Digital art comes of age

If it can’t be mounted, framed or hung, is it art? According to the organisers of the Joburg Art Fair, “yes”.

This year, apart from the more traditional artwork exhibited at the Sandton Convention Centre from April 3 to 5, the fair will include an exhibition called Internet Art in the Global South.

It is a collaboration between Tegan Bristow, of the digital arts division of the Wits School of Arts, and the Upgrade! International Network, a worldwide network of digital artists.

Digital technologies and the Internet have changed the way we live our lives forever, so it’s only natural that the art we make has changed too, in much the same way as the Mona Lisa gave way to Damien Hirst’s bisected cow.

Traditional activities, such as painting, drawing and sculpture, can be used to explore the myriad new themes of the digital age, and new forms such as Net art, digital installations and virtual reality have become standard art practices.

Digital art has predominantly found its audience in Europe and the US, where the so-called digital divide between the rich and the poor doesn’t exist. But the Joburg Art Fair heralds a new interest in the field in South Africa, giving digital artists in South Africa and further afield unprecedented exposure.

The 25 local and international artworks selected, which will be displayed at the fair on four Apple iMacs, are intended to give visitors an overview of the themes and techniques used in digital art.

One of the most well-known and oldest pieces in this selection is Brazilian artist Rejane Spitz’s Netizens, Net-fringers and Outsiders, a hypertext work that addresses the “net socio-diversity” of Rio through animations, video and sound files.

“People are responding to a new way of living, the way we use technology, how people communicate with each other and understand each other,” said Bristow.

He says digital art will not replace traditional art. “It will take a long time for it to be seen in the same way as William Kentridge.”

But one advantage is clear: the artworks at this exhibition are the only ones you can view from the comfort of your own home. Go to http://jafnetart.digitalarts.wits.ac.za/.

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Digital art comes of age