Digital Art and Hybrid Spaces

Esin Hamamcı

by Esin Hamamcı

Published March 19, 2023

Art regenerates itself with the improving technologies since the prehistoric age. Along with the changes in humans’ ways of living, daily life, and sociocultural factors, ways of expression have also evolved. And the fast growth of technological advancements during the Industrial Revolution introduced new techniques to art.

Digital art is an experience that transcends physicality in both its creator and its spectator. Technology is the contributing factor in the creation process that triggers the thought of the artist. Although the internet has eliminated physical barriers, it has also introduced new digital spaces. If we assume while reading a book or listening to music that our minds detach from the ‘moment’ we are in and create a virtual reality in an alternate dimension, we can also consider the ‘feeling as if’ as a mental shift.

Technological advancements such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) redefine our connections with space, where our cognitive, visual and auditory senses are activated. The mental shift at play here is in direct relation to being ‘present’. Surely, we can activate our visual senses and experience the sensation of being present also in a gallery space viewing traditional artworks; on the other hand, the newer experience brought by digital art thanks to technological advances redefines the connection between art and space. We may explain digital art as a new and contemporary understanding that forms artistic expressions with the use of data-generative tools of the digital realm, and it is divided into branches according to its tools and methods.

With the practicality of the computer interface in the 1970s, computer art starts to diversify. The software programme named AARON by the artist Harold Cohen comes out in 1972, which allowed the generated art to have a physical copy in order to be exhibited. We start seeing the emergence of video art in the 1980’s and 90’s that is possible only because of the rise in the use of digital grounds. In 1999, Bill T. Jones‘s work titles “Ghostcatching” where he recorded the dance of Eshkar Kaiser; this indicates that he was aiming to make use of instrumental improvements and data, which is at the core of the technique used by artists such as Refik Anadol, Maxim Zhestkov and Giorgia Lupi. Video art is no longer limited to the museums or galleries, but it has found its place in all real/virtual worlds that is can be viewed on any screen.

While digital art continues its journey in various paths, Web3 is one of the biggest improvements in the field of today. Blockchain technology and NFT purchasing have provided art lovers, collectors and viewers with a new sense of space experience. Metaverse constitutes another important aspect of the new space experimentation where the exhibited works create the concept of an online virtual museum.

In the 21st century, interactive techniques which increase contact with the spectator stand out instead of the ‘dull’ and older ways. VR headsets, apps, touchscreens and videos are the tools to realise this interaction. We can now witness the integration of the physical and the digital in the exhibitions at spaces such as museums or galleries, or events such as biennials; this directs the exhibition spaces to form a hybrid model. The linkage in the making between the digital and the physical defines a new kind of relationship.

Founded by Caroline Hirt and Christian Etter in 2016, MUDA (Museum of Digital Art) in Zurich is considered the first space to exhibit digital art. Part of the exhibition titled ‘Gysin-Vanetti’ by Andreas Gysin and Sidi Vanetti in 2016, the artwork consisting of the use of an electromechanical timetable (Generalanzeiger[e1] ) captures the attention as being activated by pushing a button. The exhibition also features electromagnetic elements reprogrammed in a flow. Similarly, in 2019 Vincent Morisset exhibits an artwork where the image changes with the sound of applauding of the viewers as part of the exhibition of Zach Lieberman.[e2]  Site-specific installations that are activated by sound, light, or movement allow the spectator who is in an enclosed room to have new experiences. These experiences, which are examples of the mental shift in discussion, allow the mind and sensations to be active in other dimensions while the body remains on site.

The Bassins de Lumières Digital Art Center located in France is composed of six sections referred to as ’cubes’. At the Gustav Klimt exhibition titled ‘Gold in Motion’,[e3]  the works are projected onto the walls accompanied with music; within the ‘cube’, the spectators experience anew the images and their reflections on the water. Similarly, the XMAM (X Media Art Museum) by DasDas which opened in Turkey in 2022, aims to make accessible the experience of digital art with the use of technological advances such as AR, VR, and XR (Expanded Reality). In their exhibitions titled ‘Leonardo Da Vinci: Artificial Intelligence, The Wisdom of Light‘ and ‘Humanity and Metaverse from Cern to NASA’ in 2022, the music of Ludovico Einaudi and Mercan Dede have been included. This year at the XMAM, curated by Esra Özkan, the biographical exhibition of the Turkish singer, musician and composer Sezen Aksu, uses similar advanced technologies such as AR. In the exhibition, we are presented with the digital representation of a musician’s biography inside a physical space, allowing us to connect the artist’s former and current works on new levels.

The hybrid spaces that are combinations of the physical and the digital allow us to form a new spatial memory. While providing us with this new spatial memory, it also provides us with an open space for cultural communion. The connection between humans and art is redefined by the possibilities of artificial intelligence; in accordance with this, new questions and definitions rise such as the measuring of reactions to art, and the characterisation of body-space experience.

-Ali Artun, Mümkün Olmayan Müze: Müzeler Ne Gösteriyor? İstanbul, İletişim Publishing, 2017.

-Sibel Avcı Tuğal, Oluşum Süreci İçinde Dijital Sanat, İstanbul, Hayalperest Publishing, 2018.

-Şahin Taş, Sevinç Alkan Korkmaz, “Dijital Sanat-Fiziki Mekân İlişkisi Bağlamında

Dijital Sanat Müzeleri”, SDÜ ART-E Fine Arts Department Publication, December 2022, Volume:15, Number:30, p. 1449-1520.

-“Sezen Aksu – Digital Art Exhibition” X Media Art Museum, 24.02.2023.