Surely, one of the best things about living in the 21st century is that you can be here and there without too much effort; all you have to do is to book the cheapest, last minute, flight via skyscanner and go. Otherwise, if you are lazy, lacking money, or just overly busy (like the majority of us), you can simply turn one of your numerous tech devices on and browse. This last option, in particular, is the issue.
A couple of years ago, I was living in Amsterdam and attended a lecture discussing the future of museums. A series of speakers were sharing visions and doubts on the status of cultural institutions in the close future. By showing no fear for the role of museums in the coming century, the director of the Whitechapel Gallery, Iwona Blazwick, told a personal anecdote regarding her relationship with travelling and her way of getting oriented in a new city; museums. Museums are temples of the past, dwelling of the present and hope for the future. As an MA student of Museology, I could not have agreed more. Witnessing a happening online and physically being in a place still remain two very different things. However, when associated with culture, we cannot deny the role of technology in improving an institution’s performance and making the visitor’s experience easier. Likewise, this happens with our lives. Today I live in London, my parents in Sicily and my brother in Australia. I have had a long-distance relationship for a year; what I called a New Media relationship, developing through the Internet and connecting Brazil to the UK. My friends are spread out across different continents and, of course, I am not singular in this sense. I am just living the typical life of a 21st century citizen, incidentally experiencing multiple time zones at the same time. In other words, my daily routine encompasses the sharing of experiences on a level that is not necessarily physical anymore, but that is virtual and yet so tremendously “real”.
Then, if we think again of the cultural field and the arts, in particular, it is not difficult to acknowledge how much of the contemporary happenings are currently experienced by means of documentation. Both images and videos shared through the social media are increasingly becoming quite a satisfactory surrogate of a visit to an exhibition. More or less consciously, we all document and archive our viewpoint on art, creating material for the experience of our community as well. The borders between direct and indirect fruition therefore appear blurred, as those between documentation and actual production. Thus, I ask: is this a threat or an opportunity?
On Saturday the 22nd of November 2014, audiences from a diversity of sites witnessed the beta test of 6PM Your Local Time. 6PM YLT is a platform, “a networked, distributed, one night contemporary art event, which takes place simultaneously in different locations, coordinated from one central venue, and documented online via a web application” (http://www.6pmyourlocaltime.com/about/, Accessed: November, 28, 2014). The project, founded by Creative Europe and Arts Council England, was conceived by Fabio Paris managing director of the Link Art Center, Brescia, and developed in collaboration with Abandon Normal Devices (AND), Manchester, and Gummy Industries, Brescia.
Invited participants were artists and institutions across the UK, who have been asked to organise a happening or to take part in the event with their own exhibition programme; addressing their local audience and a global one at the same time. A computer program, in fact, collected documentation via hashtags. Whilst anybody could follow the waterfall of tags from the 6PM YLT website http://www.6pmyourlocaltime.com, a good number of people were reunited at Furtherfield Commons in London, where Fabio Paris and Domenico Quaranta (Link Center’s artistic director) presented the concept, together with Gabrielle Jenks from AND. In the meantime, the social wall displayed images, in a random order, from arts minded institutions such as; Carroll/Fletcher, Arcadia Missa and Seventeen in London, Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridge, FACT in Liverpool, Oxford Contemporary Music Festival in Oxford, Block Projects in Sheffield and others. Documentation of the exhibition Unoriginal Genius, curated by Domenico Quaranta at Carroll/Fletcher, therefore came to be intermingled together with pictures of, for instance, an artist dinner/mediated happening at the Wysing Arts Centre, with resident artists Olivier Castel, Jesse Darling, Alice Theobald and Julia Crabtree & William Evans.
The concept of accessibility as well as the notion of authorship and open source were under interrogation. The benefits that a networked exhibition can (and will) bring to the research on the role of the Internet and technology in contemporary art (and, more broadly, life) are not indifferent: everybody can take part in the shaping of content and, to a certain extent, knowledge; everybody can reserve the right of expressing and sharing his/her own perspective on the arts, as well as accessing information freely. However, a question still bothers me: how much of our sociable “real” self are we actually giving up, already? Social media are not an option anymore, but an imperative. And, although physically present somewhere, I often surprise myself being busier in posting and tweeting rather than talking.
The 6PM YLT UK beta test has been pilot to a wider event, manifesting in July 2015 and involving art institutions, galleries and artists’ studios across Europe, to finally become an open format available for anyone to utilise. The lead partners will maintain the platform and support the coordination of events all around the world. More is therefore to come. To discover it and find answers to some questions (hopefully including mine), stay tuned!
Miriam La Rosa