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Decode – Digital Design Frustration

May 27, 2010

In the accompanying free book to this exhibition, Golan Levin, the digital artist responsible for Opto-Isolator II (the huge big eyeball that follows viewers around the room) says, “It’s a terrific honour to have my work included in venerable institutions like the V&A”

It’s a fair sentiment and one I would have shared. Alas, it was not to be. Perhaps it was because the show was in its last few days. Perhaps it was the weak pound. Maybe it was because the Easter holidays were still running. Perhaps all three. Struggling to avoid being jostled and repeatedly trod on, I reached the inescapable conclusion that for many ‘patrons’, the gallery space has become the new multiplex; somewhere warm to swarm with bright lights and shiny things to gawp at, where food and drink are never too far away.

Golan goes on to explain how the interactive nature of installations flies in the face of many traditional curators’ behavioral expectation, and that somehow any exhibit requiring user interaction cannot be considered ‘serious art’. Well, the problem isn’t the art, it’s the punters. Three of the exhibits were ‘no longer functional’. On asking why I was told one exhibit had been seriously damaged and the artist had asked for its return. Guess which one? All around the exhibition area for about one metre up the black perimeter walls, heavy foot marks and smudged boot prints were clearly visible everywhere (Note that none of the installations required users to run up and kick the wall!). Nearly every person selfishly blocking the exhibits was busy taking bad photographs to the extent that they were missing the experience of observation, evaluation, consideration and participation. Had this show been exhibited at, say, the Design Museum, or had the entry price been higher the show might have been easier to appreciate and enjoy, set within the context of serious art and design.

Ultimately, an art form that is still struggling to find artistic credibility needs exposure in order to achieve engagement. Badly behaved punters not withstanding, this exhibition was indeed fabulous.

Of all the installations, the fascinating light table covered with metal fillings that influenced amoeba-like digital creatures seemed to elicit concerted interaction –  deservedly so. Though I relish interactive installations I (surprisingly) found the less user-interactive exhibits the most fascinating. Daniel Brown’s work was delicate and beautiful. The radial display showing international financial market activity in real time is a revelation in beautiful data; less so the one depicting US commercial air traffic activity as this was poorly projected. Even the conceptually simplistic video of multiple coiled cables taking and losing form was fascinating to watch. This show ultimately collected some of the finest international digital artists and designers and was immensely enjoyable and inspirational.

Decode: Digital Design Sensations microsite

Joshuwa Davis

Golan Levin

Daniel Brown

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