Virtual Art Residencies – a Manual | WERONIKA TROJAŃSKA

September 27, 2013

Over the last few years art residences have become a growing phenomenon.  Only ResArtist, the worldwide network of residential art programs, associates over 400 centers, organizations and individuals in over 70 countries. Those programs not only give artists and art practitioners a chance of development or opportunity to step outside their usual environment and daily routine but they also appear more and more as a way of life.

There is not a single model for running an art residency because the expectations vary.  Although, it is certain that, besides experiencing life in a new location, they provide a time for research, reflection and/or production and also enable a multi-layered cultural exchange between practitioners. An art residency listed in an artist’s curriculum is an important point on the path of his or her career.

The variety of choices is enormous. There are still discussions about their character, formal and institutional, for profit versus non-profit, rural and urban. What about real versus virtual? Is the physical presence of the artists necessary in order to take part in the residency?

The increasing impact of globalization has given the ground for notions of an art world as an outsized environment, mobilizing not only art practitioners but also media, sponsors, celebrities and politicians, where the artist is considered to be a traveling globetrotter, living and exhibiting in any place all over the world. Furthermore, the daily increase in contact and use of media and technology in recent years hasresulted in the understanding of cultural endeavors as fast, easy and accessible.

The internet environment has become the most important tool for communication and social activity; it is commonly known that artists as well as cultural institutions (included art residency programs) that don’t appear in “Google” almost do not exist.

The meaning of “virtual” oscillates between poetical figment of imagination, existing only in mind, and “product” simulated or carried on by means of a digital or “computer work”, changing as new digital devices emerge. Virtual space is still considered as a “non-place”, a utopia (a non-existent or unreal place), a window to a data stream.  The possibilities in this environment are infinite.  Virtual space (in the sense of “cyberspace”) does not appear as a black hole any more. It’s like an outer space that we can break into, but not take total control over it.

Something can be placed on a web platform via the Internet – it takes shape, acquires direction and becomes visible for others. Like physical space it contains objects (files, mail messages, graphics, etc.) and different modes of transformation and delivery. It seems to be an endless crossroad for a constant flux of expression and for transmission of data (ideas) that have attracted the attention of artists and generated an endless influx of artists’ migration.

The virtual (nonphysical) presence of the artist is becoming more and more common and can be a result of  both the inability to travel as well as the usage of digital devices for the intended interaction with the audience.  Artists take part in talks via Skype, doing live performances via video transmissions and even attend their own openings by “appearing” on the screen.

Following this trend, the emergence of virtual art residencies is an observable phenomenon of the past years.  And here the amount of definitions is also just as varied as the attempt to define art residencies itself. Basically, reflected in the nature of virtual environment the definitions examine what it means to reside in a place that has no physical location and what impact it has in the context of contemporary art. They are based not only on the idea of the various possibilities of digital communication but very often refer to the subject of mobility (understood also as its impossibility).

The reasons why they came up vary; from the curiosity of investigating virtual reality within the context of art to residency as a counteract for what is currently happening in the art world. “Our motivation lies in a fact that we are really fed up the ways exhibitions in the Netherlands momentarily – and for that matter in most of Europe – in general are organized: putting art on walls, plus on the spots, invite the local hero to praise the work – fascinating! – sip a cocktail, talk about the weather, the children, the state of the economy, the career, the cost of the alimony – pick your subject – but never any conversation about art”, says the statement of the “Virtual Art Residency”, project by art collective Kip Vis [1].

Taking part in a virtual residency is possible regardless of the artist’s geographical location and it is based mostly on digital communication. Besides that, it meets all expectations that art residencies should include in their program and they do not differ from their “real” (earthly) counterparts.

Some of them are placed in already existing virtual environments (like Minecraft or Second Life); for others the main platform is a web page, created especially for this occasion (that is a blog or website), or their “virtuality” refers strongly to the impossibility of physical presence, like the inability to travel or to spend the whole period of time at the place of residence of the A.I.R. program.

“Second Life” is widely known and commonly used as one of the pioneering cyber worlds where art exists.  Since 2003, when it was created, this 3-D social network has become a platform for various artistic projects and exhibitions (in virtual museums and galleries), where many people can be artists through their avatars’ alter egos. The modelling tools from Second Life also allow artists to create new forms of art, that won’t be possible in real world due to the physical or financial limitations. In 2007 the Australian Council for The Arts noticed its potential and offered a $20,000 Second Life Artist in Residence Program grant.

The winner was “Babelswarm” (by Justin Clemens, Christopher Dodds and Adam Nash); a real-time, 3-D, interactive project based on the mythical Tower of Babel.  First Second Life arts Residency was launched in April 2008 simultaneously in-world and Lismore Regional Gallery in New South Wales in Australia. Residents, represented by their computer-generated avatars, could speak or type messages into the installation and voice-recognition software converted their words into the letters that fall from the sky to create a tower.

The visitors of Lismore Gallery could also take part by speaking into a microphone and watching their contribution on a wall-sized screen. What is fascinating in this peculiar environment is that everyone can walk up to the art works, interact with them and, as Dodd said, have the possibility to create an objects and experiences that aren’t possible in the real world.[2] “Part of the enjoyment of working in this medium is the constant joy and surprise of seeing how these things behave when you let them loose in this environment” – added Adam Nash [3].

The AVAIR – Ars Virtua Program in Residence seems to be an even more playful place. Created in the collaboration with Streaming Museum, it is placed in the game space of Minecraft. For those who do not know, Minecraft is a game about breaking and placing blocks. It sounds simple but, and as you read in its description on the official website: “At first people build structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew, players work together to create wonderful, imaginative things”.

Artists (established and emerging), coders, poets, engineers etc. were invited to apply for six weeks long residency (the last ended in mid-May) in this fairy game environment to explore its potentialities within the economy of the contemporary art world. The residency took place in Orwell on Ars Virtua semi-private server as well as in their building space and its results will culminate in an exhibition and documentation in Minecraft and on the web.

As for many virtual residencies the webpage can be a residential habitat itself. Working from their own usual environment, artists can develop an artistic project using internet (online) tools.  Although it would seem that nowadays everyone can create and release an online art project, the virtual residencies offer support and promotion, so as not to disappear immediately in the internet magma, and often give a grant for production.

Such is the case of the Montreal-based Studio XX, a feminist artist-run center for technological exploration, creation and critique, whose participants of the “Virtual Residency” are allocated space on the server and the final production will be published online and hosted by the Studio XX for the certain period of time. Or similar, the Glasstire, a non-profit corporation and online magazine that offered in 2011 a $2000 support for a Texas resident artist toward the production of a web-based project (that would be hosted on Glasstire or the artist’s server). Its winner, Chuck Ivy, made series of videos, stretching movie trailers to roughly four times their normal length and reposted them on the web.

Even still expanding, “Tumblr society” lived to see the virtual residency especially designed for their needs.  Recently also came into being a “Tumbrl residency”. Announced by the Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library located in San Francisco, the residency is open for internet innovators and curators and takes place on the IA site. 52 selected winners have the opportunity to showcase their skills by creating custom tumblr themes for URL and posting materials form the massive archive that could be combined, remixed etc. “to their heart’s content” [4].

The artwork tailor-made for computer screen is a result of the “Desktop Residency” – an online exhibition space curated by John Henry Newton and Barnie Page, established early this year and running until the end of July. Each of the ten selected artists (Joseph Buckley, Ryan Gander and Nicola Guy among others) got a three week slot to showcase the result along with a downloadable folder of more images and full lists of titles. It’s free and accessible for everyone, which shows different ways of engaging both the art work and its recipient.

However far the “virtuality” occurred, the results of the virtual residency could take shape also in more conventional ways of exhibiting, such as a show at the gallery. The existing space very often appears as a collaborator to the virtual environment created by residents.

The “Second Life” A.I.R., mentioned above, is one of those examples. Another noteworthy is Location One Virtual Residency Project 2:0 “Levels of Undo” that showed as a result the new works of the residents at the Location One’s gallery space in New York (in autumn 2009). The idea was simple: four artists from four different cities, who have never met and were forbidden to do so during the three-months “residency”, were collaborating on a theme “Levels of Undo” that  was to become the keynote of the final exhibition.

And so it happened they spread the topic into the prime participants via blog [5], Skype, snail mails, telephone etc. –so long as it doesn’t included face-to-face meeting. In addition to the exhibition in the gallery “Location One” presented the results using various online platforms, including Facebook, impersonation performances, Spy pen surveillance video, and so on and so forth, and as they claimed, made use even of mental telepathy.

Collaboration between real and virtual was also at the heart of the international media art project: a call on artists for the virtual migration to the “House Europe”. Founded in 2006 by four artists (Monika Bohr, Claudia Brieske, Leslie Huppert and Gertrud Riethmüller) it has been realized in close cooperation with Gallery Biala in Lublin, Poland and  Faux Mouvement  Centre d’Art Contemporain in Metz, France and support of ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruh among others. The project initiated a creative transit of images, motives and concepts through the World Wide Web to real exhibition venues in Europe.

“Virtual Residency” was inspired by the overwhelming transformation and migration process that Europe has been experiencing within last fifteen years. The ideas of individual migrants reflected the desire for a place to stay and dealt with themes such as homeland, foreign lands and the unknown. Through the virtual projection via a Internet platform they received directions, were made visible and could find a domicile. There, on behalf of their creators, they became virtual residents.  Thus the virtual and completed motives of migration overlap and generate new artistic impulses.

But what if the virtual take the lead and the artist activity (and/or its production as well) takes shape and place only in his or her mind? Based on an idea that artists could not, for one reason or another, make or present art (in the physical sense of course) RFAOH (Residency for Artists on Hiatus) came into being. It was born out of the conviction of its creators (Matthew Evans and Shinobu Akimoto) that different understanding of “artistic” engagement in our times can lead to constant anxiety due to peer pressure to meet the demand to be productive.

The artist status begins to depend too much on economical factors (relevant to globalization and artist branding).  Designed only as a form of a website on which selected artists would be represented and will be able to post periodic reports on their endeavors during the residency (“on-hiatus” activities or non-activities) the RFAOH residency gave artists the freedom from the obligations of being an artist.

One can say that we still live somehow in the post-Warholian era, where everyone can have their 15 minutes of fame and almost everything could be considered to be art (especially when placed in the electronic ether of data and information). Although nowadays it is much harder to get noticed in the flood of information, not to mention of being appreciated.  This has of course its good and bad sides. However, it’s a sign of the times that you cannot completely escape. Therefore the natural step is to try to challenge the traditional conventions of art making and distribution, artists and audience, data and reality.

The Virtual Artist-In-Residence programs seek to create unique artistic environments. The materials designed for digital-viewing (networks, apps, data) give the opportunity to explore new and exciting concept.  The “virtual reality” becomes the platform to visualize imagination. The ideas of individuals occupying the virtual residency design it and could become the virtual residents themselves – and thus the accessible products.

The fact that artworks become more visible for the public is a big advantage; very often they are available for free on the residential domains that may affect, for instance, the reduction of production costs and affect the ways of distribution. As well as eliminating the factor of traveling (and consequently its expenses, the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, etc.) virtual residencies create  the possibility to boost the cost of creation of the work, generating better conditions for development.

The virtual artist-in-residence programs are a relatively fledgling idea and it’s a pity that they are not yet regular but, for now, are simply experimental models.  The time will show if they are just an interesting alternative or a new way of the artist-in-residence programs.  Whatever happens, if they can paradoxically turn the attention of the virtual space toward the pure art, it would be a big success.

And if the sceptics continue to ask “why is it called “residency” if there is no “place of residence?”, the answer is simple: “Isn’t the “placeness” of cyberspace made real by the presence of community? Free your mind.”[6]

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External links:

http://www.virtualartresidence.com/

http://www.babelswarm.com

http://arsvirtua.com/residence.php

http://www.studioxx.org/en

http://internetarchive.tumblr.com/

http://www.desktopresidency.com/

http://www.location1.org/levels-of-undo/

http://www.virtual-residency.net/

http://www.residencyforartistsonhiatus.org

 

Weronika Trojańska M.F.A. (b. 1986 in Bydgoszcz, Poland). Artist and art critic; graduate of the Faculty of Art Education (major: Art Criticism and Promotion) of the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, Poland. Her work combines aspects which are important for her such as: a work of art, sociology, psychology, and curatorial projects. Lives and works in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
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[1] http://www.virtualartresidence.com/index.php?page=about-virtual-art-residence

[2] http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertainment/cyber-citizens-win-20000-arts-grant/2007/09/07/1188783503341.htm

[3] http://www.theage.com.au/news/technology/theyre-virtually-famous/2008/04/10/1207856776808.html?s_cid=rss_technology

[4] http://internetarchive.tumblr.com/

[5] http://vres.location1.org

[6] http://www.location1.org/virtual-residency-project/

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