There’s an experience you get when you go to a gallery that you can’t duplicate by visiting one online, a relationship with your fellow viewers that can either charge you up or distract you from the reason you’re there in the first place – to look at the artwork. People-watching abounds in galleries and so does its shady cousin eavesdropping – preferably on a highbrow conversation between two people trying to impress each other on a date.
And lets not forget the relationship between the viewer and the art itself. A sculpture has a different presence when it’s pixellated into multiple views on a website than it does when it allows you into its physical space. Even when you’re looking at the original of a two-dimensional image, a painting or a drawing, the material reality of the canvas, the brush or pencil-strokes, invites you to touch it – frowned-on though touching it would be – and in doing so to forge a link with the artist. For obvious reasons digital duplicates don’t have this type of pull on you.
But in recent years online galleries with their low overheads and high accessibility have sprung up throughout cyberspace, usually as digital annexes to large public spaces like auction houses or major art galleries. The new online space “ekthesis”, the brain-child of a team of artists based in Athens, Greece, is a bit different from those essentially commercial ventures. Here the artwork is being exhibited not just to sell it or increase the artists’ exposure, though this is one of its aims, but to invite you to see the art in a new way. There’s a spirit of intellectual democracy animating “ekthesis”, a willingness to circulate and promote knowledge across geographical and commercial lines – and at a time when art could be the last thing on people’s minds – in Greece at least.
In this respect the online status of “ekthesis” works in its favour. The pieces might not have the suggestion of the artist’s fingerprints on them in the way they would if they were on show in a real-world gallery but they make up for it by drawing power from their juxtaposition with the other images in their (cyber) space, both in the same exhibition and in other exhibitions only a couple of mouse-clicks away.
The artificial boundaries between artworks that we create in our minds when viewing them in a real-world gallery simply through having to contend with distance and time – the time it takes to walk from one exhibition to another – aren’t so easy to erect here. You can visit something almost as fast as you can think about it, seeing connections between it and something else that you’d miss in the real world. You’re not dependent on a curator to do all the thinking for you. In “ekthesis” the curator only directs your attention; ultimately you’re free to follow your own paths of thought, something that the gallery’s lay-out facilitates, tempting you to bound from one link to the next in a cyber parallel to your brain’s neural highways.
And the exhibitions reward multiple viewings. Even more than in a real-world gallery each visit is likely to yield something new as your curiosity is sparked by something you didn’t notice the last time you checked in, luring you down new avenues of inquiry.
The images, pristine and clear to show up well on a computer monitor, are arranged by theme rather than by artist. There’s photography, sculpture, video art and paintings by an international selection of artists. Images range from the joyful to the bizarre, the menacing to the comical, and there’s an invitation to people in the art-world to propose their own ideas for exhibitions too, so hopefully the gallery will be expanding in the future, unlimited by the strictures of bricks and mortar. Just make sure to keep your computer screen clean enough to do them justice.
“ekthesis” is an innovative online space that has opened in order to digitally experience artworks. It is a virtual gallery that offers the possibility of exhibiting artistic practices, collected and curated as separate exhibitions. You can visit it at www.ekthesis-online.com and join its community at www.facebook.com/ekthesisonline
by Olympia Zographos