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Virtual But Not Disembodied

Sep 17, 2020

Or, thinking through online exhibitions in times of crisis.

Image of a virtual space with an orange sky and a black floating retangle with white and pink text.

As I begin to write this, my newly adopted home of Silicon Valley had its first glimmer of blue sky in a week. Not clear mind you and not healthy to breathe, just not quite so orange/brown/grey. I am writing this as I am finishing the virtual installation of the show, Transcode, taking place across two online platforms this month. The first, a more traditional web page that is part of the artist-run space called Unrequited Leisure out of Nashville, TN and the second a more experimental three-dimensionally navigable space called New Art City based in Oakland, CA.

While I am so excited that this show can exist in these spaces despite the fact that we are in the throes of a manifold crisis (climate change, racial injustice, COVID-19), I want to resist explicitly the idea that these virtual spaces are removed or separate from these issues. Thus the orange dome over this unrealistic landscape. Rather than reconstruct reliably the architecture of the Unrequited Leisure space or push fully into the impossible made manifest potential of virtual spaces, the layout of this show attempts to rest uncomfortably in between. As the Transcode text states:

“Instead, transcode work insists upon lingering in the ebb and flow between categories, definitions, and destinations…”

What happens when we hold these contexts together, when we don’t allow ourselves to fully step into the virtual, when we insist that even in virtual spaces we do in fact still have bodies. Bodies existing in a time of extreme crisis, bodies breathing smoke filled air through masks designed to protect them from another threat entirely. Perhaps we can start to think about how these crises bleed into one another and into virtual space. Perhaps we can understand the virtual not as an escape but as a prism which distorts and refracts but never fully departs from its context.

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