Experimental Curating in Times of Perpetual Betas*

As artists and art institutions explore the latest advancements in technology, the debate on how those current technological developments shape (and are equally shaped by) art-making, conservation, and exhibition-making heightens. From online-based exhibition platforms and algorithm-based curating to the application of Virtual and Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence in the arts, the latest practices are not only reconfiguring our notions of what constitutes an exhibition space per se, but are also shifting the relationships between artists, curators, and their public. Projects such as Schlosspost’s web residencies, for example, are simultaneously reconfiguring their spatial boundaries (as a residency on the web sets a specific dynamic) and rethinking how curators and artists can work collaboratively to address pressing issues in arts and technology.

Times of rapid and constant shifts

However, current software-based applications and devices are largely thought within the principle of the perpetual beta – a development model in which new software is launched »in the open,« which means that, although functional, they require constant updating in order to follow the competitive market and fast-paced technological advances, but also cultural and user-imposed shifts. It is thus a model based on the »release early and release often« motto and on the concept of users as »co-developers.« As such, those applications and devices are always in the »experimental phase,« which then significantly impacts how artists and art institutions present, preserve, and maintain artworks that rely on those technologies. [1] Within this context, artists have to continuously adapt their work over time, often impacting the form in which it is being presented (be it in an online or in a physical exhibition space) and archived. In such a scenario, one must then ask, what kind of models and roles are needed in times of rapid and constant technological shifts?

The constant and systematic shifts in software-based technology ask for an equally open and malleable practice that can follow further developments. The present scenario asks that artists and art institutions also maintain themselves as constant experimenters. In this sense, artists, curators, and institutions must acknowledge and should incorporate those development models within their practices in order to keep the projects running (a simple software update can make projects malfunction or not function at all). Therefore, being experimental for those projects means not only exploring the potentials of technology or transgressing the imposed boundaries (as experimental practices in art history may allude to), but, within a technological point of view, to be open and prepared for further developments. That is, being experimental in this field means being a perpetual beta.

The exhibition space as a »living laboratory«

Within curatorial practices, this means adopting a more collaborative approach toward exhibition-making and curating as the development of such projects often requires the participation of actors from multiple disciplines (from design and computer science to other medium-specific approaches). Additionally, this collaboration means establishing less hierarchical relationships with artists, making space for co-development (as it happens in the software development field). Transdisciplinarity is therefore the key concept.

As such, the exhibition platform or the art institution as a whole can therefore be a rich environment for developing those experimental practices. Although experiments and innovation have been largely associated to the science lab or institute, the current scenario of curating and exhibition-making calls for projects that work with the concept of the exhibition space as a »living laboratory,« where the exhibition is made open to transformation and is also the space for research, innovation, and knowledge production in times of perpetual betas. Because this need to constantly reconfigure itself permeates the practices exhibited, the exhibition platform can be the very space for experimentation.

*The post is an overview of Lia Carreira’s recently published master thesis Experimental Curating in Times of the Perpetual Beta: Strategies and Platforms for Online-based Art, research conducted for the Media Arts Cultures Master’s program at the Danube University Krems, Austria, in partnership with ZKM. The thesis, supervised by Oliver Grau and Peter Weibel, includes contributions of and interviews with Margit Rosen (ZKM), Peter Weibel (ZKM), Matthias Kampmann (AOYS), Clara Hermann (Akdemie Schloss Solitude), Matteo Cremonesi (Link Cabinet), Christiane Paul (Whitney Museum of American Art), Cameron MacLeod (Platform Stockholm), Bernhard Garnicnig (Palais des Beaux Arts Vienna), and Alexa Jeanne Kusber (Museum of Digital Art Zurich).

  1. Jump Up This may all sound very techno-deterministic, as it seems that tech market development models impose the conditions to art-making, conservation and exhibition with its prescribed mods. It then launches the question of to which extent should this impact artists and art institutions? And are there alternatives?