Curating the Digital

By Julia Greenway

Sarah Meyohas, Cloud of Petals, 2018, Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Portland, OR. Image by Joe Freeman, courtesy of Julia Greenway.

As a curator, I have strived to place viewers inside of the digital, giving tangible boundaries to that infinite space. The gallery is my medium; I work collaboratively with artists to realize their software-based works within physical rooms. This act of translation takes many forms: installations, large-scale video displays, projection mapping, virtual reality, learning systems, internet platforms, and countless others. Through site-specific exhibitions and cross-cultural dialogue, this curatorial process investigates themes of identity as mediated by contemporary modes of communication, including the falseness, disembodiment, and fluidity of online networks, cities, and selves.

This methodology has generated fruitful results with many artists, including Sarah Meyohas and Sondra Perry, who exhibited at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center in Portland, Oregon, during my time as curator-in-residence there.

Sarah Meyohas, Cloud of Petals

Sarah Meyohas’s exhibited work, Cloud of Petals, explores themes of digital world-building. Staged in Eero Saarinen’s Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, the central video shows male workers tenderly plucking 10,000 rose petals. Each of these petals was photographed, archived on a cloud server, and used as material for an algorithmic, expansive, self-learning network. The simplicity of the male performance of plucking the petals and its role in building a digital network suggests that the foundation of our technological language is birthed through the feminine, facilitated by the masculine, with the process working as a parallel to reproduction in the biological world.

The clichéd language of love and reproduction finds yet another analogue in this conversion to digital information. The game of “he loves me, he loves me not,” represented by the pulling of the petals, is a metaphor for the binary language of digital communication—on and off, expressed as 1 and 0. The petal becomes a series of pulses through wires, populating servers and filling the cloud. In the exhibit, the digitized petals came to life via four virtual worlds that housed them as they swirled, danced, and fell like rain around the viewer. Virtual reality headsets hovered above the floor as the projected video filled the west wall, its determinative audio reverberating throughout the space.

An installation of Sondra Perry's work Chromatic Saturation.

Sondra Perry, Chromatic Saturation, 2018, Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Portland, OR. Image by Joe Freeman, courtesy of Julia Greenway.

Sondra Perry, Chromatic Saturation

Also exhibited at Disjecta was Sondra Perry’s Chromatic Saturation, which placed the artist’s videos Lineage for a Multiple-Monitor Workstation: Number One and IT’S IN THE GAME ’17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection in dialogue for the first time. The exhibition enveloped the gallery in a void of digital production space, with the walls painted in Perry’s distinctive palette of chroma key blue and green (i.e., the colors used for video and CGI production). The usage of chroma key formulates a visual link between Perry’s projected works; the colors glitch between the portrayal of lineage as documentary and 3-D rendered artifacts. The artist’s coding examines the impact of digital media in its simulation and appropriation of blackness.

The exhibition weaves a semiautobiographical narrative. Perry leads the viewer through familial history and digital representations of the body, navigating the construction of personhood in the process. Chromatic Saturation abandoned viewers within the infinite space of digital rendering platforms. Free of established hierarchies of race, age, and gender, they were required to construct their own ideas of identity—much like the original intent of an internet-based persona.

In placing the viewer within the digital through the physical transformation of the exhibition space, Meyohas’s and Perry’s works highlight the inherent placelessness of technological environments. But rather than resigning themselves to simple critiques of this phenomenon, they take a proactive approach, embracing the potential for new self-making in this undefined space.

For over three years, Greenway was the director of Interstitial, a committed space in the Pacific Northwest for artists working in digital- and time-based mediums. Her work focused on how digital media influences the aesthetic presentation of gender, economics, and environment. Currently, Greenway is living in London and working toward an MFA in curating at Goldsmiths. https://www.juliagreenway.com/.

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