DiMoDA: The Digital Museum of Digital Art. A Virtual Institution

In Featured Events / November 10, 2015

On November 14, 2015, TRANSFER presents the first installation of ‘DiMoDA’ – The Digital Museum of Digital Art. Conceived as a virtual institution and a virtual reality exhibition platform dedicated to the promotion and distribution of New Media Art, DiMoDA is the creation of Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Richard Robertson, two artists who aim to take a step further in exploring the possibilities of digital art, communication technologies and virtual reality. DiMoDA is among numerous initiatives emerging across the world that pioneer different ways of interacting with art, negotiating virtuality, and actualizing ideas, affects and information. The concept of a “virtual institution” is a challenge to both digital art and the institutional practices that continue to inform and confine our experience of art.

Museums have been ‘virtualizing’ their collections ever since the 1970s, when developments in museographic databanks allowed institutions to computerize their inventories. The introduction of Videotex in the late 1970s, a precursor of the Internet that delivered text pages to users in computer-like format, and the later introduction of microfilm viewers and videodiscs, have enabled museums to complete their tours by using images together with audio commentaries, interactive screens, and multimedia rooms people could consult. As an institutional practice, the virtual museum continues to be understood in a rather traditional perspective informed by developments in communication technology, multimedia computers and the ubiquity of the Internet. The object has been dematerialized in order to reveal more information on it, from the manifestations of its image to extensive knowledge of it, whether that be intrinsic or extrinsic information on the object and its context, references or historiographical information. Even so, the technologies behind the creation of virtual museums largely remain a question of communications aimed at developing functional dynamics as a complement to the physical museum, in an intimate yet deeply problematic liaison between enhancement and interaction. If the virtual museum is to be understood merely as a means to diffuse knowledge, it continues to re-inform the powers, politics and strategic knowledge incorporated by real museums.

Digital and mobile technologies have provided alternative means to consider the institution of the museum, as questions have started to arise whether museums can survive outside or without their physical, architectural bodies. Is the physical space an imperative in our experience of the ‘museum’ or can museums exist only in the digital realm, whether online or through the medium of online devices? One museum that for a large part of the 2000s has been deprived of its physical location is the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. An institution of repute for its collection and innovative presentation of modern and contemporary art, the Stedelijk is informed by its distinct relation to the city of Amsterdam. Its existence outside the architectural space is largely due to the innovative use of technology onsite, throughout the city, and online, as well as innovative curatorial and administrative practices that have encouraged artistic production and creation throughout the process while developing on the institution’s public presence. In 2014, a group of researchers (Lars Lischke, Tilman Dingler, Stefan Schneegaß and Albrecht Schmidt from the University of Stuttgart in Germany; Merel van der Vaart from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands; and Pawel Wozniak from Chalmers University in Sweden) have presented insights on Parallel Exhibits, a web application that combines physical and virtual exhibits. While acknowledging the lack of materiality of virtual objects, the authors have chosen to instead consider their advantages, namely, their ability to be easily manipulated, rearranged, duplicated, and moved so as offer new and creative ways for the visitors to engage with both museum collections the curatorial process. As the researchers explain, “Parallel Exhibits is a system that enables museum visitors to interact with traditional museum collections and virtual objects at the same time. It is an interactive exhibition space where visitors and curators enter a design dialogue mediated by technology. Curators display a selection of physical objects and invite visitors to complete the exhibition with virtual objects from the museum’s collections or elsewhere.” However, Parallel Exhibits is an instrument designed to enhance interaction with objects within specific institutional practices. It is “a more personalized museum experience” indeed, where visitors can “actively engage with cultural heritage themes or individual objects,” and largely contributes to a reshaping of how institutions virtualize and make available their collections. Inspired by the Gallery One at the Cleveland Museum of Art and its 40 feet multi-touch screen curated digital repository, specifically titled “Collection Wall,” Parallel Exhibits emphasises the social and participatory nature of the contemporary museum but does not necessarily challenge museum politics and ideologies. The goal of its approach, as the researchers acknowledge, “is to stimulate deeper engagement with the artifacts and underlying stories, as well as supporting the social interaction among visitors and between visitors and museum staff. As a result, curators can get a better understanding of the interests and ideas of visitors.” This can contribute to a participatory re-constitution of collections, practices and social mission, or return to perpetuating issues of institutional policies and economies of knowledge and personalization. But how are we to deal with digital art and virtual reality projects that are developed in/for the digital realm altogether?

DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Similar to other virtual initiatives like Crystal Gallery, Cloaque, Vngravity, AniGif, Panther Modern or the more recent Paper-Thin, DiMoDA is a pioneering platform that can significantly alter virtual museography by constituting a de-institutionalized approach to interacting with art. With its surreal atrium, architected and modelled in 3D by Alfredo Salazar-Caro, and a first exhibition that is openly political and speculative, DiMoDA is an incipient attempt to make available, accessible and approachable a set of artistic practices and reclaim their art historical and political consistence. “As a virtual institution, DiMoDA is dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting and exhibiting Digital artworks from living New Media artists, while expanding the conscious experience of viewing Digital art in a Virtual space. The DiMoDA building is intended as a home for contemporary digital art and incubator for new ideas, as well as an architectural contribution to the Internet’s virtual landscape,” said Alfredo Salazar-Caro when first describing DiMoDA’s mission. Like co-founder William Robertson, Caro has over the years experimented with the full spectrum of digital practices. By allowing artists to take control of and freely shape the virtual environment in which their works are installed in the museum, their open approach to the idea of institution provided an opportunity to discuss at large about their initiative, their views on digital art and virtual environments, and how can virtual institutions provide alternative means to address digital practices. This is particularly relevant in what concerns the artists selected as part of the opening exhibition, the opportunity to open the institution as a first IRL exhibition at TRANSFER, and considerations on the very nature of the newly founded institution.

Claudia Hart (USA), Tim Berresheim (DE), Jacolby Satterwhite (USA) and the project AquaNet 2001 (Salvador Loza and Gibrann Morgado) from Mexico City, all share the idea of mixed reality contexts, with pronounced speculative tones that stress the performative and pictorial qualities of digital art. DiMoDA should not be discussed as part of The Wrong, the digital art biennale, partly because the scale of this edition and the large number of projects need time to be properly appreciated, and partly because its mission as a “virtual institution” needs to be ascertained independently. At TRANSFER, viewers will have the possibility to wear an Oculus Rift to enter the museum; they will approach the ‘portals’ and access the ‘wings’ of the museum. Throughout discussions with Caro and Robertson, this alone has been a topic of discussion: why replicate real life models if this is to be a completely virtual environment?

The question gains consistency when researching these initiatives beyond their immediate context and into the broader field of virtual museography, given their dependence on Internet and communication technologies. Efforts like Parallel Exhibits intensify ideas of interaction and personalization around the use of technology. But new forms of social interactivity might become inseparable from technological economies, while personalization can sometimes lead to technologized intrusion. With digital environments focusing on content and the audience, some of its manifestations continue to be intrinsically connected to practical constraints of time and funding, especially in the case of heritage collections. Many virtual versions of physical museums are openly available to visitors, yet their financial support is governed by their contribution to the economies of their physical location. Because digital exhibitions allow one to engage with a specific project or institution based on content and visitors’ response to the virtual environment, virtual institutions need to stimulate and intensify participation, mind the politics and economies of physical institutions, and engage online audiences so as to allow the co-creation of meaning through the remediated networks they generate. Digital museums enact a social imaginary that inspires collective memories of places and situations that resonate with visitors and transform them into active agents within the online environment. But they also need to address critical concerns about the ways in which sociality, communication technologies and the Internet contribute to creating stereotypes, decontextualizations, generic rather than representative conditions, and the perpetuation/generation of (new) forms of periphery and marginality. (It is strange, for instance, to read in The Wrong founder and organizer David Quiles Guillo’s interview about the biennale that “In 2013 there were 13 embassies [brick and mortar biennial participants who host physical events and shows.] Now there are 40. Beijing, Siberia, Montreal, San Francisco, Italy, New York. We’re in some unexpected locations too. We’re building a show in a remote city in Romania which is an amazing addition!” – the unnamed city, Cluj-Napoca, is remote in what sense, exactly?)

At TRANSFER, DiMoDA visitors will be drawn both virtually and physically within an experiential field of artifacts and technologies that refocuses attention on them and allows them to construct meaning and reconstruct memories based on their respective experiences. On the one hand, the digital artifacts in the exhibition can be liberated from ideological constraints characteristic of museum cultures and their material epistemologies (will they also be completely liberated from institutional constraints?). On the other hand, these digital artifacts need to be acknowledged as mutable art objects in their own right – they re-contextualize, relocate and migrate across a number of media, software platforms, browsers and affective states.

DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: I will start this interview by asking about the way you arrived at the idea of DiMoDA and how do you explain the recent apparition of similar initiatives taking place both in the States and in Europe?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: DiMoDA came from an urge to give New Media/Digital Art/Artists working in VR a platform to exhibit their works, since there is (still in 2015) little to no attention given to this kind of artwork from larger institutions. It makes sense to think that since New Media is an atypical art form, it might require atypical formats of viewing and exhibiting that more established institutions might have a hard time adapting to. In 2011 I began the project [STREET-TEAM] which installed the works of various New Media artists inside of major art institution as a form of guerrilla intervention. You could say this project later gave root to my interest in pursuing an idea like DiMoDA.

The only way I can explain this recent outburst of virtual exhibition spaces is Zeitgeist. I’m personally excited to see an ecosystem of this style of exhibition space beginning to take shape. Of course, there are many other projects that have paved the way. Going from and the way that jumping into paintings in Super Mario 64 was the way to start new levels back in ’98, to Crystal Gallery from 2010 to other internet based spaces such as Cloaque, Panther Modern, Vngravity, AniGif and many more. I remember LaTurbo Avedon and I used to have conversations about VR institutions before either Panther or DiMoDA existed. It’s great to see those visions begin to materialize from many places at once. I think a lot of it is also due to the fact that the software/hardware needed to make a project like this is more “easily available” than ever before.

William Robertson: Around the same time that Alfredo was working on STREET-TEAM I was helping out administrating the GLI.TC/H 20111 festival with Jon Satrom, Rosa Menkman and Nick Briz. We were talking a lot about digital media and presentation and it was right at the beginning of when we started to see people really start playing around with real-time 3D. There were (and still are) a lot of questions about how to present this kind of material. Naturally with glitch art there is a lot of digital going on and with the success of GLI.TC/H I realized that there might be an opportunity to explore creating a new kind of venue directly within the digital realm. In early 2012 I sent out an invitation to a group of people to collaborate on creating a web based gallery. I think the email at the time was called Glittttchy Web Gallery or something like that. Alfredo and I clicked on the project and over the last few years DiMoDA slowly emerged. There were some really early examples of virtual galleries online when we started and I think that it’s great there are so many new ones opening up. I see this as the formation of a new community for virtual art and exhibitions.

DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: Could you please give me some details about your collaboration with William Robertson?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: Will and I met at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) while we were both students there. It was in Paul Hertz’s “Pre-Histories of New Media” class in fact. At the time Will was doing a lot of real time A/V glitch craziness under his pseudonym Glitchard Nixon and of course I thought it was the dopest thing I’d ever seen. We were both really active participants in Chicago’s Glitch/New Media/Dirty New Media scene where at some point Will was running the IRL venue Tritriangle and I was doing visuals for the noise project Dither_Doom. Once upon a time in 2012, Will and I invited a lot of different artists to co-create a 3D virtual reality exhibition space, but it was only the two of us who seemed enthusiastic enough about it to continue the conversation. Eventually, we began to formalize the idea and in 2013 we came up with DiMoDA. In terms of what we do, I am Director/Curator/Architect/Visual Designer. Will is also curating – he is our Deputy Director and CTO, designing the systems architecture and mechanics of DiMoDA that make everything run. Of course, we both overlap in our “responsibilities” but that’s more or less the way we work.

Sabin Bors: Why did you chose to launch the project during The Wrong New Media Biennale? Is this a chance timing or is it a statement that accompanies the biennale?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: I was invited by David Quiles Guilló to curate a pavilion for The Wrong this year and DiMoDA had been in the works since 2013, so I thought this would give us a good deadline to release the first exhibit as well as a broader audience that DiMoDA could have reached on its own. DiMoDA will continue independently from The Wrong in the years to come, but may continue to participate if invited. The Wrong is an excellent opportunity to see what is happening in the New Media/Net Art world across the globe, so we’re very excited to showcase our killer set of artists as well as to see what everyone has been up to since the last one. I think it’s worth mentioning that both members of AquaNet 2001, Gibrann Morgado and Salvador Loza, are also releasing individual projects for The Wrong under the names Uncurated and Vngravity respectively.

Sabin Bors: I am interested to find out some details about the software(s) you’ve used to create this “virtual institution” and the reasons for choosing it/them in particular.

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: Software-wise, I like to use Blender to model and Unity for interactivity. I particularly like these softwares because of their free availability and power. I’m a big believer in freeware, copyleft and the free flow of information. I get a particular kind of joy when I share these softwares with students/people who haven’t heard of them before and they find out that they are 100% free and 100% legal.

William Robertson: When we were initially connecting out the idea of DiMoDA, there was a lot of back and forth about what platform we wanted to launch with. About halfway through the development all of the big game engines released their platforms more or less for free. While each platform offers its own advantages we ultimately decided to stick with Unity. There is a large community of users out there that really helps to move production along and bring the learning curve for new users down. As far as modeling goes, the DiMoDA architecture is modeled in Blender; however, the artists in this first exhibition are all using different tools. Unity plays well with most of the major 3D modeling applications out there, which is essential when pulling in assets from artists. It is important to us that we have a system that all of the artists can access and integrate into their own workflow at no cost and with relative ease.

DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: As a former editor for several architecture magazines, I am quite interested to find out how did you conceive the museum’s architecture. I am interested to learn from you about the design concept, the specific functions the setting responds to, as well as details about lighting, walling and particular space divisions inside the museum. Were there any specific criteria you took into consideration when designing the museum?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: Architecture is a subject that has fascinated me for many years now. One of my aunts was going to architecture school when I was a toddler and I remember I would be mesmerized by her maquettes and drawings. Now she works with the Mexican government restoring 16th century churches 🙂

I wanted to create an architectural space that felt awe-inspiring and larger than life, and that would capture that feeling I had the first time I walked into the Pergamon in Berlin or the MET in New York. In terms of my influences, I think it would be accurate to say that I take a little bit from all my favorites. I’ve always been a huge admirer of Tadao Ando, his architecture was always my favorite part of visiting the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Going to school in Chicago, I became a fan of Frank Ghery and his Pritzker Pavilion; and of course, Zaha Hadid’s parametric designs have been always present in my screenshot collection. Other influences have been people like Luis Barragan, Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster.

I also wanted to create a hybrid between classic Greek architecture and pre-Hispanic architecture. As a Latin American, I’ve grown up with the European aesthetic being considered the ultimate canon of beauty and presented as superior to our native cultures. I wanted to pose a challenge, mixing these aesthetics and thereby symbolically bringing them to level ground. This can be seen in the entrance pediment as well as well as in the structure of the portals.

The glass structure of the atrium is actually a portrait. In my work as an artist, I have been focusing on portraiture among other things, and I wanted to somehow make that part of the design. My friend’s 3D head Scan (who shall remain anonymous 😉 ) was glitched-out and then re-purposed as a glass atrium.

Sabin Bors: You previously mentioned you’ve designed the museum as “an architectural contribution to the Internet’s virtual landscape” but I am curious to know whether you see it relating to any space, project or institution in particular. I often find the idea of a “virtual landscape” to have become an umbrella or a metaphor for certain manifestations, rather than actual virtual constitutions.

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: I’m a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, in which he describes the Metaverse, a VR world that people “goggle into.” In the Metaverse, people walk around Virtual streets and go into Virtual clubs and other establishments. Second Life presents a similar landscape, where one can find the Internet’s content in 3D, and Panther Modern certainly takes a direct approach to space/architecture within its virtual installations. I believe that Virtual spaces of this nature will become more common with the dawn of commercial Virtual Reality and I find the idea of contributing to this ecosystem with a building that is not attached to a physical form, but rather to a concept, exciting.

DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: What I really like about DiMoDA and makes it particularly interesting at this point, is that viewers need to wear an Oculus Rift to enter the museum, approach the ‘portals’ and access the various ‘wings’ of the museum. This is certainly a step forward compared to other/previous initiatives. However, I should say I would have enjoyed this to be an immersive environment that does not replicate a physical model – less as a setting, as I understand it now, and more as an unbound space that defies normative spaces and takes the whole idea of interacting with the works to another level. I am aware this might pose a series of problems, technical to begin with, but I find the idea of re-creating physical spaces in virtual environments to be a question of replicating a space rather than actually creating a different experience. So why did you chose to replicate the physical model of ‘wings’ for DiMoDA?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: Going in, we were pretty aware that we wanted to go as far away from Reality as possible. What makes VR so exciting to me is the infinite number of possibilities and experiences you can have that defy the laws of Reality. I have to admit that I get quite turned off when I see a VR gallery that emulates a white cube and then “hangs” .JPEGs on the “wall.” When I conceived DiMoDA’s architecture, I wanted to create a structure that could anchor the visitor to a more familiar reality while remaining on the edge of the surreal. To me, this was important in order to differentiate the museum from the works themselves. I’ve always thought that a good museum building enhances the viewing experience and does not outshine the art. At the same time, the DiMoDA is a building that at this moment in time I cannot build, so I can fulfill my fantasy with Virtual Reality.

I also want to make clear that DiMoDA is not only for Oculus or Headset style VR, but rather it’s meant to be Multiplatform. For The Wrong we are releasing a downloadable stand alone version. The Oculus version will be available after November 14th, when we open our physical exhibit at TRANSFER in New York. In the future, we would like to also have DiMoDA in mobile app format, etc.

William Robertson: From the beginning of the concept of DiMoDA, we have always planned on shifting further from a presentation mode mirroring the natural world. I’m not sure I would call this a shift from “reality” but rather the creation of a new reality. After all, virtual reality is a reality, is it not? With this in mind, we decided early on that we needed some sort of grounding element in the introduction, if DiMoDA was to communicate the concept that we envision. I see some of the more worldly elements as a sort of skeuomorphism which will eventually give way to better methods of interaction. Similar in the way that Apple’s notes app has evolved from being designed exactly like a yellow note pad to what it is now, we too will continue to adapt and evolve to better fit our digital ecosystem.

Tim Berresheim at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Tim Berresheim at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Tim Berresheim at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Tim Berresheim at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: How would you describe the visitors’ actual interaction with the works of art, given that this is a partly physical, partly virtual experience?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: I guess it’s fair to say that there is no such thing as a purely virtual experience. The level of graphics, real-time rendering capability and such is not limited by math or computing power but by actual limitations of physics. Right?

So visitors have a real experience, with a sprinkle of virtual reality on top of it. Viewers will encounter some Oculus Rift stations that will “jack them in” pretty cleanly. There will also be some projections in the space, as well as extra screens and maybe even some floating 3D prints 😀 We have some interesting ideas for how we will deal with the Miami installation. Also, every artist designs the interactivity with their works in an individual manner, so at the end of the day, that is also part of the unique experience.

Sabin Bors: Interaction with an art object is, ideally, an interaction that actualizes ideas, affects, information and various types of networks. Do you think it is possible, through projects such as DiMoDA, to contribute to a redefinition of the art object and, perhaps more importantly, the object of art?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: Yes, absolutely! I believe that these virtual tools of exhibition/creation will inevitably force us to reconsider what the art object is. This has already been happening with other new media artists selling websites, apps, .GIFs and memes as artworks. I hope DiMoDA can provide a platform for this kind of conversation and I hope people open up to the idea of virtual experience as an art form.

William Robertson: I believe that what is the art object and object of art is constantly being redefined, reshaped and remolded. DiMoDA is certainly a part of this ecosystem and, inherently, is a contributor to this.

Sabin Bors: I would now like to focus a bit our discussion on the museum’s first exhibition. How do the works you selected for the show communicate within this space? Did you look for a certain coherent line or concept, or did you allow for complete freedom in exploring and negotiating the spaces? Not only is the selection interesting, with all artists sharing the idea of mixed reality contexts, but it is also important politically, in my opinion. Both Claudia Hart’s working around the de-masculinization of the culture of corporate technology and Jacolby Satterwhite’s Matrilineal concerns are eminently political. And both AquaNet’s digital speculations and Tim Berresheim’s works on perception and knowledge are eminently speculative. They all renegotiate personal and bodily experiences, and they all stress the performative and pictorial qualities of digital art. I think this mixture of political and speculative provides certain political considerations. I am therefore curious about the curatorial rationale behind selecting these four artists in particular for the museum’s first show.

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: There were a lot of things that went into consideration for this show. For one, we wanted the show to have a broad variety of artists, coming from vastly different backgrounds but all intersecting at New Media/VR. Claudia Hart’s work comes from a very interesting angle considering she’s a veteran of the medium and a quintessential Cyber-Feminist. In fact, it was Claudia who recommended Tim Berresheim as an exhibiting artist. Tim is also a veteran of the medium; in fact, his contribution to DiMoDA is a re-birth of his first 3D piece from 2003, as a celebration of his recent retrospective at Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen, Germany. AquaNet2001’s antics are heavily reliant on political satire. For DiMoDA, they are presenting an encounter with the speculative offspring of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin. An observation of the contemporary political climate in America from our next door neighbors. I’ve always been stunned by Jacolby Satterwhite’s work because of its resistance to classification. Although one can conjure issues of the black performative body, queerness/cyber queerness and Matrilineal concerns among other issues, Jacolby’s work embrace many layered subjects that border between the subconscious and the sublime.

To be blunt, I picked these artists because I love their work, they are all badasses in their own right and I enjoy working with them.

Claudia Hart at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Claudia Hart at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Claudia Hart at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Claudia Hart at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: I continue to consider virtual reality as a largely unexplored ‘speculative terrain’ in contemporary art. However, my concerns regard its interdependent relation with male-dominated corporate technology. Claims to criticize this context sometimes fall into over-using it and thus restoring its full power; not only to restore, in fact – but actually brace it, consolidate it, confirm it and enforce it back into art. How could a consistent critique be formulated in this context?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: Over the summer I spent some time in the Bay Area. After spending 10 minutes inside of San Francisco’s Hack Reactor, it would have been a gross understatement to say that it was overwhelmingly white and male. This seems to be an unfortunate reflection of not just the tech world but also our society at large. White males are still at the center of corporate development and most things are catered to them (specially in tech) as primary consumers. I have been very lucky to have many incredible women as mentors and friends, which has led to me deeply believing in the importance of inclusivity in art. Not just of female artists, but artists of color, queer artists and everything in between. For DiMoDA’s second exhibition, we are in talks with Nigerian-American curator Alexandria Eregbu, who will be co-curating an all female exhibition. We hope that this will solidify DiMoDA’s position within a cyber feminist sphere as a platform for expression and conversation.

Sabin Bors: Do you think that network(ed) cultures hold the power to impact the participation of the public in a way that could re-shape perceptions of art and artistic contexts today?

William Robertson: I think that network culture (the Internet?) forms the core of a lot of our world and holds tremendous power. Social media, e-commerce, the Internet as a whole, defines much our entire existence today. Contemporary art has dramatically and rapidly evolved since its introduction and it is the medium through which many of our discussions surrounding art and its practice are held. So to answer your question, yes, I believe it already has, is, and will.

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: The vast majority of people that are tuned in to art networks will most likely experience works of art via screens and not IRL. If you are a sculptor or a painter and you don’t have good documentation of your work online, it’s like it never even existed. Physical memory is so frail and unreliable, that the only way to truly convey to someone what it was like to see that Mike Kelly retrospective is by showing them the photos you took and are now on Facebook. With these kinds of phenomena already happening all around us, why not take a step further and make the museum or gallery be behind that screen already. What if you can’t invite your friends to come to the New Museum; well just send them the VR version of the show! I believe we will see these kinds of cultural shifts toward the virtual in the years to come thanks to our already densely networked culture.

Jacolby Satterwhite at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Jacolby Satterwhite at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: I have previously expressed my concerns that the apparition of similar initiatives, with everything that makes them unique and everything that connects them, runs the risk of reproducing the very politics, ideologies and economies of the art market. The proliferation of all these virtual initiatives may lead to also replicating shows, fairs, events and policies in the virtual environment. Is it possible, from your perspective, to bypass the ideologies and politics of the art market?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: That’s a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, I believe that it is important for Virtual Institutions/Galleries to find unique modes of behavior that could not exist traditionally. However, it is already clear that many of these early exhibition initiatives are emulating the older model. The Wrong BIENNIAL… Digital MUSEUM of Digital ART… it’s all bouncing ideas from a previously established system. I hope as we progress, we can collectively begin to define new ways to help proliferate important works of art in a way that will help artists to continue producing. I’m not an expert in the art market, and I certainly have my reservations about it, but I don’t think it’s a crime for an artist to live off their work. So, if a hybrid system can be born from VR, then so be it.

Sabin Bors: At the same time, I also think virtual museography and collaborative museum experiences may reproduce conventional museum models and codes. But, as I previously discussed, my concerns regard the possibilities to avoid the museification of the virtual itself and the participatory practices we aim to develop in order to counter this museification. DiMoDA’s mission seems to be inspired by the conventional museum models, in what concerns its policies, so I am curious to find out your opinion about this.

Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson: In many ways, we decided to adopt some of these museum models as a critique of themselves. DiMoDA’s mission statement, although true, is a direct Copy+Paste+Re-Mix of The Whitney, MoMA and New Museum’s mission statements, where we substituted the terms “Modern,” “Contemporary” and such, for words like “Virtual” or “Digital.” The name Digital Museum of Digital Art is redundant and it’s acronym DiMoDA not only emulates the museum acronym system (MoMA, MARCO, DMA, MCA) but it also means “Fashionable” in Italian and very close to the Spanish as well (De Moda). We thought of this as a way to include this idea of Zeitgeist within the name as well as having a few inside jokes…

We are, in a sense, acknowledging the old approach with a wink and a smile, but we don’t see the need to follow all the formalities of the traditional Museum school of thought.

Jacolby Satterwhite at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Jacolby Satterwhite at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Jacolby Satterwhite at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
Jacolby Satterwhite at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: When reading the presentation of DiMoDA, two interconnected issues suddenly caught my attention. First, that the new institution aims to collect, preserve, interpret and exhibit Digital artworks from “living” New Media artists. This raises a series of questions concerning the relations and divides between digital and new media, as well as the emphasis on “living” that I would like you to comment on. Second – and I hope you will also discuss this – that through its very aims, the institution bases its mission on the tropes of the archive. Ever since the 1960s, the archives have both been praised and severely criticized for their ways of classifying, interpreting, storing, staging, manipulating or simply appealing to the recollection of individual and shared memories and histories. So I am curious how DiMoDA relates to these tropes, and I am even more curious about its mission in a historical and art historical context.

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: I think of the terms New Media and Digital Art as sort of umbrellas for a huge variety of work encompassing anything from .gifs, to noise music/experimental sound, to glitch, to rendered realities and beyond. The emphasis on “living” artists comes from the remixed museum statements, but also lends itself to some interesting thoughts. Considering how young this medium is (in relative terms), how many new media artists could be dead at this point? With artists in this sphere such as LaTurbo Avedon, how do you define the way an artists is alive or dead? Can a new media artist truly die? Did Nick Briz die after he erased his Facebook profile and is he now ineligible for a show at DiMoDA? If Stelarc succeeds at uploading his consciousness to the net, will he be eligible as a “living artist” in the year 2050?

Archiving with digital art forms (including video/photo etc.) has proven to be quite a challenge and a heated theme for debate. With DiMoDA we intend to archive the exhibitions as well as the individual works of art and accumulate a “permanent collection” that could be accessed on demand. As you may know, another way of preserving digital art is by proliferation, so we hope many copies are made of DiMoDA. It would be amazing to be able to look back at these early shows 20 years in the future and see the works of New Media artists in VR as they were back in 2015.

The way we are forced to constantly update operating systems, software and hardware make this kind of work particularly hard to archive, but as you know, there are many media archeologists who dedicate their careers to the preservation of such tools. Ideally, DiMoDA’s archive will also go through periodical updates and upgrades. Of course, we will have to eventually come up with some kind of classification system to make it easier to maintain an archive, but this would not, by any means, be an effort to encapsulate or divide the artworks hierarchically.

William Robertson: To expand on the last point that Alfredo made on archives, I see the DiMoDA archive as more of a neighborhood. Perhaps rather than attempting to categorize works, we’ll be able to navigate through the collection with something more like a roadmap. This also ties in with our future plans for interaction design and how you navigate through work. This isn’t a definitive method we have decided to take but I think it illustrates the direction that we are thinking in.

AquaNet 2001 at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
AquaNet 2001 at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
AquaNet 2001 at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
AquaNet 2001 at DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: Since DiMoDA aspires to be a “virtual institution” which organizes “virtual reality exhibitions” for the “distribution” and “promotion” of New Media Art, I am once again faced with a double question. I am, more broadly, interested in how do you understand the role of virtual museums as institutions in shaping cultural memory. Secondly, I would really like to know more details about the distribution and promotion mechanisms you have considered for the museum: are they ‘market’ or ‘industry’ standard mechanisms? What is it about these mechanisms that will consolidate DiMoDA as an actual “institution”? Will the “institution” also provide documentation and research mechanisms that will be available to those interested?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: I think that virtual institutions will be an easy access point to the work of a broad range of artists. With this in mind, I would hope that people from around the world will be able to experience these works and therefore expanding their cultural borders and memories from the comfort of their own home.

So far we are testing out what our modes of distribution will be. At this moment, people will be able to download a stand alone app from our website, but we would like to streamline this at some point. I can foresee, perhaps having DiMoDA available in the Oculus Rift native browser and maybe on Xbox and Playstation. We also have several IRL venues that are interested in showing us, so we will be distributing ourselves in a Gallery/Exhibition format.

Sabin Bors: My previous question regards broader considerations about the study, classification, preservation and exhibition of digital, new media and Internet artworks or collections. But I would also like to ask you how is it possible to deal with the under-representation of Internet artists in major collections worldwide?

William Robertson: I think that there are a lot of factors at play that contribute to this issue. One of the larger ones that I see is the tendency of larger institutions to attempt to incorporate digital art into their physical collections and galleries. In this way, they limit themselves to works that can be printed or are already setup to be displayed in a 1 to 1 environment. Most museums I know are constantly attempting to deal with space constraints and sparse equipment budgets which burden attempts to add to a collection when there is a perception that there must be a single experience per piece of hardware. There are larger museums out there that are thinking about these issues and are currently experimenting on ways to address them. I see DiMoDA as a potential solution to this issue as a platform for digital art without constraints. DiMoDA is a place where we have the freedom to adapt our interface to better suit each work and present that in a way that is easy for people to navigate and explore.

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: I also hope that, as more Gen Y er’s and Millennials start acquiring more wealth and beginning young art collections, more New Media will be considered. A lot of times, the younger crowd gets really excited about these kinds of works because it speaks a familiar language, but they can’t afford it. Those who can afford these works are sometimes more interested in artists with longer careers or more traditional mediums. Really, it’s just a matter of time and it’s been building up for quite a while now.

DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: I think it may not be long before large museum institutions worldwide will start considering virtual museography as part of their regular programs, if not focus. I would say this is both a market and cultural dynamic. How will developments in virtual museography impact current established institutions, in your opinion, and how do you think they will respond to such developments in virtual spaces? Furthermore, how will DiMoDA ‘compete’ with these institutions? While, ideally, this shouldn’t be seen as a ‘competition’ in the first place, it always comes down to a question of securing mechanisms that allow one to continue work on such daring projects, hence the relevance of my question.

William Robertson: Museums are already exploring how these programs might fit into their architecture. It is just a matter of time until we start to see larger institutions implement some of the experiments they have already started on a larger scale. 3D scanning and printing initiatives are one example of this; however, there are also published examples of early explorations in virtual exhibition at museums. Laura Chen’s Virtual Reality Tour of the Met is a good example of this. Google is also working on deploying their virtual reality Expeditions Pioneer Program which has been generating interest particularly in the education departments of various institutions. Expeditions utilizes Google Cardboard and I think it is a great entry point for larger organizations to start experimenting with VR in public programs. We don’t see ourselves as competition and I hope that we have the opportunity for collaborations with various institutions down the line. Regarding securing mechanisms, like any organization at the end, it is support from our communities that will keep us going, hopefully for many years to come.

Sabin Bors: I’d like to know – how do you see DiMoDA evolving in the near future? Will you extend the project in certain directions you’ve already established or do you see it as a more independent articulation around concurrent developments?

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: DiMoDA is experimental by nature, so I can tell you that we are open to the changing nature of this medium. We are also willing to let the artists expand in any direction, inside or outside VR.

What we know for sure is that we want to have bi-annual exhibitions, one in summer and one in winter and that we want to keep it to a small number of artists each time. This will allow us to focus our attention on each artist, take our time working out bugs and give space for Will and myself to pursue our individual endeavors. We’re very excited to see how VR evolves and begins to fit in our everyday life and we would like for DiMoDA and other virtual exhibition platforms to be a part of that evolution.

Sabin Bors: My last question is utterly political. If artistic practices are turning to collaborative virtual environments, how will this affect, change, stimulate or refashion the social role of the artist? I am curious about this from your perspective as artist, curator and ‘director’ of DiMoDA.

Alfredo Salazar-Caro: I really don’t think that the social role of the artist changes all that much. Rather, this is simply another platform to address the artists/curators/activists’ concerns. Of course, there is a new set of issues to deal with that expand on already formulated thoughts on the web, net.art, post-internet, etc., but fundamentally we are just opening a new forum for broadening the dialogue.

Ultimately, our concerns as creators don’t come exclusively from our mediums, but rather from the immense complexity of our individual lives and circumstances. I want to make sure that the artists that we work with in the future are largely multi-dimensional and can bring powerful works forth, that are not merely for the amusement of Virtual Reality geeks, but are instead compelling and masterful works of art.

 

Text and interview with Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson by Sabin Bors, the curator and editor of the anti-utopias contemporary art platform.

DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.
DiMoDA Digital Museum of Digital Art. Image © Alfredo Salazar-Caro and William Robertson, courtesy of DiMoDA. Used here by kind permission. All rights reserved.

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