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Brooklyn's Net Art Scene Migrates To Munich For New Media Art Fair

TRANSFER gallery, an epicenter of all things net art, brings its vision to new media art fair, Unpainted.

Double Dulce image still by Lorna Mills

Unpainted, Munich’s first New Media Art fair, opened its doors on January 17th to play host to over 50 exhibitors from around the globe, showing work that covers the wide range of artists actively engaging with the internet as a creative medium. Acting equally as an exhibition space, buyer ground, and educational platform, Unpainted seeks to broaden Munich's views on how technology has affected the very fabric of our world. Works ranging from the historical to the up-and-coming were on display, along with performances and lectures covering a range of topics related to art and technology.

Of the exhibitors, New York’s own TRANSFER gallery was one of three representing America at the fair, with Bitforms Gallery and LA's Steve Turner Contemporary repping the States, as well. As TRANSFER gallery approaches its one year anniversary in March, it rounded the corner on this momentous occasion at Unpainted by showing the work of artists Rick Silva and Lorna Mills at the Munich fair, two artist who are exemplary of the genre, yet can't be pigeonholed to "new media art" tropes or cliches.

TRANSFER has acted as a platform for artists working primarily in a digital/online format to expand upon their practice in the physical space of a gallery, but has also served as a real-world social epicenter for these artists (known for frequently connected in digital spheres). Having already worked with some of the most prominent figures in this scene, TRANSFER has quickly made its name as one of the leading champions of this kind of work and has facilitated fundraising events, installations, publications, and participated in London’s Moving Image Fair all before reaching its first birthday. 

The Creators Project talked with Lorna Mills and Kelani Nichole, co-director of TRANSFER gallery, on showing digital work in the context of the fair (including how buyers viewed certain pieces on tablet), and about how mass society still has some catching up to do with the net art community. 

TRANSFER gallery's booth at Unpainted, Munich

The Creators Project: What were TRANSFER’s goals in taking part in Unpainted?

Kelani Nichole: It was apparent from the first mention of the fair that this was an event aligned with our own goals of furthering the exposure and understanding of new forms of artwork that are native to our digital age. When an invitation from Unpainted director Annette Doms arrived in our inbox, we knew this was an opportunity we couldn't pass by. 

Of course, the chance to expose the work we love to a new international audience was a driving factor. But the clear ideological alignment and excitement from the members of Unpaited for the work we're doing at TRANSFER is the reason we're here. It just felt right, so we made it happen.

What has been different about working within the context of a fair/exhibition as opposed to TRANSFER’s brick and mortar project space? What have been the unique challenges?

Within our walls we are hosts to gatherings around the work. At the fair, we are just one in a series of offerings to the audience. The environment is a whole different ballgame, but our role remains the same: to educate and excite people about the work. Our experience at Unpainted was largely one of sharing new ideas. We did a lot of educating about formats, display, and preservation--and we loved every second of it. The attendees (both collectors and the general public alike) were quite open to accepting the work, and although the audience was sometimes skeptical, overall there was an air of optimism and delight.

There were also challenges with remote installation and working with new formats (tablets), but these logistics are always to be expected as we take on new challenges as a young gallery. 


Render Garden image still by Rick Silva.

What have been the challenges in making digital works available to collectors? Besides compensating the artists, what positive benefits does this have for the work? What were the differences between how you approached editioning Rick and Lorna’s works to be sold?

There are two major challenges. The first lies in the fact that the market for this work is underdeveloped–digital and new media artwork is still primarily an area of interest for the specialist collector. 

The second challenge lies in the tension between the desire to make the work accessible to as broad an audience as possible on the one hand, and the art market's desire for scarcity and preciousness on the other. A lot of people are working to educate both the collecting and the general publics to the benefits of "collective ownership" (a hot topic among panelists here at Unpainted) and we hope to see this tendency continue to gain momentum.

In terms of the benefits of placing work, obviously compensation for the artist is a major benefit. The other major benefit is that collectors act as stewards of the work. They have the means to ensure the work's safekeeping, and they are highly incentivized to help ensure the work's increasing cultural and historical relevance (leading eventually, perhaps, to a work's canonicity).

For this fair, we explored two very different routes for editioning and packaging digital works. The GIFs from Lorna Mills are offered with a display device (a tablet) to increase accessibility of the somewhat 'mysterious' native web format. They are wrapped in a simple app that can be launched in a single tap, the size of the tablet suits these works, and we enjoy working with them as display devices. This is a convenience for the collector—the tablet itself is not the art object, but simply a frame for hanging and showing the work. The tablet will obsolesce long before the archival copy of the GIF also provided as part of the acquisition.

For the debut of new work from Rick Silva we have taken the opposite approach, focusing instead on the archival hardware and leaving the method of display more open for collectors to adapt to their own needs. Render Garden is a realtime 3D application that runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux environments, packaged on an archival solid state drive produced by Angelbird (an Austrian hardware company). The drive is engraved with the unique edition number and contains three versions of the application along with a video study the artist produced in the process of making this piece.

The Axis Of Something Else by Lorna Mills via

Lorna Mills, a Canadian artist making work in a variety of formats, showed a selection of GIFs at Unpainted from her exhibit at TRANSFER, The Axis of Something. We spoke to her about these works.

The Creators Project: Your gifs tend to include pop and subcultural visual references. For your series at Unpainted, you used a more abstracted visual language. Can you talk about this a bit? What are the source images for the work?

Lorna Mills: Thanks for using the term subcultural, I like it a lot. I have been producing the abstractions for over a year now, parallel to my found GIF collage work. My ravingly formal concerns with all the GIFs I make have to do with rhythm, precision timing, and pattern negotiation.  Previous abstract GIFs were made from scanned, bunched up printed textiles, but these particular pieces in Unpainted were made from the scans of ceramic figurines I used to produce my large modular print works shown last spring at TRANSFER gallery in Brooklyn. In her catalogue essay for that show, Sally McKay had described the work as: “a clusterfuck of references implying commodification, delectation, and the power of artistic image manipulation."

Your work has circulated around the web, been printed on walls, displayed on monitors and projected in galleries. Your series at Unpainted will be available for buyers on individual tablet displays, making the work more singular and collectible. Do the different formats affect how you approach your work? Is the whole of all these formats more important than any individual one? In your ideal world, how would your work be displayed and distributed, without thinking of time or money?

The fundamental condition of this work is that it existed online first, because it’s the limitations and expansiveness of the internet that informs all my aesthetic choices. The internet as a delivery method requires a certain amount of economy and compression, and I like rules (and the breaking of rules). Transferring the GIF files to video for playback on a device doesn’t bother me, as I know I’m not making an animated art video.The GIF-iness translates just fine as far as I’m concerned, (but there are a lot of net artists who would disagree with me there). I don’t really have one ideal way of showing GIFs, I like a variety of options and a variety of scales as well. Everything can be made to work somewhere and sometime. But, ok, I will admit to dreaming of a solo exhibition in a giant sports bar with a 100 monitors.

All images courtesy of Transfer Gallery.