On the Transformative Potential of Art Online

So I took part in a seminar exploring the potential of digital art collections organized by the Finnish National Gallery yesterday.

Many of the talks given in the event seemed to echo the industry expert Jasper Visser’s words: “the future of museums is about attitude, not technology”. I could not agree more.

I think the same goes for many private sector’s most successful companies now embracing digitalization and the multi-channel digital customer experience. Attitude matters.

The excellent keynote speakers in this seminar were Merete Sanderhoff from the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen and Jussi Ängeslevä from the University of Arts in Berlin.

One of the best takeaways of the seminar was a complimentary copy of the book “Sharing is Caring – Openness and Sharing in the Cultural Heritage Sector”, edited by Sanderhoff, as well as getting a glimpse of Art+Com Studio’s (https://artcom.de/) mind-blowing large-scale digital installations in various exciting museums around Europe.

In her presentation, Sanderhoff stated that the facilitation of the re-use of digital cultural heritage, mainly images of artworks, is now one of the core tasks in the SMK, permeating the organization on all levels.

With the collections of any art museum being vast in comparison to which part of them can be shown at the physical site (in the case of the SMK, for example, approximately 1%, and in the case of the FNG, around 2%), focusing on the display of the digital material online and its creative re-use should indeed be a priority on all levels of any museum organization.

Ängeslevä introduced the seminar crowd to some of Art+Com team’s fantastic – and in some cases phantasmagoric – large-scale digital installations, while strongly emphasizing that attempting to construct any such installation requires a lot of “focus” and “attitude” and must incorporate “a meaning”.

This, to me, is most evident in the case of the “Evolutionary Stairs”, an installation in Moesgård Museum in Højberg, Denmark, where, descending a staircase in the museum, our ancestors are being displayed as wax figures, and in the case of the “Micropia”, a museum of microscopic life, in the Natura Artis Magistra zoo in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Being two very different projects, what these installations have in common is the agenda to help the viewer better understand themselves and their surroundings. A simple agenda, yet a very powerful one.

After the seminar, I visited Kiasma’s ongoing “Demonstrating Minds” –exhibition, as well as Jani Leinonen’s exhibition “The School of Disobedience”, finally, as there is only one week left to explore it.

Leinonen’s gravestones of various global brands being on display in the museum’s uppermost floor, in conjunction with the beggars’ signs seemed to me as some of his most touching work, with the various cereal box works (like “The Choice Is Yours”, 2011) still being the absolute personal favourites of mine.

In the “Face to Face” exhibition, Stiina Saaristo’s “Scarlet”, 2004, and Aurora Reinhard’s “Cosmetics & Accessories”, 2008-2012, seemed to be exploring similar themes as Leinonen’s seminal work.

In the likewise interesting group exhibition “Demonstrating Minds”, Tom Molloy’s “Protest”, 2010 came through to me as one of the most powerful works, while there were many other excellent works dealing with current global political issues, especially the crisis in Middle-East, on display.

Art certainly inherently wields the power to help us better understand ourselves and our surroundings.

However, in order to start being and remain accessible for anyone interested in exploring it, art quite obviously needs to be presented in a beautiful, enticing online environment and thrive in the form of quality images and open data, available for re-use by the general public, creatives and others.

This kind of meaningful content is what matters, as most technological innovations are usually about “just another device”, designed to display some interesting data or some other interesting content in.

What makes all the difference is the attitude of art museum professionals.

In the book “Sharing Is Caring”, Jasper Visser states that “every organization grounded in society should understand their implications on society and vice versa”. Furthermore, he states that when “implemented naively”, technology “may amplify existing inequalities”.

So can art museums effectively act as a catalyst of an increased level of awareness of global issues and thereby help individuals be the change they want to see in the world?

I think it is only by having quality content available online that art museums can start catering globally for transformative experiences, the kind that make art itself so powerful – the experiences of increased understanding of ourselves and our environment.

Author: Iiris Konttinen

I am a digital service design and digital marketing professional based in Helsinki, Finland.