Digital art has been around since the 1950s in the UK. We spoke to Sean Frank and Margot Bowman from 15 Folds – an online gallery bringing together GIF images by artists on the web and around the world – about the growing impact of digital art on the museum and gallery sector in the UK, and their take on the debates surrounding the form.
As digital art is fairly new, where does it sit when compared with traditional art, and where do you think it will go?
Margot: One thing that makes it hard for people to understand, to take these experiences, art experiences, is that you take in all your digital experiences through the same devices: your email, your council tax, etc., as well as your digital art. They all happen on your phone or your laptop, so you don't have all those markers that tell you you're in an art space. Obviously, context is huge, especially in an art environment.
Given the tools we have at the moment, it's really hard for people to identify when they're in an art environment or when they're just in a content environment (e.g., a commercial website), and that can actually be an interesting grey area. With 15 Folds, we really wanted to create something that was a dedicated space that gave gravitas and a moment to appreciate what is being shown.
Sean: There's a lot of debate asking, 'is it an art form?' It's just so subjective. Some people will never think it is, others definitely do see it as an art form but it's just about time and mindsets changing and the way you consume digital art, which is something we looked at with our Everything All At Once exhibition: not just having it on a screen or projected, but making it a bit more physical and tangible.
Do you think digital media are the most appropriate way to capture the age we are living in?
Sean: We definitely see animated GIFs (graphics interchange format) as the creative output of the Internet, and it's definitely something that has come as a creative consequence of being so inundated with information and imagery, and it's so accessible; it’s channeling that creativity into a format.
Margot: And one, also, that works with the current technological climate. GIFs aren't new, but more and more of the global population is moving into an environment where they can download that kind of file, or they can view that kind of file easily. All our files are one megabyte and under so it's something you can experience with mobile – you can be on GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and you can experience that.
I think there is this huge lag between what humans are actually doing and where technology is and so, although GIFs are ten years old, they've come to the fore so much now because we've got platforms that are encouraging the sharing of them, and devices and bandwidths that are actually allowing them to be used by normal people, not just a very elite tech group or tech art group.
If young people were interested in getting involved in digital art, what would you recommend they do?
Margot: If you're already living in a digitised way and you're online, there's a really low barrier to entry in terms of making digital artworks, because the tools that you need are so freely available. There's nothing to hold people back. We're so used to being in a position where we just consume digital culture, but one thing that we want to do with 15 Folds is make sure there are as many different kinds of voices in that digital conversation as possible.
What is digital art? If you had to define it, does it have a definition?
Sean: I guess in ten years, Google Glass or whatever it is will start being used creatively, and that's going to be exciting, and that kind of really experiential type of art will be great. It always takes a little while for things to be used. Even with the light bulb, it was so banal and everyday for so long, but when we got past the amazingness of having light in our homes, it then found other uses, like neons. You can do some amazing things with light, and I think that's where it leads.
It's something that's starting to get really interesting because technology is at a stage where we can do some incredible things, but it always takes a little while for technology to be used creatively. That's happening now with some older forms of tech, like GIFs, for example. Augmented reality is now also starting to be used creatively. It's exciting when that starts to happen, and the new art forms that come from that.
Do you think digital art attracts audiences who might never venture into a gallery or a more traditional arts space?
Margot: A lot definitely has changed, especially in the UK in the last ten or 15 years, in terms of mass creativity. The general public perception of art has definitely softened. Experiencing digital art is something that shouldn't be intimidating because people have lots of other experiences digitally that they wouldn't normally do in the real world. I’ve never thought about it in those terms.
If you're curious about digital art and find yourself in the UK this week, attend the FutureEverything festival in Manchester on 25-28 February 2015, where 11 Russian artists will be presenting their projects as part of a three-month British Council programme. The delegation from Russia will include four singers for the opening gala, an artist whose work was featured in the Moscow programme, and a representative from Laboratoria Art & Science Space, Moscow.