Watch and Chill: Streaming Art to Your Homes

The Tales I Tell

The Experienced Museum: Arriving Folded into Private Spaces – Watch and Chill: Streaming Art to Your Homes

Yoo Hyunjoo (prof. Yonsei University)

Yoo Hyun-joo earned a bachelor's degree in German language and literature from Yonsei University and a graduate degree from the same institution before receiving her doctorate in German language and literature from Humboldt University of Berlin. She is currently a professor of German language and literature at Yonsei. In addition to her studies of contemporary German literature, she is also a media philosophy and cultural theory critic. Her books include Friedrich Kittler (co-authored), Text, Hypertext, Hypermedia, and Hypertext: A Keyword in Digital Aesthetics. She has also translated The Economy of the Invisible and co-translated Grammophon, Film, Typewriter and Aesthetic of Mediality.

The landscape may not be an entirely new one. The digital transformation that began late last century has swiftly transformed all aspects of our society, and I can recall how most of those material things we once could touch began traveling a path of electronic abstraction. First, libraries were made electronic (a process not entirely without resistance). Many materials that we once had to borrow and copy ourselves can now be downloaded easily as files from a network. It is like the realization of the “information at your fingertips” described by the “California ideology” of the 1990s, with all the rosy visions it promised us. In retrospect, it was also a change in platforms. First with PCs and later with mobile devices, channels began to open that solely existed online; over time, their scope has broadened. To go back to the library example, far more people began accessing material at virtual libraries than people actually visiting physical libraries. But this optimistic future was not truly for everyone. The new communication networks seemed wide open to all, but in practice – as it always is with real-world societies – people kept being shut out of these networks for economic reasons, technological reasons, regional reasons, or a lack of information.

Yet if there are any areas that managed to somewhat avoid this electronic shift amid the surging of this wave for the past 30 years, they may be the fields of performing arts and exhibition culture. The key concept here is “immediacy,” a mixture of concrete place and time. A classical media scholar might mention Walter Benjamin’s “aura.” At least when it came to the performing arts and art exhibitions (along with the growing number of hybrid forms, of course), it seemed ordinary and natural for them to be offline-centered. They continued to use the same methods rather than introducing new channels made of optical fibers. The reasons had to do with their one-time nature, their experiential element – that irreplaceable immediacy.

Yet we now see another new wave of transformation arriving. It’s steeper than before, more urgent, and more immediate. It’s the COVID-19 pandemic, which commands social distancing as an essential practice. Living in landscapes we might find in a film set in the not-too-distant future, we try to stay home as much as possible without going outside. We wake up in the morning and go to classes in our study; we clock in for work at our living room desk. Now even the performing arts and art exhibitions are quickly being replaced by long-distance, non-face-to-face communication. Day after day, real-time “online face-to-face” concerts and VOD are offered in place of the offline performances we can no longer visit (with virtual audiences rather than virtual artists!), while art institutions organize “virtual museums” to show their collections through vast platforms like Arts & Culture. Performance venues and museums are now transported into the laptop on my desk and the mobile device in my hand.

When it comes to “e-museums” with aims beyond simply sharing images, the issue of viewer experience is closely tied to the potential for “experiences” achieved through new forms of media technology. Those experiences must be concrete; they require some kind of conscious and unconscious bond with others taking part in the same exhibition, as we would sense at an actual art exhibition. The new questions that are being asked have to do with what we are capable of offering through a technologically embodied viewer experience, and with our perceptions of those aforementioned people who are excluded from the outset. If the “face-to-face” and “non-face-to-face” can be combined – if the creation of disparate networks can be achieved anew through hyper-connections – what qualities might the resulting exhibitions have that are different from before? In addition to that question, we can also present a multidisciplinary vision for the artistic experience in these evolved media conditions and this ecological environment.

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