How Opening Times Is Revolutionising How We View Art Online
Exploring the new strategies of digital art with Opening Times, a radically different online gallery who are giving artists the possibility to experiment without the pressures of the market breathing down their necks.
Like a lot of other things without clear precedent, Opening Times is a bit difficult to understand. It's a not-for-profit digital arts commissioning organisation doing, to a certain extent, much of the same work as a traditional not-for-profit arts organisation: giving artists the opportunity to create and exhibit work without the pressures of the market breathing down their neck.
While institutions and artist-run spaces have always provided financial and technical (as well as emotional) support to artists as an alternative to the commercial art world, however, they've generally been slow to adapt that model to incorporate digital art. Whatever the source of that hesitation, it's left a lot of younger artists finding more support from commercial galleries than the traditional institutions that might've sustained them in the past.
In its early years, internet art has had an awkward and apprehensive relationship to commerce; the possibilities it produces are basically antithetical to the modernist tropes of the primary art market, i.e., producing sellable objects. Because net artists rely on the infinite reproducibility of social networks to spread their work, they open it up to new possibilities for fluidity in authorship. But the way that online art - and any art that relies on a digital interface - has upended traditional gallery displays means that traditional galleries aren't always the best means of encountering work anymore.
Opening Times may go some way to resolving this. Launched in June of this year, Opening Times is a joint initiative of Attilia Fattori Franchini and Rhys Coren of bubblebyte.org, an online gallery for digital artworks, and London gallery Seventeen's David Hoyland and Tim Steer.
The project combines a lot of disparate yet congruous objectives into one single platform: "showcasing work online," as Franchini and Coren did with bubblebyte.org, "developing the careers of young artists," as Hoyland and Steer do with Seventeen, and providing a critical and academic discussion with which to contextualise the work.
The group stresses this latter aspect in a move that, I think, speaks to a certain desire for accessibility across a variety of audiences. While the For Us By Us tone of something like the first few years of Dis magazine was obviously exciting in its newness and its relevance, it's easy to see how alien and alienating that work might look to someone who doesn't spend a lot of time online or on social media. In an email, they write that "much of our audience might find encountering artwork that exists online to be unfamiliar, so giving it a critical framing is important, especially in a digital landscape that moves so quickly."
Similar to this commitment to engaging a wider audience than most platforms for digital and online art, Opening Times' roster of invited artists, writers, and collaborators is, so far, distinctly different from the usual suspects of internet art and new media, a welcome reminder that the virtual and the real aren't, in fact, irreconcilable. For example, one of Opening Times' first commissions to be completed and viewable online is London artist Ruth Proctor's first-ever online artwork. Always (2014) is a website with a clock counting the days, hours, minutes, seconds since Opening Times' launch, and whose appearance varies slightly for each individual visit. A button gives the option to capture a screenshot, a sort of sentimental opportunity to take away a unique artifact from the project. The group writes, "we want to work with just as many artists who've never worked online compared to those who have."
Other firsts include French artist Nicolas Sassoon's three-month online residency from June to September of this year, throughout which he produced a body of work called Pandora (2014)-a selection of gifs compiled on a standalone website. The work's title refers to the name of the street where, on and off for the past five years, the artist has lived and kept a basement studio, as well as to the more obvious Pandora of Greek mythology. In an interview with Opening Times, Sassoon writes that the myth of Pandora's box seems like "the perfect analogy for a general perception of computer screens and more specifically for their contents; Internet, videogames, pornography, violence, etc. It's a very basic but also a very resilient perception, which tends to hover like a threatening shadow above our potential misuse of computer technology."
Opening Times also provides an online reading resource that is guest-edited on a quarterly basis, a sort of annotated miscellany. The first of these, from summer 2014, was compiled by independent art critic and curator Karen Archey, who, after co-curating the survey exhibition "Art Post-Internet" at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, has become an authoritative critical voice on post-internet art. Her online library represents what she calls "my most prized surf flotsam, often harkening back to moments when I was first discovering internet art and new media."
Subsequent editorial residents, I'm sure, will make use of the platforms to much different ends. Like the early internet, a network whose inchoate structures didn't nearly anticipate the possibilities it would generate for its users, what Opening Times will amount to - which tendencies emerge, which media are used, which connections are drawn - will evolve in tandem with the project. "There's no real control," they write. "But, there kind of is. Free Culture versus art. Anything that's online can be stolen. People don't like art being stolen."
Art as it exists in a shared network offers an attractive, though uncompensated, alternative to art as commerce, an alternative that commissioning structures like Opening Times allow artists to explore. New York-based artist Nicholas O'Brien, in his video You Alright? (2014), the product of a research commission for Opening Times, provides the following voiceover: "Although far from a permanent solution, the internet provides ample opportunities to foster alternatives to the systems of domination that have come to consume the Western art market."
Text Tess Edmonson
Images courtesy Opening Times