By VICTOR SLEDGE November 15, 2023
As technology has progressed, the world has often considered the digital and the physical to be on two ends of a spectrum. There’s a certain opposition that isn’t so much a reflection of the reality of the relationship between the digital and physical art worlds, but more so what the conversation surrounding it has created.
This is a conversation artists and art professionals like PR for Artists founder Aubrie Wienholt, curator, writer and artist Mieke Marple and bitforms gallery founder Steven Sacks are trying to mediate with their new exhibition, INTERREALITY. They’ve taken their individual pursuits in that direction and co-conceived an exhibition that takes the veil off for the industry and reveals the crossover between these worlds that has always been there.
INTERREALITY opened on October 14th, 2023, receiving hundreds of attendees to experience and even interact with an array of artworks, inviting viewers to explore this spectrum and realize a new approach to how such works interface with one another.
“I’ve worked with traditional artists, new media artists, and I’ve helped traditional artists navigate the web3 space,” Wienholt explains. “In my past projects, I really wanted to bring those worlds together.”
Wienholt has navigated the PR side of the art world for years, and, in 2015, she started her agency, PR for Artists, to help support artists as they chart their own paths in the art world. Throughout her career, she has helped artists of various disciplines work both in and outside of the traditional art market.
For example, one of her long-time clients is visual artist Yuge Zhou, whose work appears in the exhibition as a video installation. Wienholt discusses the journey they’ve been on to find the right arenas in which to present Zhou’s boundary-breaking video work.
Wienholt says, “I’ve watched how as a new media artist, it’s been hard to find the right gallery to represent her work, yet she has this incredible career and her CV is full of impressive museum shows. She deserves a platform to reach collectors and the art market, which is what we’re working to accomplish with this show for all the artists.”
Knowing the importance of representing artists, like Zhou, and their specific needs, Wienholt has been creating innovative avenues for her clients for years, and INTERREALITY is the next installment in those efforts.
With that expertise, Wienholt tapped Sacks, who established bitforms, the leading gallery devoted to new media art back in 2001. The gallery represents artists in every stage of their careers who are pushing the envelope of art creation by exploring new and innovative technologies.
“It made sense to do this with Steve because this is exactly what his gallery does – he has a deep focus on new media,” Wienholt says.
With 22 years of experience blazing this trail, Sacks has had a front row seat to see how the gap between the traditional and digital art world has been closing slowly but surely.
“The tensions definitely have changed. The tensions aren’t as disparate as they were when they started,” he says. “It was much more challenging for museums to support new media art 20 years ago.”
Wienholt agrees, saying, “The art world is finally catching on. I would say it’s still slow in the broader market. Digital art is still underrecognized. This exhibition is about pushing the industry outside its comfort zone and highlighting how a gallery like Steve’s has really been ahead of the curve for some time now.”
Marple had her own experience witnessing the traditional art world’s resistance to digital art, and she’s always aimed to create a way to open that door for those who haven’t fully recognized the relationship between traditional and digital art. As an artist and writer who has worked intimately at the intersection of these two styles of art, she’s been making these connections for other artists, art lovers and art professionals for years.
As the curator, Marple worked with Wienholt and Sacks to bring together a dynamic roster of artists and find a space for the exhibit that would best interconnect their work. A show like INTERREALITY that mixes and mingles these two sides of the art world needs a space that really allows the audience to see how these works are in connection with one another. It had to make sense.
“There were many problems with NFTs when they started to explode,” Sacks explains, for example. “There was no sensitivity to presentation, which is an incredibly important part of the art experience.”
That’s why Marple wanted to be intentional with the physical space for INTERREALITY.
“When Aubrie, Steve, and I were looking at spaces, I reached out to Geoff Anenberg, a partner at Creative Space,” she remembers. “He said we could have several floors of the Desmond Tower.”
At first, Marple thought Anenberg was being facetious, and almost turned down the offer.
“But it turns out that his friend was managing the recently restored, almost 100-year-old art deco building,” she says. “When we first saw it, we fell in love with it. We saw the potential and actually liked how raw it was. It made us feel excited in a way that none of the other spaces we looked at could hold a candle to.”
For Marple, INTERREALITY isn’t just about opening up audiences to the relationship between traditional and digital artists. It is also about doing that for herself.
In her curatorial essay, “Healing from the Outside-In,” she writes, “The biggest gap I wished to close with the show was not an external one. It was an internal one: the one that existed between my past self as a traditional art dealer and present self as a new but passionate maker of digital art—between which lay a seemingly insurmountable chasm.”
As an art professional who partnered at an early age to create Night Gallery, where, she says, “I never sold a single digital artwork,” Mieke herself struggled to settle with the increasing prevalence of digital art.
When NFTs hit the scene, she was introduced to a whole new side of the art world that even she recognized the traditional side of the industry just didn’t quite understand.
Following her own interest in NFTs and other forms of digital art, Marple’s experience working in art became a marriage of these two worlds that were never fully on the same page. And that’s what made her the perfect curator for INTERREALITY, which, she writes in her curatorial essay, she named after a term that “comes from a 2007 physics paper describing a system comprising a real physical pendulum coupled to a pendulum that only exists in virtual reality.”
With this team stacked with art professionals who have zealously and successfully embraced technology in their own lanes, they’re now using this exhibition as an opportunity to do the same for artists and their audiences.
Wienholt, Sacks and Marple have taken this particular point in time—where the lines between traditional art and digital art are blurred like never before—to clear the fog for some people who may not have been able to make sense of this relationship.
“It’s just art,” Sacks explains. “It may be more experimental in nature in some cases, but it’s still meant to be art.”
Historically speaking, everything was once considered technology. Maybe not in the digital sense, but even the idea of the paint that covers a canvas was once new and innovative, offering novel avenues in art to explore.
While it may seem like digital art is a complete departure from these more physical, traditional art forms, in many ways, the artists in INTERREALITY demonstrate otherwise. Some works might be created with the use of ChatGPT but they take on physicality and reimagine data as something living and breathing, as in the case of Jiayu Liu’s light installation. Some works may have started out physical and then are pushed in the digital realm with augmented reality, as in the case of Marple’s own paintings.
“Having a show that’s purposely mixing very traditional with new media is a good example of how people can see how these pieces can live and be collected together,” Sacks explains.
On either side of these hybrid works, some pieces may also be wholly traditional or wholly digital. The same way Wienholt, Sacks and Marple have seen in their careers unfold between these spectrums, the work in INTERREALITY likewise shows that there was more of a walk between these two types of art than a leap. INTERREALITY serves as a guide on that journey, stopping at all the ways traditional and digital art converge and diverge and what value can be found along the way.
To this point, as it pertains to curating the exhibit, in her essay, Marple writes, “The show wouldn’t so much bridge these worlds as much as reveal that we’d been a part of the same world all along.”
Wienholt is also excited about what having these works in a physical space can do for the recognition of the work and the artists themselves. It’s a part of what she’s worked so hard to create for her own clientele over the years.
“It’s interesting how recognition works in these worlds. And this levels the playing field,” she explains. “Putting artists in a show that are renowned in one way but perhaps lesser known in another, it’s amazing what this type of exhibition can do to elevate everyone.”
The exhibition presents work from a range of artists, representing this entire spectrum: Mark Flood’s large-scale painting of a blurred Google logo; Daniel Canogar’s sculptural LED screens with abstract animations created with real-time data from Google platforms; Alida Sun’s interactive projection merging handwriting and data; Ellie Pritt’s giclée prints documenting the progression of manipulated analog video streams and real footage of flowers; and Auriea Harvey’s bronze sculpture that can also be interacted with digitally on a touch screen.
“So many of the works are large scale. So you’re seeing large scale digital and traditional works presented in really creative ways,” Wienholt says. The team cites the 2008 exhibition Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns? at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery as one reason INTERREALITY forgoes traditional white walls, instead embracing a raw, industrial presentation of its expansive range of works.
The exhibit is carefully thought out from the concept, to the work, to the space, and that’s what makes it the perfect roadmap for audiences looking to trace the traditional to the digital.
INTERREALITY is currently on view until November 25, 2023, in a 15,000 square foot space at The Desmond Tower on 5500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, California.
To learn more about INTERREALITY and how to visit, please visit their website at www.interreality.art WM
Victor Sledge is an Atlanta-based writer with experience in journalism, academic, creative, and business writing. He has a B.A. in English with a concentration in British/American Cultures and a minor in Journalism from Georgia State University. Victor was an Arts & Living reporter for Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, which is the largest university newspaper in Georgia. He spent a year abroad studying English at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, where he served as an editor for their creative magazine before returning to the U.S. as the Communications Ambassador for Georgia State’s African American Male Initiative. He is now a master’s student in Georgia State’s Africana Studies Program, and his research interest is Black representation in media, particularly for Black Americans and Britons. His undergraduate thesis, Black on Black Representation: How to Represent Black Characters in Media, explores the same topic.