Skelf is a curatorial project founded by Heather Ross and Claire Undy, which launched with an online project space, Skelf SITE, in May 2016. Changing on the first Monday of every month, a different artist ‘occupies’ Skelf SITE with a virtual exhibition, often accompanied or introduced with a contribution from a writer.
The concept of virtual ‘space’ is increasingly common. For those who spend a large proportion of their day on social media or other networks, there is a decreasing distinction between a virtual interaction and a physical one. It is quite possible to think of the online ‘world’ as a place, a site (if you can excuse the pun) where art and ideas can exist.
Skelf is neither a curated collection of things that exist on the net, nor a collection of Internet Art. It is a project space, where artists are invited to work through a new idea; reconsidering a new or existing project of their own within the ‘site’ of the internet. Rather than creating a bad replica of something that exists in the real world, artists on Skelf SITE are invited to construct something that could not exist anywhere else, where virtuality is integral to its composition.
Maia Conran’s work ‘This island, and its buildings, is our private paradise’, which occupied Skelf SITE throughout September 2016, had previously existed as an installation for at exhibition at Kingsgate Gallery in 2015. The process of developing this work into an online form could be best described as translation. The work plays with the way a viewer enters and moves around the web page as one might interact with a physical space.
If the work itself is something that is not bound to its physical form, it can exist free of many other inherent conditions of physical art, such as the relationship between value and singularity. Three-dimensional art can only exist in one place at a time, creating something unique, and therefore precious. With a virtual artwork there is no original source, nor is there one view of a piece. Web pages look different depending on the screen or browser they are viewed on, and as Skelf SITE can be accessed on wide range of phones, tablets, laptops or computers, artists must work without full control over how their work will be perceived, conceiving of a work without consistent parameters.
“In relinquishing a modicum of control … I was rewarded with the same sense of curiosity and surprise experienced by a viewer unfamiliar with the piece” – Deborah Stevenson.
Without value, art becomes much more accessible, as it doesn’t rely upon exclusivity to create desirability. The idea of there being an original version of something that cannot be replaced has been the source of visual art’s value-system for centuries, however it has long been left behind within industries such as music, where original creative work is freely distributed across the internet.
The vast majority of exhibitions in the UK take place in the major cities, particularly London, limiting the audience for the latest contemporary art to those able to get to an obscure basement in the outskirts of Peckham after work on a Thursday. In contrast, anyone with access to the Internet can hear the latest music. If you can put a contemporary art exhibition online, then its potential audience becomes global, and entirely free to host and to visit.
Holding an exhibition has become something of a luxury. With decreasing funding and fewer artist-led spaces, getting hold of a free space to show artwork in has become increasingly competitive, and curators are required hugely disproportionate amounts of their time writing proposals and applying for funding.
By contrast, anyone can work online. Unknown skills can be acquired with the use of online tutorials, and the internet is an unparalleled example of shared knowledge and expertise. Each month artists present new and more challenging proposals for their exhibitions, and Skelf works with them in the same way that a technician might support an artist wishing to work with a new material or technology to realize their project.
An online project space will never replace the much-lauded phenomenological experience of an artwork. But it does offer an alternative model that is accessible, sustainable and allows for innovative collaborative new projects to be made on a regular basis. With no need to make money there is no financial influence on the curation: projects do not need to be commercial, nor do they need to fulfill requirements for funding; they can be entirely based on merit and curiosity.
Skelf SITE welcome proposals for future exhibitions. An application form can be found at www.skelf.org.uk
Claire Undy is an artist and a curator based in London, working primarily in live and time-based media, she graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 2016. Curatorial projects have included the 2013 APT Curatorial Fellowship funded by Arts Council England. She set up and runs Skelf with Heather Ross.
Featured image: Screenshot of Me, the Boy and Ravenside (Tom Crawford, Skelf SITE, 2016)