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One could have expected that – given its nature – new media art will be less prone to social distancing introduced as a result of the pandemic, digitalisation and the entire live moving online. Does the experience of the past year support such an intuition? What did the artists and the entire new media community feel like in this unprecedented situation?
Since new media is based on the means of communication, it might seem that media artists really should have it a little easier in the pandemic and not feel the lack of contact with their audiences as much as artists in other fields. After all, even before COVID-19 they were broadcasting performances, concerts, sound and visual actions; we had network art; films, graphics, photographs and even game-based works. And we are going to have all of this when the pandemic is over – perhaps viewers will be more mindful of these forms as well!
However, we are already well aware of the fact that this cannot be the only way to experience art. Just like not every single work of art is suitable for display in open spaces and not every single one of them can be received well amid the hustle and bustle of a busy street, not every piece of media art can get the recognition and views it deserves online. After all, not everyone wants to create short forms, funny gifs or memes, as well as artistic interventions set in motion by the dynamics of social networks. After more than a year, you could say that new media artists – just like the representatives of other arts – crave actual human contact, spaces for reflection, exchange of energy, an opportunity to look at their works among the audience.
What is important, however, is not only the type of art and its condition, but also the state of the audience – and by the audience I mean every single one of us. In the beginning, during the first lockdown, video works shown online, broadcasts of performances, guided tours of exhibitions did quite well. Many artistic events tried – with varying success – to fit into this only available mould and take advantage of this new form of communication, which at that time was still something new and fresh. All human connections mediated by the internet quickly wore us out, as we saw education and our jobs move to this space. We consider the stuff that is available online as an ersatz for activities that we would love to experience in a different way.
How should we understand your headline – “reverso” – given this context? What are you turning away from, and what do you want to go towards?
We are not turning away! It is an invitation to experience art in all its complexity, to go deeper, to foster understanding by circulating between different areas, points of reference, nodes of meanings, interpretations and feelings. To look at art from various perspectives, to include one’s own experiences and reflections as a source for creating a platform for contact in art. Showing and disseminating the elements of this process in a wide variety of forms is one of the main and most demanding challenges of this edition from the standpoint of programming, promoting and curating this year’s edition.
This year’s Biennale is going to be a hybrid event, tried, tested and refined by culture creators over the course of the past several months. How will the physical and virtual spaces coexist and complement each other during WRO?
After months of doing everything remotely and after a number of projects which were quite successful in their own right, we can see how we all crave to bring back actual meetings, which currently cannot be easily replaced by online solutions – even though they are getting better. New questions emerge – how to transcend the limitations of digitalisation of culture, extracting what is most valuable from it without turning the viewer into a consumer of online content? How to keep the attention of a viewer, deprived of the community of experience and saturated with all the stimuli prevalent on the internet?
We want to make sure that as many activities as possible are carried out in direct contact with the audience – exhibitions of works with artists, live performances, activities with an art mediation programme, or in other words, some friendly support for the audience. In case of possible restrictions concerning the functioning of cultural institutions, we are also preparing new ways of online participation, although of course it would be best if this sphere remained only a supplement to real events. It is probably going to take a while until we can open our gallery to the general public without any restrictions and limitations. That is why we decided to spread the programme of the WRO Biennale evenly over the remaining months of the year. There will be four main exhibitions, over a dozen video show programmes, performances, and concerts.
The event programme is rich and diverse – as always. Which exhibitions and presentations are must-see this year?
We are in for Start Reverso, an unusual performative exhibition that will be shown in May at the WRO Art Center, Entropia Gallery, IP Studio, Grotowski Institute and the space of the NFM, featuring installations by artists from different countries, addressing the challenges of communicating the sense of community in the age of artificial intelligence. These will include works by artists from the Netherlands – Persijn Broersen and Margit Lukács, Krystian Grzywacz, a recent graduate of the Wrocław Academy of Art and Design, as well as Gil Delindro from Portugal, who has been in Wrocław since the beginning of April to complete a new, expansive piece. We are also going to see the freegan action by ErrorBistro, who prioritise resource rescue over revulsion, combining urban activism, music and culinary improvisation.
Then we have Tomasz Domański, an artist from Wrocław, who is preparing a new performance for the opening of the next exhibition on 18 June. We are also going to see the new bio-art project by one of the winners of previous editions of the WRO Biennale – Elvin Flamingo.
What discussions, lectures, special events will accompany the main programme?
On 13th of May, we are going to meet Finnish artists – Kaisu Koivisto and Anna Nykyri, as well as Paweł Janicki from WRO, who are developing a joint project carried out in Helsinki and Wrocław. The meeting will take place in Barbara and will be broadcast online. The conversation will focus on artistic collaboration during the pandemic, learning new ways of using media, expanding the field of creativity and the challenges of remote collaborative teamwork and artistic understanding. On the same day, we are going to see the first video screenings held for the audience gathered at Barbara and broadcast on the video channels of the WRO Art Center. Together with Wrocław Culture Zone and the Institute of Cultural Studies of the University of Wrocław, we are also working on a meeting as part of the well-known series City Academy entitled Pictures from the End of the World, slated to take place on 27th of May in Barbara – of course, it is going to be broadcast on Facebook.
Interviewer: Kuba Żary