Kunstsammlung NRW
Plakat: Freiland

Art in the Digital Loop: Entering FREILAND

With 12 artistic positions and a team consisting of six design students, the Clemens Sels Museum has taken up the task of developing a virtual exhibition space where art is not just presented, but also assumes its own digital form – each work on its own terms.

Arnika Fürgut has a look around for #32.

Like most art exhibitions, you enter FREILAND (whose title means roughly “outdoors” or “open land”) through a foyer: an anonymous, sterile space through which visitors proceed to others that are filled with people and works of art. But in this instance, this space bears the name “Startseite” – “homepage.”

Located at the center of a circular navigation screen are the names of the artists; as though viewed through a lens, they are larger at the center of the circle, facilitating selection and movement.

Twelve Artists: From the Art Academy to the Psychedelic Rock-Band

Featured here are 12 artists, including advanced students from the Düsseldorf Academy such as Jennifer Lopéz-Ayala and Peter Müller, along with the psychedelic rock band Love Machine. A different digital format was devised for each artistic position: video loops, GIF animations, JPEGs, soundtracks. At first glance, FREILAND tries to be many different things: a digital extension of the museum, a virtual exhibition, work and space, a transformation or translation option, a navigation concept.

“As a consequence of the impact of the computer age on society, the institution of the museum find itself in a continuous state of transformation,” writes Dr. Uta Husmeier-Schirlitz, Director of the Clemens Sels Museum in Neuss, in her forward to FREILAND. She continues: “This means that the quality of work of art cannot be judged with reference to its chosen medium, but instead solely by virtue of its artistic achievement.”

Digital Collections and the Questions they raise

Recently, the Städel Museum Frankfurt made its own collection available online as a “cloud-based platform,” the model and precursor being the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which made this move in 2012. At the latest with the Google Art Project, however, digital collections – the transfer of physical works of art into digital space and virtual art museums – have ceased to seem revolutionary or even novel. For many users, however, doubts often creep in concerning questions of the added value and knowledge gain represented by linear digitalization.

Is it enough to digitally illustrate massive numbers of artworks, providing them with keywords and making them accessible in the spirit of democratization? What do digital visitors expect from a virtual exhibition? How can digitalized – or for that matter digitally produced – art move us? How is it received and communicated? What is the status of the original work in the age of digitalization – or is this even the right question?

Digital Transformation Generates New Originals

Patrick Verhamme and Gabriel Relinghaus, two of the conceivers of FREILAND, have raised and answered precisely these questions as follows:

“The digital transformation of the original creates new originals. Accordingly, these must be adapted to the new exhibition space: each work of art is given an individual form of presentation that is appropriate to the web, one that allows it to unfold an auratic and genuine presence in a virtual exhibition space. FREILAND, then, is less a museum and more a virtual exhibition space. Essentially, it is an experiment designed to position a digital exhibition space alongside the conventional exhibition gallery in order to explore the question of how art and design in the digital age are to be exhibited and interpreted in a contemporary way. We want to bring viewers closer to this expansion of the analog exhibition object.”

Can FREILAND then be interpreted as a proposal for redefining the digital museum of the future? One moreover that is designed not by art historians or museum educators, exhibition organizers and personnel from major corporations, but instead by design students from the generation of digital natives? Students of an applied science who have long since confidently navigated the realm between art and communication? In a realm where is not only a question of conveying contents, but also of discovering an aesthetically and functionally adequate form for them – whether this concerns questions of typography, design methods, or the shaping of digital space?

Meanwhile, both here as well as in real space, it is ultimately the individual visitor who is responsible for answering the question: To what degree does the concept embodied in FREILAND adequately present, position, contextualize, and communicate works of art?

Text: Arnika Fürgut

Although FREILAND is accessible online 24 hours and seven days a week, the exhibition has a runtime. You can visit the virtual exhibition space online until May 17, 2015 at www.csm-freiland.de, or via the Clemens Sels Museum link (http://www.clemens-sels-museum-neuss.de/)