The Link Art Center Closes Down. Interview with the Founders

Debate, Texts
Collect the WWWorld. The Artist as Archivist in the Internet Age at 319 Scholes, New York 2012. Curated by Domenico Quaranta

What follows is the English translation (courtesy Google Translate, with some editing by yours truly) of an interview originally published in Italian on Artribune, about the end of the Link Art Center (here the official announcement). Together with my long time partners Lucio Chiappa, Matteo Cremonesi, Fabio Paris, I discuss with Valentina Tanni about the increasing awareness of digital cultures in mainstream contemporary art, media art institutions, collaboration, curating, publishing, and working on all this from Italy…

Valentina Tanni, in Artribune, September 19, 2019

After eight years of editorial, curatorial and exhibition activity, the Link Art Center, a cultural association engaged in the dissemination of new media art, announced its closure. We spoke with the founders – Domenico Quaranta, Fabio Paris, Lucio Chiappa and Matteo Cremonesi – to take stock of this important experience.

Let’s start with the inevitable question: why do you stop? Why now?

Domenico Quaranta: The Link Art Center was founded as a cultural association in 2011, with the mission to foster, at national and international level, a greater diffusion and awareness of the “arts of the information age”. At the time we perceived this mission as a burning necessity. We were spectators of a dynamism of the artists that did not find an adequate response in the institutions, in the magazines, in the market. We had to do something, and we did it. But on this front, from 2011 to 2019, there have been enormous changes, both at the artistic level and at a more general level of society, in Italy and in the rest of the world. Just visit a mainstream contemporary art event such as this year’s Venice Biennale to perceive the scale of this change. Themes that once would have been defined as “digital culture”, such as artificial intelligence, are now on the agenda, and not just in a discursive niche; languages ​​that once would have been defined as “new media”, such as virtual reality, are placed in the hands of contemporary art veterans such as Marina Abramovič or Anish Kapoor.

What do you think about aesthetic research made with the help of a computer?

Debate

During Manfred Mohr’s solo exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1971, “a large white panel was mounted in the exhibition hall at the Museum, a sort of guest book, where visitors could write whatever they wished to say. The panel consisted of sprocketed computer paper (77.5 centimeters by 281 centimeters) placed on a wooden board.” This is what they got. Check out this page to read into details.

I discovered this story today thanks to Wolf Lieser‘s beautiful presentation at Retune Festival in Berlin. After the 1971 exhibition, the panel was shown only once, 40 years later, at Bitforms Gallery.

What are these people actually talking about?

Debate

“I think it’s a creative act in a digital space, that goes beyond the more trivial interactions that social media encapsulates, and engenders some kind of emotional response.”

“There were a bunch of fine artists working in digital space, but they weren’t necessarily making digital art.”

“Suddenly there’s a lot more activity in the fine art world. Then there’s a response from the more code-based people, who feel that they’ve been making what we’re now calling digital art for a decade, and what are these fine art people doing thinking that they can come along and co-opt it all. It’s an interesting time.”

“If the internet is the Gutenberg Press, we haven’t got the novel yet. We might have the odd illuminated manuscript, but what we don’t have is an art form that’s native to the internet.”

“all of the digital art that we see, read, consume, listen to, is an older format that’s been updated or tweaked for a digital age. E-books, MP3s, YouTube… they’re all new ways of consuming older forms.”

“There’s an abundance of creative energy that doesn’t need to be codified as art. That’s what’s busting so many people’s brains, and making it so hard to answer the question ‘what is digital art?’.”

“A creative act in digital space”. Eleanor Turney in conversation with Fred Deakin, in The Space, September 2, 2014

A little bit of history repeating: Digital Revolution at Barbican

Debate, Quote

Doesn’t this sound familiar? If not, go to read chapter 4 of Beyond New Media Art and you will seriously consider to accuse Alastair Sooke of plagiarism of early reviews by Roberta Smith, Lucy Bowditch, Barbara Pollack, Stefanie Syman and alikes. Some relevant quotes:

“In case you hadn’t noticed, we are living in the middle of a revolution. ”

“The exhibits in Digital Revolution are often astonishing, but at the same time the show can veer too close to the tone and texture of a tech industries trade fair.”

” the “art” (in this case, the film itself) has been sidelined, while the means of production take centre stage. ”

About Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s The Year’s Midnight (2011): “It’s clever and briefly diverting – but, then, that’s kind of it: a 21st-century version of a distorting fairground mirror. What else is there to say?”

“Digital Revolution is a great idea for a show, and I applaud the extraordinary creativity that is palpable in every single gallery. No one could fault the advances in technology on display, but the art that has emerged out of that technology? Well, on this showing, too much of it seems gimmicky, weak and overly concerned with spectacle rather than meaning, or making a comment on our culture. Moreover, for an exhibition that is supposed to be about the cutting edge of technology, the graphics used by some of the featured electronic artists are surprisingly awkward.”

Alastair Sooke, “Digital Revolution, Barbican Centre, review: ‘gimmicky'”, in The Telegraph, June 30, 2014, online at www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/10935600/Digital-Revolution-Barbican-Centre-review-gimmicky.html

New Media Art vs Mainstream

Debate, Quote

For those who want to see the war of worlds in the making, an interesting debate is taking place this month on the CRUMB mailing list. The discussion responds to a recent review of the book Art And the Internet (Blackdog Publishing, 2014), written by Pac Pobric and published on the Basel edition of The Art Newspaper. Pobric blames internet art for “provincialism”, and writes:

“Artists have been making work on the internet for more than 20 years, but it is scarcely seen outside of small circles. It is virtually nonexistent in galleries and museums, and is seldom for sale at auction. Because the work operates at the margins of the art world, it lies in the suburbs of cultural conversation. Few artists break into the mainstream, and those who do rarely take the internet as their primary interest—Seth Price is a good example.”

If you don’t subscribe to the list (which is recommended), it’s pretty hard to lurk in, so I add here a direct link to the online archive for June 2014.

Below a couple of catchy quotes:

“The ongoing mainstreaming of new media art has many benefits, not least of which is to engage a new generation of artists and curators with the intellectual toolkit of art historical methodologies (and vice versa.) But something is being lost when new media art is denied existence as a legitimate or discrete subject; when it is assimilated into the art world only one-by-one as “contemporary” artworks and not studied as the collective tangled mix of media/artworks/technology/theory/industry/practice/community that it is.” Richard Rinehart

“We should not be frustrated by ignorant articles of people writing for the Art Market, which has other interests. Over the last fifty years, media art has evolved into a vivid cultural expression. […] We therefore should not stop communicate, that digital art is able to deal with the big issues of our time, all thematized on festivals and meanwhile 200 biennials all over the world. We should not count on the art market, but we should remind our tax financed museum system (in Europe) that it is their job, by law, to document, collect and preserve the relevant art of the time.” Oliver Grau