visions: interview with daniel birnbaum on curating acute art's AR exhibition in singapore

visions: interview with daniel birnbaum on curating acute art's AR exhibition in singapore

ACUTE ART PRESENTS ‘VISIONS’ EXHIBITION IN SINGAPORE

 

‘visions’, acute art’s ongoing outdoor exhibition in singapore, brings together augmented reality works by ten contemporary artists, including cao fei, olafur eliasson, KAWS, precious okoyomon and tomás saraceno, among others. curated by daniel birnbaum, artistic director of acute art, the interactive exhibition also features a newly-commissioned set of AR works by singapore artist ho tzu nyen titled ‘language’, which explores philosophical and political themes. ‘visions’ opened as part of the 10th annual singapore art week and the national gallery of singapore’s light to night festival, and will remain on view until march 31, 2022. visitors can explore the AR artworks with accompanying soundscapes along the gallery’s facade with the civic district as their backdrop.

 

‘the thematic thread in “visions” is the sense of wonder. there is something spectral, yes ghost-like, about the works,’ daniel birnbaum tells designboom. ‘they remain invisible to the naked eye, but seen through the phone they can become quite overwhelming.’ previously the director of the moderna museet in stockholm, birnbaum has been director and curator of acute art since 2019. together, they translate the creative vision of renowned international artists into virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality (MR) artworks that viewers can engage with from anywhere around the globe.

 

we spoke with daniel birnbaum to find out more about the ongoing exhibition in singapore, his work with acute art, and his view on the future of digital art. read the interview in full below.visions: interview with daniel birnbaum on curating acute art's AR exhibition in singapore

visitor viewing ho tzu nyen’s augmented reality artwork ‘language’ (2022). image courtesy of acute art

header image: marco brambilla, the four temperaments AR, 2020, augmented reality. courtesy of marco brambilla and acute art

 

INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL BIRNBAUM

 

designboom (DB): what works does the upcoming ‘visions’ exhibition bring together? is there a thread that underpins them all?

 

daniel birnbaum (DB): for most of us the visual possibilities created by augmented reality are still pretty surprising. I would say that the thematic thread in ‘visions’ is the sense of wonder. there is something spectral, yes ghost-like, about the works. they remain invisible to the naked eye, but seen through the phone they can become quite overwhelming. we made some of them very large. there are ten artists. a few very well-known artists from asia, like cao fei. and key artists from europe and the US, like olafur eliasson and KAWS.

 

DB: some of the works on view have been exhibited in the past in different locations around the world. do different contexts affect the way a work, or group of works, is displayed?

 

DB: we have created new constellations of works. and, of course, the fun thing with AR is how the artworks are woven into the environment around it – in the instance of the national gallery of singapore, the installation is outside and in some instances engaging with the façade of the museum. I think that those works which have been shown before, in london and new york, will look very different in the historical civic district in singapore. an incredible backdrop!

visions: interview with daniel birnbaum on curating acute art's AR exhibition in singapore
lu yang, gigant doku, augmented reality. courtesy of lu yang and acute art

 

 

DB: does the digital format allow you to change certain qualities in an artwork? for example, make it bigger or smaller depending on the context, or make it move in different ways?

 

DB: it’s surprising how easy it is the modify the works. AR really is a very flexible medium, which has allowed us to work with scale in interesting ways. size does matter!

 

DB: have you noticed any differences in the way the audience perceives an AR artwork compared to a physical one?

 

DB: yes, very much so. it’s still early days for AR, VR and mixed reality. the technology is not perfect. but the sense of surprise when the works appear is fun to watch. kids seem to love the sensationalism of it all.

visions: interview with daniel birnbaum on curating acute art's AR exhibition in singapore
marco brambilla, the four temperaments AR, 2020, augmented reality. courtesy of marco brambilla and acute art

 

 

DB: do you follow a similar approach when you curate physical and digital exhibitions? or is there a difference between the two?

 

DB: good question. I am not sure how to answer that. I made an ambitious VR show at frieze new york two years ago. it was a program showing some of acute art’s VR works, by anish kapoor and olafur eliasson and many others. that was more like programming a film festival, I think. the AR shows are more like electronic biennials, I would say. or like large exhibitions in the public sphere. I’m thinking of legendary shows like the sculpture project in münster, germany. a show in the public sphere that takes place once every decade, invented by my friend kasper könig. the next version will no doubt involve AR.

visions: interview with daniel birnbaum on curating acute art's AR exhibition in singapore
lu yang, gigant doku, augmented reality. courtesy of lu yang and acute art

 

 

DB: can you tell us more about the set of AR works ho tzu nyen has created for ‘visions’?

 

DB: tzu nyen is an incredibly interesting artist whose work I have followed for many years. we invited him to a large conference in stockholm when I was still the director of moderna museet. he is an unusually philosophical artist, and this new piece is actually a kind of dialog between philosophers. he is exploring this fascinating group of thinkers in japan known as the kyoto school. they combined european methods of thought with japanese traditions. tzu’s piece, which is not only pleasant, involves a kind of collage of voices and very different from anything else we have created. he calls his work ‘language,’ and it explores philosophical and political themes.

interview-daniel-birnbaum-curator-acute-art-visions-ar-exhibition-designboom-large

cao fei, the eternal wave AR: li nova, 2020, augmented reality. courtesy of the artist and acute art

 

DB: how do collaborations with artists evolve? do you commission specific themes or do they come up with their own concepts that acute art then helps materialize in VR/AR?

 

DB: it always a very, very close collaboration between me, our technical teams, and the artist. acute art is different from all other similar initiatives that I am aware of because we are so artist centric. we realize the visions of artists, that is how we understand our role. and as a curator, I of course think of ways that we can reach audiences.

 

visions: interview with daniel birnbaum on curating acute art's AR exhibition in singapore
ho tzu nyen, language, 2022, augmented reality. courtesy of the artist and acute art

 

 

DB: most of the artists that have collaborated with acute art do not come from a digital art background, or are not working with it on a regular basis. in fact, in many cases their collaboration marks their very first vr/ar artwork. is that something you intentionally look for when deciding who to collaborate with as a way to explore new territories within the medium? 

 

DB: yes, that is true. we work both with artists who are very at home in the digital sphere, like cao fei. tzu nyen has explored VR before, whereas others come from a different background, like sculpture or performance. we commissioned wonderful VR works with marina abramovic and anish kapoor some years ago. for us, it is only important that the artist has ideas we like and that we can realize something with the tools we provide that could not have existed in another realm. if the works are better as a painting or a physical sculpture or a film we are not so keen. we want to realize things that the artists have not been able to create before.

visions: interview with daniel birnbaum on curating acute art's AR exhibition in singapore
ho tzu nyen, language, 2022, augmented reality. courtesy of the artist and acute art

 

 

DB: what do you think, or hope, the role of VR will be in the future?

 

DB: the question really is exactly how today’s visual media — AR, VR and mixed reality — will expand the ways we experience art. will the virtual turn change art itself, just like photographic techniques and mass distribution once altered our understanding of what an artwork can be? walter benjamin’s influential 1935 essay on mechanical reproduction opens with a quote from french poet paul valéry: ‘we must expect great innovations to transform entire techniques of the arts, thereby affecting artistic innovation itself and perhaps even bringing about amazing change in our very notion of art.’

 

DB: will it replace traditional art structures as our realities become more and more digital, or will it work alongside them?

 

DB: we all live inside a creature that hans ulrich obrist and I have named ‘the electronic hydra’, a many-headed monster that spreads its seemingly interminable extremities across the globe. I guess that today’s artists can celebrate the possibilities of new immersive technologies or possibly create friction in the aspiration to create pockets of resistance. they can hardly pretend that the monster’s arms aren’t getting an increasingly tighter grip on all aspects of our lives. new technologies are taking over the planet. art institutions will be transformed, and collectors of art have discovered the world of unique digital objects, so-called NFTs.

visions: interview with daniel birnbaum on curating acute art's AR exhibition in singapore
ho tzu nyen, language, 2022, augmented reality. courtesy of the artist and acute art

 

 

DB: what are you and acute art working on at the moment?

 

DB: we are exploring the metaverse. very soon we are staging a show that will reach around 100 million people in the metaverse. it will be a hybrid project that takes place in a physical institution, but it will also be available globally. there really are new ways to link the local and the global. in a world in which we are less keen to travel and ship works, these new curatorial possibilities will play a role.

 

 

project info:

 

exhibition name: visions

organizers: acute art and national gallery singapore

curator: daniel birnbaum

location: national gallery singapore, along st andrew’s road

duration: january 14 – march 31, 2022

ACUTE ART (6)

ART INTERVIEWS (69)

DIGITAL ART (43)

VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY (141)

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