As a young girl, my Sunday church-going experiences, albeit short-lived, were similar to my gallery and museum outings: strangers came together in awe of something that was, in most cases, quite beyond them.
Experiencing Digital Art Together, La Gaîté Lyrique
It was devastating to wander through room after room of beautiful artwork that I couldn't touch or discuss aloud with others. Security guards were my worst enemies. I watched them vigilantly out of the corner of my eye until a crying child or disoriented tourist stole their attention, whereupon I would take a big step across the imaginary 'Do Not Cross' line to be in intimate proximity of a piece. I would breathe deeply, hoping to catch a trace of the intoxicating fumes of oil paint. I longed to slowly trace the thick, excessive brush strokes in Van Gogh's A Wheatfield with Cypresses with my index finger. I loved gallery and museum outings, but they left a bittersweet taste in my mouth; being in the presence of art was inspiring, but distancing. I wanted the paintings to acknowledge my presence and interact with me.
A couple of decades later, those same galleries and museums are slowly evolving. The internet supplies a constant source of whatever information the mind may be craving, accessible at one's fingertips on a touch-screen smartphone. The emergence of technology and digital culture has forced curators, architects and artists to rethink their approach to art display and the patron's gallery experience.
Grande Exhibitions (Australia), Antrepo (Istanbul) and Arizona Science Center have already caught onto the demand for innovative information curatorship. These three exhibitors are currently showcasing a "multi-sensory exhibition" entitled Van Gogh Alive: The Experience. The exhibit offers an immersion into Van Gogh's world, a multi-layered museum experience: "Forego all preconceived ideas of traditional museum visits, dispel all notions of tiptoeing through silent galleries to view at masterpieces from afar, change how you engage with art, stimulate your senses and challenge your beliefs of what an "exhibition" can be. Be prepared for a vibrant symphony of light, colour and sound." The multi-platform approach engages and immerses patrons, providing a more memorable experience. However, unlike a traditional gallery exhibit, it does not offer authenticity - the artworks are simply projections.
Within the undefined parameters of digital culture, a new form of art is developing: digital media art, art that must be exhibited in non-traditional ways. Launched in fall 2010, Adobe Museum of Digital Media (AMDM) aims to preserve and highlight digital work. AMDM is a virtual space available at one's fingertips 365 days a year and every second of the day. Interestingly, even virtual spaces seem to need a physical equivalent - AMDM boasts about the virtual museum's structure, designed by architect Filippo Innocenti and "contracted" by Piero Frescobaldi.
As it stands, there are very few physical spaces dedicated solely to showcasing digital media art. La Gaîté Lyrique, located in Paris, is another rarity. The City of Paris invested 83 million euros to restore and reinvent this 150-year-old facility. The marriage of tradition and innovation defines the beauty of La Gaîté Lyrique: its façade has not been changed since 1962, while its interior has been completely redeveloped to house digital media art and performances. Gaîté Lyrique also accommodates artist studios, a rich library, video game areas, a vast auditorium, a bar in the Grand Foyer and a café. The one-of-a-kind space is equipped for digital media installations and performances of large magnitude. The main performance space is located at the centre of the building and is filled with mirrors. There are many smaller gallery spaces throughout the building, but the design of Gaîté Lyrique allows for the main performance to overflow, unifying visitors throughout the building. The building's architectural structure offers a romanticised digital media experience.
Patrons inside La Gaîté Lyrique
Although still in its infancy, digital media art has already undergone several maturations. The rapid progression of technology directly impacts the evolvement of digital media art. If technology is soaring at light-year speed and digital art is flying with it, are the spaces designed for digital art going to be dragged along with them? The ephemeral nature of digital culture transcends the four walls that society has struggled to keep it in, challenging architects and curators around the world to think outside that museum-shaped box.
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