Imagine that you are standing in the micro-studio of a street artist in Luanda, and the next moment you find yourself behind a guy picking up money from a Western Union Counter in Nairobi. Suddenly you are on a stage with a young spoken word poet in Berlin and see people in the audience sharing images of this moment on Instagram. You step out of that Berlin bar into a gallery space in Lagos and from there move into the abstract digital universe created by an art collective in Jakarta.
How do we interpret and apprehend what we are seeing and experiencing? The continual digitalization of the world impacts cultural production. How does this happen? When and why does ‘realness’ start, and where does it end, if at all? These questions have been explored by many thinkers – from artists to scientists to philosophers – and gain particular relevance in current debate, as tensions between the physical and the digital increase. These tensions create new possibilities of accessibility, which is not only important for growing and maintaining networks, but also for the daily, if not hourly, movement of ideas, commissions, and money between global collaborators. All these factors have never been more pressing than they are now, during a time of worldwide crisis. Paradoxically, as we move towards immaterial experiences, we increasingly rely on physical infrastructure to construct them – from fibre optics cables to data centres.
An average teenager spends around eight hours ‘connected’ per day. Some people have millions of friends on social networks, and much of contemporary communication and interaction takes place in virtual environments. Concepts such as digital transformation, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) are steadily becoming a bigger part of our daily routines and cultural practices. Video games expose us more and more to alternative, inspirational universes, and algorithms impact our decision-making or even take control of our behaviour. Simultaneously, we seem to assume that it is evident that we live in a world that is real and easier to reach and grasp than ever before.
Realness exists on many levels, in different perspectives and temporalities.
What is real about an entire continent, a country, or a person? What is real about a digital image presented in the daily news and on social media? Which perspectives are ‘more’ real? ‘Realness’ here refers to a common understanding that because of constant digital interconnectedness we see, learn, and know about the world in ‘real-time’.
The web-based project ‘ARE YOU FOR REAL’ is about engaging with and visualizing connections of people, thoughts, things, and places – communication happening through the trading and training of data. It addresses the material and immaterial aspects of the ‘digital’ and how they are perceived from the perspectives of various disciplines: artists, researchers, and coders are commissioned to create works that offer us their understanding of and approach to reality.
This ongoing project is a platform of exchange that supports formats such as exhibitions, workshops, digital art spaces, and apps. It takes place in arbitrarily chosen sites, as wide-ranging as betting halls, post offices, gaming venues, and cultural centres.
While there is no intention of forming a linear narrative, a thread links the events and creates moments of encounter. Like the children's game in which a message is created, passed on, and distorted between one player to another through whispering, the outcome is always unexpected and unpredictable. This playful approach generates conversations between perspectives and concepts, helping explore the overlaps and interstices that link fields, formats, and contexts.
The artworks produced will change during the course of the project, as new artists join and take over, add, and react to them. This means that certain qualities of a traveling exhibition will become visible, articulated through the touring of thought and the changes and traces in each work.
The approach for this project challenges the decades-long format of touring exhibitions, as developed by ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, an institute for international cultural relations), by sending exhibitions of art from Germany around the world. ‘ARE YOU FOR REAL’ aims to create an international cultural exchange as well as a contemporary co-creative practice of exhibition-making. The challenge is to deconstruct the inflexibility of the classic touring format and explore other models that respond to the questions we are posing through international collaboration and new artistic production.