Video conferencing as art form
I have a big idea…
Museums around the world are striving to be open 24 hours and impacting beyond their immediate locality through engagement with digital audiences. From remote controlled robots to extensive online collections nearly all of these engagement strategies are still not able to get beyond being an interpretation of a visitors onsite experience with an object or item. Offering a digital visitor a direct experience might mean developing, commissioning and displaying things that are digital. The MCA has experimented with this idea by commissioning an artwork that uses the medium of video conferencing to offer students and teachers a unique experience that can only be encountered via a virtual excursion.
Presented by Amy Bambach and Stephanie Lade, MCA Artist Educators, Museum of Contemporary Art.
Hi, I’m Amy. And this is Stephanie. And we are educators from the Museum of Contemporary Art. We are educators in the museum. We are also working across digital learning.
So our presentation today is about video conferencing as an art form. Museums around the world are striving to be open 24 hours, and impact beyond their immediate reach through an engagement with digital and off-site audiences. Today at the MCA, this engagement has been focused upon mediating the objects in the building through our online collection, libraries of video and digital content, and social media.
Another way we have been connecting with off-site audiences– particularly schools– is through digital excursions via video conferencing. So for those of you who are unfamiliar, in a digital excursion, we connect to a remote school– mainly regional schools, or schools who cannot physically access the museum– through a video call. So through Skype or through DART, if they are in the government system.
Most of these audiences never actually step foot in our physical gallery space. In the past, these digital excursions attempted to replicate an on-site experience to an off-site audience, where educators like ourselves unpacked images of artworks using strategies that we normally employ with groups who come into the gallery space.
However, we found that these engagement strategies were just not able to get beyond simply an interpretation of a visitor’s on-site experience with an object. We can’t give an online visitor the same experience as experiencing art or an object first-hand.
So then how can we privilege a digital audience? So that’s what we’re looking at. How do we offer students in a distant classroom a unique experience of the museum that is not a secondary experience? So to explore one solution to the idea, we commissioned the artist Agatha Gothe-Snape to create an artwork specifically for the medium of video conferencing.
So giving students a first-hand experience of a live, interactive artwork, which we will have images of above here. Gothe-Snape is an artist who in her practise often looks at every day medium such as PowerPoint, and breaks them down, reassesses them, and subverts their use. Through the creation of this artwork, she spent time experiencing digital excursions both in the museum and also on-site at schools, in order to break down the medium.
So in her commissioned work, which is titled, The Feelings Were Harder to Dislodge Than I Initially Imagined: 2014 2015, PowerPoint is used along with a green screen, costumes, and artist educators performing the artwork. In its development, a group of educators worked with both Gothe-Snape and our digital learning coordinator, Alex White, in order to develop the performance aspect, and as well as the educational experience.
This is Agatha Gothe-Snape the artist, up here. She’s wearing a green screen costume. That’s myself and another educator, Liam, experimenting with strategies.
So in the excursion, which is designed for high school, students experience the artwork, and then engage in interpretation strategies and discussion with the educators. We also have a pre/post package. So we send them a document which gives them background information, along with questions and other ideas and activities that they can engage with after experiencing the excursion.
The result is a challenging experience that redefines the students’ expectations of what can constitute an artwork. So students consider a range of concepts from simple ideas about the materiality of the work– so can PowerPoint be an artwork– to more complex ideas around the power of historical images and how art is evaluated by a viewer. Key to this artwork is that each digital excursion would be a different and a unique experience of the artwork. So this experience could not be replicated on-site.
So far, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from schools. And we came to continue to trial other ideas within this space. So therefore we have recently been working to develop a digital excursion for primary students. And the experience of working with Gothe-Snape has influenced our approach to its development.
First of all, we have asked ourselves the question that perhaps many of you have asked before, what is a digital excursion? And what is video conferencing? Are there conventions that can be subverted? What are the flaws and the unique qualities that this medium offers us? And how can we embrace and exploit these qualities?
In a digital excursion, we are interacting with art in a digital realm. And with a green screen, we can create magic where we become part of the artwork, or even walk through the artwork. And we are not afraid to reveal our tricks. These are experiences that could never occur in the physical space of a gallery.
So we are learning to embrace the unique qualities and the flaws of the video conferencing medium, such as connection issues or other technical difficulties, and trying to use them to their advantage. We don’t want to apologise for the medium, or for our inability to offer an exact replica of an in-gallery experience.
Instead, we are trying to embrace the online as an extension of our museum. Besides re-working our digital excursions and online resources, the museum is continuing to explore the possibility of collecting and presenting works that are inherently and natively online.
For example, the museum has also commissioned the artist Marian Tubbs to create an artwork that will exist solely online. We are excited to support this as another way that audiences who cannot access the gallery in a physical way can experience challenging, contemporary art first-hand.
For us, offering a digital visitor a direct experience might mean developing, commissioning, and displaying things that are digital and unique to the medium in question.[APPLAUSE]