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Written by Joseph Black


I have been invited by Dover Arts Development (DAD) to curate an online exhibition as part of their What Next? project. The function of this commission is to deliver a programme which enables artists to expand and develop ideas in response to the COVID-19 lockdown. The commission was mindful of DAD’s collaborative structure, with a view of affirming DAD’s ongoing partnership work and delivery of collaborative projects. As a result of the lockdown it would be necessary to identify modes of display which could be developed and expanded in order to support the artistic development of Dover during this period. 


In light of the lockdown, and also mindful of expanding accessibility to exhibition spaces in general, it would seem appropriate to investigate the perceptual and poetic possibilities of online spaces. We must think of these spaces as new platforms which have potentials previously unopened to us, and not as platforms which must accommodate old methods of production and exhibition. These platforms are fundamentally contemporary spaces and they offer us new accessibilities and opportunities. We are the generation to discover, develop and advance these online spaces both as producers and consumers of art. 


Many larger institutions have adapted to the abrupt decrease of real-life visitors to museums and galleries around the world. Art Basel rushed through the development of its digital viewing rooms as soon as they saw the impending lockdown coming, Hauser and Wirth hosted its first digital-only exhibition as did Victoria Miro which partnered with Vortic Collect to deliver an ‘online viewing experience’. This follows a gradual trend amongst galleries over the last few years to deliver a more agreeable online experience. The manner in which these online ‘viewing rooms’ have taken does not seem as yet to have fully reached a resolved and enjoyable experience. I think this can in general be attributed to the constraint of having to adapt more traditional methods of display for a necessarily online world. 


The museums on the other hand have also to find a way of replicating the museum experience; which is as much about the building and environment as the works in the collection itself. Unsurprisingly therefore they have opted for interiors shots with high-resolution camera rigs in 360-degree formats, which provide viewers with an approximation of standing at one of several fixed points in a room. From here they can navigate and zoom in and out to inspect various works as though they’d landed in the Rijksmuseum or Courtauld itself. 


These methods of display are a good effort for the most part, but unfortunately lack a lot of the excitement of being at the gallery in person. This is one of the challenges of adapting ‘real-life’ exhibitions for an online space, and of translating paintings and artworks into digital formats. Now matter how far one can zoom into a high-resolution image, or click along a corridor of the National Gallery, it’ll never replace the experience of experiencing the work in person. Just as looking through a holiday album isn’t a substitute for going on holiday. 


Whilst the museums and galleries look into how they can improve online experiences, contemporary artists are not quite sharing the same difficulties. In fact in a lot of cases the lockdown has allowed artists to discover new ways of allowing their artwork to reach those looking to view it, and in turn finding new avenues of display and revenue. The Artist Support Pledge for example has been hugely successful in allowing artists to find new collectors ready to buy their work. By using the #artistsupportpledge on Instagram one can now find hundreds, if not thousands, of original artworks from artists selling directly to the consumer at affordable prices. Not only this, but the system of buying and selling is designed to continue the flow of income around the artistic community; as one artist makes six sales they pledge to buy a work from another artist also selling via the Artist Support Pledge programme. Thus they have created a mutually beneficial economy in miniature. Never has the synthesis of buyer and independent maker been so accessible and direct for such a large number of people. 


As artists adapt to the lockdown, we may also consider the creative and poetic possibilities of the online spaces which now dominate our communication. In these spaces we can envision methods of production which do not rely on the translation of traditional media, but on possibilities which, in short, function precisely because they don’t try and replicate the lived gallery experience. Rather they work within the limits and to the strengths of the technology. In these spaces we see a new interpretation of art in the public space. The artwork is both accessible and offered without prejudice, to be exhibited collectively across boundaries.


We must think of the online space as a public space for this reason, yet not bound by the regulations and customs usually associated with it. In the online space one can construct an artwork which requires no consent from a regulatory body nor support from public or private funding. One can therefore consider the relationship between the real world public space and the online public space in relation to this difference.

So in asking ‘What Next?’ we can think about how the relativity of public space can be engaged with in the lockdown and post lockdown world. My conception of The Dover Art Network therefore plays on this idea; that the public space exists online for artists to develop ideas specific to the particulars of the space itself. The Dover Art Network aims to bridge these two spaces by incorporating an interactive map of Dover which the visitor will use to navigate around conceptualised installation sites. In these sites will be artworks envisioned to exist in those real-world spaces. By doing so the real-world space is used as a context for the work, but the online space as its realisation. 

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What Next? Another DAD project 


The Dover Art Nework project is a strand of Dover Arts Development’s What Next? project.


What Next? is a 6-month programme of activity to explore ways of securing DAD’s future, funded thanks to Arts Council England's Covid-19 emergency funding

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Produced by Joseph Black Studios in collaboration with Dover Arts Development

All images ©2020

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