titled “Post-Net Aesthetics”, at the ICA in London. It was the third in the series initially labeled “Net Aesthetics 2.0”; the previous panels had taken place in 2006 and 2008. One of the topics discussed was the shift towards materiality in (post)net art around 2009. Online art production has often become hybrid with material practices, and has acquired a tactile aspect to it. So, the process of balancing between the digital and the material is two-directional: artists whose practice is strongly connected to the internet create object-based work, while artists who are not necessarily associated with the term ‘postinternet’, and have a material-based practice, still have to consider the lives their works take on online, and how that affects them.

Yet, it is not only art that that needs to address these issues – the spaces that display art are faced with the same challenges. And this is exactly where Konstanet stands – in a space hovering somewhere between the digital and the material. Konstanet was founded in July 2013 by the Tallinn-based graphic designer Epp Õlekõrs. Modelled after the exhibition space Probe, in the Netherlands, Konstanet exists, in a way, on two different planes. Even though it functions as a web-based gallery, the space in which the artists set up their installations very much inhabits the physical world. Located in Epp Õlekõrs’s shared studio in Tallinn, the 2.5 m x 3 m x 1 m space is, nevertheless, mostly closed to the public. As soon as the artists have finished documenting their installation, the results of which are uploaded to, it is to be dismantled.

Despite the ephemeral nature of the projects, the physical side of the gallery is crucial. The coordinator of the space, Epp Õlekõrs, explains: “The possibility to work with physical space is central to Konstanet. It is not only about fitting the works into that space – the space also contributes to the works, or, the space itself can be transformed into a work of art. Constructing a space on the screen is different from physically engaging with it – that is, being in the exhibition space and working through the environment on site.”

 The Perception of Veracity by Liis Kaljo and Anneli Veispak

Somewhat unsurprisingly, out of the four projects Konstanet has hosted so far, three were very directly focused on the gallery (space) itself. In The Perception of Veracity, Liis Kaljo and Anneli Veispak explored how our senses deal with the perplexity we experience when confronted with such a space. Ott Metusala’s and Erki Närep’s Take It From Here reflects on the changing nature of exhibition spaces and on the way exhibiting art on the internet affects the modes of display. With their Anthology of Spaces, Mirjam Reili and Teresa Rudolf continue the examination of exhibition spaces by creating a set of instructions for viewing the next six exhibitions to be hosted at Konstanet. Even though Rene Mäe’s and Norman Orro’s Xenotica was the only installation that did not specifically focus on the particularities of the exhibition space, it still addressed, even though indirectly, the issue of working between the digital and the material; using the post-internet working mode, the content was materialised for a brief moment before it was released back to the flatland.

Working with this type of space demands more from both the audience and the artists. It seems that people have become so accustomed to seeing ‘flat’ art, that many of the viewers never realised that the installations were actually not completely two-dimensional but, at least at some point, had occupied physical space as well. The artists also need to adjust, and even more so when working from a distance – via Skype, for example – as it is not always possible for them to physically be present at the gallery to set up their exhibition.

Xenotica by Rene Mäe and Norman Orro

“I would say that the space challenges the artists’ and my own sculptural-spatial imagination, maybe even more than ‘ordinary’ exhibition spaces. Working with an unusual maquette-like space is exciting and creates heaps of questions which are not always easy to find an answer to,” says Epp Õlekõrs. “Konstanet is actually smaller than the photos let the viewer believe, and therefore, what the audience sees is not entirely accurate. This, in turn, influences how the space is approached and raises questions about the scale of the objects in it. How could something true be displayed in the form of an exhibition, when deceiving the viewer’s perception is already written into the very fabric of the space? And there is another layer to it: the artists can decide for the audience how the exhibition is to be looked at, and which details deserve more attention,” she adds. To counterbalance the atypical scale, a more familiar kind of space – the white cube – was chosen for the gallery. As Epp Õlekõrs herself describes it, it is a recognisable environment; people can relate to it and, quite effortlessly, ‘step into’ the image they see on the screen.

The transience of the physical existence of the installations clearly points to the question about the relationship of art and its documentation. With the internet becoming increasingly popular as a medium for exhibiting art, the lines between the actual artwork and its documentations are not very clear anymore – JPEG becomes the ultimate product, as noted by Loney Abrams. What at one point in the past could have been considered the afterlife of the exhibition, or its documentation, has now become the exhibition itself; moreover, it is the initial goal. Even when an exhibition at Konstanet is ‘over’, that is, when it is moved from the ‘current’ section to the ‘archive’, the way in which the audience interacts with it does not considerably change; the difference is marginal. However, putting up a successful exhibition online means that the gallery has to keep up with the pace of ‘the rest of the internet’. The novelty value of the content should not be underestimated, so social networking links and instant feedback are of crucial importance. Online reception is generated in a notably rapid pace, which is why Konstanet has added the feature of “chat” to the site.

 Anthology of Spaces by Mirjam Reili and Teresa Rudolf

Konstanet’s approach to exhibition practices gives way to exploring the entanglement between displaying art online and offline. The digital and the material do not exist separately; there is a constant flip-flopping between those modes – and this is increasingly reflected in artistic practices as well. While it is probably true that in the future, as it has been suggested, curators in certain areas will collect code instead of objects, it is also unlikely that the material will lose its appeal. And, as is evident in Konstanet’s case, balancing between the two spheres can provide opportunities both for reflecting on the changing practices and for exploring the possibilities of the digital-material entanglement.