|Translating networked interfaces and what we expect from them with Projected.Capital and Gallery.Delivery
|Sebastian Schmieg Marialaura Ghidini
Marialaura Ghidini: I’m interested in discussing two of your projects, Projected.Capital (a collaboration with Silvio Lorusso) and Gallery.Delivery, because they intervene, although in a different manner, in processes of value creation and the way digital technology plays a role in this. But before diving into this aspect, since you are an artist, what brought you to work with the exhibition medium?
Sebastian Schmieg: In 2016, Silvio Lorusso and I took part in an Art Hack Day in Montreal where we made a piece called My Peace is Your Piece. It was a very simple version of Projected.Capital, and the idea was to outsource the production of our piece to other artists in real-time by allowing them to buy a little piece of a website which we projected in the exhibition space, allowing them to exhibit there as well. Later, developing an exhibition format and curating an exhibition, as I did with Gallery.Delivery, seemed like a natural step to expand my own practice and to explore and understand the possibilities of exhibition making.
M.G.: Both projects give life to exhibition formats that are instructional and can be appropriated and replicated in different locations — Gallery.Delivery has been presented as a franchise hosted by different organisations, such as Greencube.gallery. What is interesting to you about developing such open and distributable formats?
S.S.: Gallery.Delivery is itself an artwork, which of course I would like to exhibit regularly, and when you make an artwork, you also have to think about how to display it in different places. Even though Gallery.Delivery looks very simple and smooth, setting it up involved a lot of work which was also supported by the gallery Roehrs & Boetsch from Zurich. Therefore, the transformation into a franchise was partly born out of necessity. I think it also fits conceptually to start locally and then make it this faux global brand and franchise. Of course, I’m inspired by Aram Bartholl’s Speed Show concept, which follows a similar logic, even if it’s much simpler and more elegant. Speed Shows are generous, and I hope Gallery.Delivery can also be helpful as a format for other artists or exhibition makers, as it allows people to exhibit without having to pay rent for an exhibition space.
M.G.: What role does collaboration play in your work?
S.S.: Making art has always been a networked affair for me. I’m regularly in touch with friends, discussing things that concern us and exchanging ideas. So for me, making art is a collaborative effort, even if in the end there is only one artist. With someone like Silvio Lorusso, it also feels natural to turn conversations into collaborative artworks, since the idea usually can’t be attributed to either of us alone. Curating and exhibiting is of course a great way to get to know other artists and their ideas and ways of working. In general, I enjoy oscillating between solo and collaborative approaches, as both function quite differently in terms of energy and freedom, but complement each other well.
M.G.: If Projected.Capital uses Paypal as a transactional medium for ‘publishing’ an artwork — and therefore gain access to a prestigious gallery space, such as Roehrs & Boetsch; Gallery.Delivery uses an algorithmic delivery system to bring specifically curated exhibition into people’s houses. What is the role that technology plays in your curatorial interventions?
S.S.: Technology is a big and fuzzy term, so I’ll try to be precise. What both projects have in common is the way they translate networked interfaces and what we expect from them — immediacy, frictionlessness, constant availability — to physical spaces. A PayPal button linked to enough money can buy me some exhibition space in a gallery in Zurich. A similar button can prompt a courier to deliver an entire exhibition to my apartment. Both projects address how interfaces obscure the complicated and often laborious processes triggered by a simple button.
M.G.: Various curators working on the web have termed the process of working across online and offline spheres as an act of translating, bridging, and transitioning; terms that often stress the disconnect between them. Your projects mostly unfold in physical spaces, yet digital technology is intrinsic to their existence. How do you understand operating and/or curating in the online environment?
S.S.: If by online and offline you also mean digital and physical, then I don’t see them as two separate spheres, especially now that the Internet is present everywhere all the time anyway. In fact, a lot of my practice is about how these things are interwoven. Algorithms that guide bodies through physical spaces, or “geographic ideologies” like the Silicon Valley that are embedded in certain platforms and produce certain kinds of users.
When it comes to creating works or curating an exhibition, you always have to think about the context in which they will be seen. Of course, there’s a lot of thought these days about whether and how people will document what they see and share it on social media. But with online work, you also have to think a lot about the physical. Where are people when they look at the work or the exhibition? What kind of device are they going to use? I feel like with online work you can reach a potentially infinite audience, but also one that is very difficult to predict in terms of context, attention span, etc. Maybe the ideal is to create something that makes people miss the train or metro stop they wanted to get off at because they were so engrossed in the work or the exhibition.
M.G.: In an interview about Greencube.gallery, Guido Segni said apropos Gallery.Delivery : “even though there was no real exhibition online, the online experience was much more meaningful than any other online exhibition, pseudo 3D, because it triggered a process that could propagate into real life.” I think it’s a very apt description of the project, can you tell me more about this idea of working with propagating online experiences into real life?
S.S.: What I am addressing and trying to create myself is this situation in which bodies circulate in an algorithmic way, just as texts or images do in networked contexts. A click on a website makes the courier’s body appear in my apartment, where a previously improbable encounter can take place. I feed the photos I take of this performance back into social media, which triggers more clicks on the button, which in turn sets the courier’s body in motion and creates new encounters. I don’t mean this in a marketing sense — which is, of course, one reason — but as a reflection on the impact of networked computers and interfaces.
M.G.: Both projects have a specific way of interfering with the logic of commerce that is embedded in the e-economy — from attention as an economy to the opacity of the services and infrastructure we rely on. Can you tell me more about your approach, and understanding of interference/disruption? Perhaps also in relation to your understanding of “corporatisation” of day-to-day tasks?
S.S.: Neither project aims to disrupt what you call the e-economy. Rather, I think both projects embrace it. Ideally, this leads to a situation where multiple interpretations are possible. Projected.Capital and Gallery.Delivery seem to be a logical extension of this corporatisation of everyday tasks, and so they make sense in a business or, more broadly, capitalist logic. But hopefully they also have a certain amount of weirdness and playfulness about them, of exaggeration. And finally, I think both projects also hint at new possibilities, like the aforementioned encounter between bike messenger and art lover in the intimate space of one’s own home; or new ways of organizing group exhibitions and sharing the attention and prestige that an exhibition in a commercial gallery brings. When artists rented an exhibition space through Projected.Capital, we automatically provided them with a line for their CV, well-formatted and ready to copy and paste into their website or PDF portfolio.
M.G.: In this sense, your projects also propose a critical look at the workings of the commercial art system and the infrastructure of contemporary art. How can an online exhibition — for example, the way you work with display formats — offer an alternative? And why proposing such a critique by working with the integration of online and offline contexts?
S.S.: I don’t really consider myself part of the commercial art system, although I do work in commercial settings from time to time. Instead, I have made the conscious decision to support my practice by teaching. Not because I think it’s better than selling art, but because it fits better with the way I work. I think it is necessary to address the conditions under which one works and makes art. In a clean exhibition space, all the work and all the workers become invisible as soon as the exhibition opens. Equally invisible is who is allowed to exhibit and why. I assume that most artists come from a relatively wealthy and well-educated background, and so Projected.Capital bluntly asks who has the most capital with which to buy exhibition space in a gallery. Institutional critique existed before the Internet or the web became more widely accessible, but an online context allows for new ways of inquiry.
From the beginning, net art also proposed new ways of organizing and exhibiting outside the commercial art system. I think this is true to a certain extent. For example, it can be relatively easy to set up an exhibition on a website. Producing work online sometimes requires a smaller production budget, so the barriers to entry are lower. The space is infinite, and the possibilities are many. The distance between a critical artwork and what it critiques can be small — a single click, or even less if the artwork is embedded in the platform it seeks to critique. The programmed nature of the web enables new ways of working. In general, I think making and exhibiting art on the web and with the web offers wonderful opportunities for artists to engage with their subject of inquiry.
However, there is also a tendency to view work that happens on the web as something that is inherently cheap. Artist fees are often lower or non-existent for online shows or commissions, and the same is true for production budgets. Similarly, online talks are regularly paid less, as if artists are paid for the time they travel to a location rather than the expertise and experience they bring.
M.G.: Especially in light of the mass migration of exhibition programmes online during the Covid-19 pandemic, what does it mean to engage an audience online nowadays? What is important?
S.S.: I would like to highlight two examples that I really enjoyed. The 2020 edition of AMRO [Of Whirlpools and Tornadoes], short for Art Meets Radical Openness, had a wonderful online exhibition, Lost in a garden of clouds, curated by Davide Bevilacqua and designed by Sofia Braga and Matthias Schäfer. Visitors could navigate through the exhibition as if they were playing a simple adventure game, encountering the artworks along the way. The exhibition was beautifully designed without 3D overkill, and it really made sense to visit the exhibition as a website, meaning it didn’t feel like an online version of something that should have taken place in a physical space: the web site as a place explore. Another highlight of AMRO’s 2020 issue was the way the theme of food was handled: to create a sense of sharing a meal with other participants, a recipe was posted online for each of the three days so that visitors could recreate the same meal at home.
Another online event that really impressed me was the Chaos Communication Congress 2020, or more specifically the website they had set up for people to wander around, meet each other and talk — the so-called “remote chaos experience”. Again, this felt like a somewhat nostalgic but beautiful game, a fascinating world in its own right.
M.G.: I think the pandemic marked the death of curating on the web as I understood it, or at least it marked the end of its role as a space for exploring the production, display and distribution of art on the web. What’s today’s web? And what does it mean to work with the web?
S.S.: During the pandemic, the most notable development was the NFT market. Despite its reliance on blockchain and crypto technology, it is art that is primarily viewed and curated on the web. However, it seems to me that art produced and published in this space pays little attention to the web and the browser, even though this is the place where artists exhibit and collectors curate. What seems to matter is how the artwork looks on Twitter or as part of the platforms’ grid layout. Another development related to NFTs is the so-called web3. It is beyond the scope of this interview to talk about these developments or communities, but this interest in the web, especially among young artists and designers, makes me feel positive despite my doubts about NFTs and web3. The web is always under pressure from apps, platforms, etc., but at the end of the day it is still an incredibly lively medium, with the browser probably being the most important piece of software we have. So working with the web is crucial to securing and developing our future, not just as artists and curators.