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THE LEONARDO GALLERY© 2000 ISAST LEONARDO, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 85–92, 2000 85 Wired Worlds The U.K.’s National Museum of Photography, Film & Television (NMPFT) recently opened “Wired Worlds,” a new permanent digital media gallery. The Wired Worlds gallery dispensed with traditional museum approaches and adopted a schema based on a series of commissioned digital media artworks by practitioners whose work has largely been unseen by the general public in the U.K. From the outset, Wired Worlds touched upon an interesting debate concerning what contemporary museums are—or can be—about: was this new gallery to be like other major museological spaces, essentially describing and revealing a past? Or was its purpose uniquely different—perhaps to encourage understanding of a future? The NMPFT has a long-standing commitment to innovative cross-media research into the contextual inter-relationships between art and technology, intertwining historical perspectives and illuminating contemporary trends. We knew therefore that the Wired Worlds gallery could not be merely a traditional container of static objects framed within an essentialist “history of technology,” albeit with the usual cursory nods towards cultural and social issues. Rather, we took the view that, alongside traditional tasks of collecting and preserving, museums have important roles to play in the presentation of complex factors involving the interplay of technology and culture. We decided that this gallery would not seek to interpret a series of existing artefacts, rather it would thematically explore the inherently mutable qualities of digital media —qualities that alter and extend common notions of narrative, representation, space, location and identity. From this conceptual base, the gallery space was developed into five themed “domains ” dealing with, briefly: computer imaging and vision systems; the Internet; the film and broadcast industries; interaction and narration in computer games; and virtual worlds, including complex dynamic systems. The intention was that although each domain would contain its own theme and work as a stand-alone area, together the five domains would deal with the digital as a “machinic” agency within a culture that is altering the ways in which we view ourselves and our place in the (networked) world. Our problem was essentially two-fold: (1) how to realize this agenda in an accessible format that acknowledged—yet at the same time retained a critical perspective on— the dominant representations and conceits that surround all things digital in a mediadriven consumer culture; (2) how to accomplish this in a way that avoids, as one commentator put it, “the tired kiosk paradigm and standard video loop use of media” in public cultural spaces. In both these respects, a congruence of thinking was identified within the “artist/ developer” community. This sector pursues an imaginative, research-oriented and, by and large, commercially independent position in relation to digital culture; this sector also seeks to promote reflective engagement with digital cultural effects. We decided early on, therefore, to bring an established media artist, Simon Biggs, into the development team as part-time assistant curator. Each of the domains was thereafter designed to feature at least one major installation by an artist or developer, supported by a number of smaller digital displays. (Additional examples of important works by artists, animators and experimental filmmakers were incorporated into some of these smaller exhibits.) The final major commissioned artists 86 Leonardo Gallery were: Nigel Johnson (U.K.); Toshio Iwai (Japan); Art+Com (Germany); Paul Sermon (U.K.); Jane Prophet (U.K.); and Jeffrey Shaw (Australia). Each was chosen because his or her work is capable of promoting reflective engagement with, and understanding of, one or other of the gallery themes. Equally important, each work accomplishes this not in an overly didactic manner, but by enabling the visitor to become a participant and/ or to intervene in some way to further the process of understanding. The notion of “interactivity” is, of course, a much-vaunted feature of all modern computational systems , but these artists’ installations interact across a range of physical, cognitive, intuitive , pleasure-experiencing and emotional faculties. This was not an easy brief for the artists or, indeed, for the NMPFT. For the artists, every installation had to walk a knife-edge—each had to uphold its claim as a work of...


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pp. 85-86
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