The current technology available to museums and art galleries allows artists, curators and exhibition designers to push artistic boundaries further and further. Installation is the art craze of the 21st century, and exhibitions around the world are bursting with explorations of colour, light, sound, touch and smell. But it is when these senses work together, complementing and transcending one another, that an exhibit can really reach its potential.
For years now curators have taken advantage of digital capabilities, bringing famous art works in high resolution to audiences worldwide. While these do not replace the experience of seeing the original pieces, they open the door for a new kind of experience – larger scale ‘surround’ art, which can potentially be exhibited in spaces otherwise unsuitable for traditional art displays. My own encounter with Van Gogh exhibition in a Florentine church with musical and cinematic surroundings brought his art to life in way I did not anticipate. While I felt a little disappointed at first not to see any original paintings there, my fears about the quality of the exhibit were proved unfounded as I was immersed into a sensory experience of Van Gogh’s thoughts, fears, hopes and art. (Read an earlier post about European digital displays here.)
Of course, the concept of digital art is as old as the World Wide Web. But while digital art and internet based art is a style in its own right (and with its own challenges!), is it so interesting to explore the new opportunities that digitalisation can provide established artists and the Old and Modern masters. Suddenly a curator can zoom into a detail, make a painting bigger or smaller than it is, duplicate it, collage it alongside other images, or even airbrush and Photoshop to create a desired effect. Want unusual lighting? No problem. Exploring three-dimensional effects? It’s all possible! (As I type this, exhibitions ideas are popping into my head already!!)
Indeed, with great power comes great responsibility. And so, ethical issues must be considered. Is it ok to hack into a great work and show segments of it? How far can the representation be pushed before it stops being what the artist intended? And on the other hand, if artists in 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries had the digital capabilities at their disposal, would they not jump in and explore them themselves? We know that Edgar Degas experimented with all media available to him, putting together pastels and oils, graphite and pastels. Isn’t that what we now call ‘mixed media’?
Currently GOMA10 exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art features an exhibit of live birds, From Hear To Ear (v.13). Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s musical installation of live finches brings the magic of natural world into a gallery space, inconspicuously tucked away and yet unexpectedly close to the city centre. The exhibition has seen several reiterations, having been previously exhibited in Brisbane’s GOMA in 2010.
From Hear To Ear (v.13) provides a much welcome face-to-face experience with tiny finches This is a sensory experience in every sense of the word! The matrix of metal coat hangers mixing with and responding to the finches’ movements creates a musical composition of not-so-random sounds produced when the little birds perch and move around on the coat hanger connected to wires under the ceiling. The voyage of vibrations, creating the sound, results in immediate and meditative connection to the natural world. The effect is that the tiny finches are then capable of powerful transcendent effects on the audience. The unattractive drycleaner hangers serving as the perfect moving perch encourage movement and aide the sound production of the musical compositions. Yes, you will be smiling! Be prepared to have the cute little creatures buzz around right past your face, chirp away unbothered by observers, and hop in bunches right in front of you on the wooden floor boards! It’s endearing, it’s uplifting, and it’s rejuvenating.
(You can see From Hear To Ear (v.13) at GOMA until 17th April 2017, as part of the ‘Sugar Spin: You, Me, Art and Everything’ exhibition.)
I was delighted to find the records of other ‘musical finches’ exhibit by the French artist that have made their appearance in museums around the world. (See below a video of a Canadian museum’s exhibition – this time featuring guitar sounds!) This exhibit manages to defy the boundaries of artificial setting, creating an environment whereby the audience can easily come into contact with the natural world, where little birds are capable of making music, and where the industrial and the natural world meet effortlessly. (And before you call the animal rescue services – the finches are checked regularly, fully approved by animal welfare groups, and even breed during the exhibition!)
Boursier-Mougenot superbly designed sensory encounter pushes the boundaries of what we define as an art exhibition today. And this is just one example! With so much at the disposal of art practitioners, the opportunities for creating an engaging experience for the audience are literally endless. And this isn’t limited to just contemporary art – it opens up avenues for bringing all types and periods of art into the viewer’s spotlight in ways that relate, explore and excite.