Art at stake: the challenges of the virtual
"Paragomonstro na Paulista", by Túlio Freitas Tavares, work that is in "Pandemic", a collective virtual magazine organized by the NaBorda portal, 2020. Photo: Courtesy NaBorda.

Six months after the first alerts about Covid-19, still limited to the Wuhan region, in China, and three months after the virus unquestionably arrived in Brazil - after devastatingly lethal passages through Europe and the United States, the situation is still of paralysis, anguish and discouragement. The epidemic crisis is reinforced by the economic collapse and, in the Brazilian case, by unprecedented political tension. In the midst of all this, how can we analyze the potential of culture, the effects of this scenario on artists, institutions and art consumers? How to evaluate the answers given so far, in search of digital palliatives, and weigh the opinions that vary from an optimistic view that we will get out of this situation better, to an acid feeling that an era is ending, but we still don't know what will come after her?

The exception scenario, which causes lethargy and despair, fear and hope for transformation, also seems to have a revealing effect, making weaknesses more palpable, negligence more evident and failures more noticeable. It is as if the exceptionality of the situation, the suspension of normality that perpetuates the models repeated many times mechanically, made our enormous needs more evident. Overnight, everyone seems to have discovered how weak the virtual communication strategies of museums, galleries and other cultural institutions are and how weak the actions of expanding the public through digital means are still. With rare exceptions of initiatives to boost the dissemination of collections, discussion of content and expansion of virtual contact with the public, everything remained the same.

We live suddenly, and intensely, the need to strongly accelerate the virtual mechanisms of consumption, circulation and production of art.

The reaction to the obvious came loaded with the typical perversity of our times. Instead of attracting new and fertile contributions in this field, institutions cut spending exactly where they were needed, drying up the education and communication sectors. According to a survey carried out by the Brazilian section of the Committee for Education and Cultural Action of the International Council of Museums (CECA-BR/ICOM) and the Network of Educators in Museums in Brazil (REM-BR), 24% of the 147 institutions consulted (in 19 states) laid off employees for fear of the double crisis, economic and health. In addition, 74% of those consulted were working remotely and reported serious difficulties such as lack of staff to carry out virtual projects and impossibility of accessing the institutions' collections (works, documents, etc.).

In addition to clear material limitations, the lack of intimacy with digital content, the lack of virtual databases, the difficulty in transposing a relationship between audience and art, which demands physical contact, are among the main difficulties faced by those who intend to establish new forms of enjoyment, which allow the public to initiate or continue a relationship with the world of art. We are suddenly and intensely experiencing the need to strongly accelerate the virtual mechanisms of consumption, circulation and production of art. It is not a matter of replacing the relationship between work and spectator, but of developing new forms and criteria for this, a challenge that is posed to museums, galleries, archives and art institutions around the world.

Art at stake: the challenges of the virtual
“Novos Empreendimentos”, by Eduardo Verderame, also in the magazine “Pandemia”, 2020. Photo: Courtesy NaBorda.

Tools have been created for this and there are a series of projects for training and disseminating these strategies, such as the open code, developed by the Goethe Institute in partnership with Coding da Vinci, the International Council of Museums in Brazil, Creative Commons BR, Wiki Movimento Brasil, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, Instituto Moreira Salles and Itaú Cultural. The project, which started in June and will last for three months, aims to carry out a network training, making available to the public a series of discussions and case studies that deal with aspects such as legislation, systems, processes and technology. The coordinator of the project in Brazil, Leno Veras, is keen to emphasize the enormous potential of this type of action, which goes far beyond emulating the experience of a visit to the museum. According to him, the path is to articulate contexts, promote new experiences and encourage greater public participation. “Institutions need to understand that technology is not an end, it is a means”, he says.

It is possible, however, to imagine that the current crisis will accelerate a reaction on the part of the institutions, making the forms of contact with the public more agile and creative. This is the case, for example, of the initiative taken by the 12th Mercosul Biennial which, instead of postponing its realization, chose to the online event. Other important institutions, such as Masp and the Bienal de São Paulo, have been trying to win over the public with a growing offer of lives, collection highlights and virtual exhibitions. This is the case, for example, of the show Distance, organized by the Pinacoteca curated by Ana Maria Maia, which brings together five video arts from the museum’s collection, in which people can be seen in a situation of physical but also social distancing, of race or gender.

It is possible to imagine that the current crisis will accelerate a reaction on the part of the institutions, making the forms of contact with the public more agile and creative.

Following successful international examples, such as the well-designed websites of museums such as the Prado or the British Museum – which bring together a huge volume of information that the visitor can consult in an agile way and from very precise and personal focuses – can seem like a dream. impossible at a time when manpower, time and money are lacking. Hence the importance of networked, collective, self-managed initiatives that, despite having a smaller reach, have a random and liberating effect. One of them is the initiative of the portal-magazine-museum On the border, to carry out a special edition dedicated to the pandemic.

The project brings together works by dozens of artists, from different generations, who focus on this delicate, challenging and frightening moment. Some works are more direct comments on the current political and social moment – ​​such as the terrible New Ventures, by Eduardo Verderame, which transforms massively open tombs into sumptuous real estate launches, or the ABC of Coronavirus, by Nigerian Ayò Akínwáné, which explains the exclusionary and racist nature of our societies. Others deal in a more poetic way with the feeling of suspension that we are experiencing, showing how multiple and collective the paths, strategies and actions are to face this interregnum world. After all, as Verderame summarizes, “these are not easy times and will leave strong marks on the subjectivity of an entire generation”.

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