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British Digital Art

New for 2022

This research group will challenge the politics of gatekeeping surrounding ideas of what good art ‘is’, drawing inspiration from the manifesto issued by Furtherfield (London’s longest running (de)centre for art and technology): ‘We want disruption, democracy, decentralisation, distribution and diversity across art and technology now!’

It will explore ground-breaking digital art practice that engages with today’s most urgent social debates. Colleagues in the network with explore new thinking around the politics of display, propelling Sharon McDonald’s (1997) agenda to ‘chart the changing relationship between displays and their audience and [to] analyse the consequent shift in styles of representation towards interactive, multimedia and reflexive modes of display’, into the modern digital art arena.

This network’s starting premise will be to attempt to map what digital art gets made and collected in Britain, why, where and by whom?  This will build upon an existing project Credit X (run by Credit, a collaboration between Modern Forms art collective, Central Saint Martins and the Kingston School of Art) that maps a database of emerging galleries, projects and media platforms in London. In its exploration of digital art’s critical social potential, this inquiry will embrace Donna Haraway’s (1985) visionary intention to make a concerted ‘effort to build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism’. The motivation for doing this is to (a) infect wider curatorial practice with the possibility of the digital contributing to the democratisation of art and technology that disrupts existing hegemonies, (b) explore the potential to for artistic collaborations between the physical and the digital, (c) provide a set of tools for curators and artists that are interested in becoming involved in the digital art and collectibles world d) map the literacies that need reinforcement in understanding and reading digital art.

Key research questions include:

  • Is there – and/or can there even ever be – such a thing as ‘British’ digital art?
  • What different categories of digital creation exist that are not yet a part of the history of digital art?
  • What does a curator of digital art look like?

The British Digital Art Network is led by E-J Scott (University of the Arts, London and the Museum of Transology), Lee Weinberg (University of the Arts, London) and Winnie Soon (Creative Computing Institute, University of the Arts, London) and Helen Pritchard (Associate Professor of Queer Feminist Technoscience, University of Plymouth).

White text reading 'The Beta toolkit Launch' on a black rectangular background on a rectangular piece of metal computing equipment.

Activity in 2021-22

Throughout the first year of DBAN’s activities, the group’s founders focused on thinking about the network’s set-up and the building of partnerships. Through a series of weekly online meetings and discussions, we addressed the research questions we posed at the beginning of this journey:

  • What is a digital art network?
  • What meaning does the notion ‘British’ have within a decentralised global sphere?
  • Who is a digital curator?
  • How can we engage less represented groups and communities and what responsibilities should such a network hold in relation to those communities?

The space this research grant gave us to join together to think, debate and philosophise resulted in two focused streams of activities: i) the construction of our network’s digital presence and ii) the initiation of The Beta Toolkit intergenerational research and resource sharing project. Reflecting the very the nature of a digital network, DBAN focused on exploring the possibilities that the digital realm presents to expand the geographical definition of “British”. The website and online tools proved central to our intentions to broaden our scope and reach, and DBAN members are active participants in its design and formation. Work to date has seen us build the infrastructure of an interactive interface that will facilitate forum/networking possibilities. We also embarked upon a co-design research process with our young, digital “Beta Curators” to develop an intergenerational digital curatorial toolkit. Both design projects have built-in different accessibility modes: The Beta Toolkit is an audio-visual resource and all interviews are recorded and transcribed, with some translated into/from Chinese. Additionally, the website’s design considers users with dyspraxia, colour blindness and different levels of skills and abilities. Content creation and curation is the focus of the next year’s activities.

Our initial discussions led to the initiation of three workshops around the notion of ‘mapping the internet’, developed in partnership with arebyte gallery and offsite projects (two prominent agents in the digital art world in the UK). Working with both MA Applied Imagination and MA Culture, Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martins (UAL), we involved more than 100 postgraduate students with an interest in digital cultural production in this curatorial research initiative. This research included developing DBAN’s inclusive approach to the network’s construction. It taught us that a recent phenomenon generated by the use of digital media is a digital generational gap, emphasised by the way digital social networks construct a segregation between different age use groups. (For example, generation X are Facebook users and have very little interaction with Zoomers who are Tik Tok users.  Therefore, they live in very different filter bubbles.) Consequently, DBAN aspired to facilitate different generations of digital practitioners, using different platforms and networks to inform their thinking and practice, to meet and discuss what it means to map digital curatorial and artistic activities.

These workshops resulted in our young digital curators’ Beta Toolkit project: a collaboration between DBAN, arebyte gallery and MA CCC (UAL) to design and construct a digital toolkit for young curators who are interested in expanding their practice into the digital art world. The young digital curators followed a project brief that urging them to consider some questions around the content and resources that DBAN could provide to its future members. The students engaged in rigorous research, in order to further develop a digital platform full of resources around the curation of internet art. This research included being guided by the DBAN founders and partners to interview and communicate with significant artists and curators who have been active on the scene since the early 1990’s. The interviews allowed for knowledge exchange, in the sense that the students learnt about the history of digital art that they were not aware of. This expanding the set of resources they would curate, highlighted the intergenerational gaps in knowledge and importantly, provided insights into how such gaps can be mediated.

The work with these young digital curators was intensive, and as the leads on DBAN, we realised that there is a very important set of skills that need to be communicated when considering the future of digital art curation. The young curators were overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge they lacked in their ability to truly interact and understand digital art and critical media performances. It was an important journey for us as organisers to realise how meaningful these links are in creating a coherent community of artists, curators, researchers, but also technicians, technologists, designer. Digital art and curation is never done in isolation. There is a need for the development of small communities and support networks to assist the advancement of such interventions and allow the sharing of skills and methods. This will remain the centre of DBAN’s activities in 2022/23. We will extend the network of universities we work with (and have already initiated a new relationship with the Creative Computing Institute at UAL, welcoming a new Lead to DBAN), and by creating platforms for participation we hope that the network will come into life, bringing together practitioners from different generations.