It’s been a great week for digital art. The Barbican opened up their exhibition “Digital Revolution” featuring work from Chris Milk and Harmonix, alongside a partnership with Google for a program called DevArt. Online auction house Paddle8, IRL auction house Phillips, and Tumblr closed their second digital art auction with Australian artist Michael Staniak walking away with the top sale of £25,000 for “IMG_885 (holographic).”
But for many people, the online art market and its purveyors can seem pretty distant, and, more importantly for the artists involved, the means of purchasing that art for their walls can be even more distant. Frankly, most digital art the average person consumes is at home, on their computer.
Last August, Jake Levine, general manager for betaworks site news.me, noticed a similar problem. For artist of the internet age, there was no way to engage with everyday fans and consumers as artists in the past had. “Having a media object on your wall is as old as walls,” he says. “That behavior is ancient.” That revelation led Levine to start Electric Objects, which launches today.
The concept is simple. You purchase a 23’’ Electric Objects frame, connect it to your wi-fi, browse their gallery (or find your own art), and pipe it to the frame. Like the work of Mr. Gif or Kidmograph? You can have it for yourself. “There’s a price gap. There are people who are art appreciators but can’t afford fine art in that context,” says Zoë Salditch, director of artist relations at Electric Objects and former project director at digital arts organization Rhizome. “This gives them a way to appreciate work that these artists make and put on the web for free.”
Electric Objects seeks to bridge a gap that's plagued digital art. Let’s say you pick up the video loop of Maja Cule’s “The Horizon” at auction and want to show it off at home. If you’re not a gallery owner, how would you do so? Or more curiously, and more pertinent to those who love games, you manage to get ahold of Cory Arcangel’s lauded 2002 piece “Super Mario Clouds.” How should it adorn your walls? Or for your favorite gif artist—what’s the mechanism for compensating them and bringing those pieces to life in your home?
But beyond merely opening your Tumblr dashboard, Levine hopes that Electric Objects changes our relationship to technology overall. A Cambridge study found that a third of us feel overwhelmed by new technology and nearly half of 10-18-year olds were planning to cut back social media usage. Or consider the NYT’s “discovery” that teens stay up late to ping friends on Snapchat or Moment, a new iOS app that will let you know how much we use our phones. All of these signposts point a collective sense that while technology creates enormous opportunities, it is not without cognitive load, real or imagined.
It wasn’t always this way. Levine points out that initially we thought computers would not be sites of distraction, only productivity. “Computers would only approach us when they were relevant,” he says. This is hilarious in hindsight.
But Electric Objects hopes to invert our standard arrangement. “What types of digital objects in computing don’t beg for interaction,” he says. “Art seemed to make the most sense.” By converting what’s created in the flood and alacrity of our daily Internet lives into something worth thinking about, Levine and the Electric Objects team hopes that we can developer a healthier to the screens that demand so much of our time.
And to someone who plays games, allowing them the contemplative space to live on in my walls is a welcome reprieve from something that demands my attention at every moment. If games are places that we go, where are the snapshots to help us remember them? Electric Objects may have the answer.