Annual graduate student exhibition Ignition moves online

What can we learn from the first wave of virtual exhibitions?

With online exhibitions and art events on the rise, a new standard for criticism is sure to follow. Simple photo galleries aren’t cutting it: viewers want more engagement, something new and cutting edge that really takes advantage of the internet’s wide range of artistic possibilities. Tim Schneider, art business Editor at ArtNet, listed four key components to creating effective online viewing rooms in a recent article:

1. Distinguishing the viewing room from regular online shops by including links to artist statements, portfolios and more

2. thinking outside of the white cube and allowing for a rotation of artworks that would create new dialogues and opportunities for solo shows

3. controlling the accessibility of the viewing room by offering options to sign up for newsletters, donate money, or purchase an artwork

4. promoting the viewing room on other online platforms, allowing  opportunities for public engagement ex-situ, and opening the floor for conversation on video chattings apps

Concordia’s Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, located in the LB building, has recently made the switch to online programming for their final exhibition of the year, Ignition 16. Ignition is an annual exhibition featuring the work of graduating masters students from Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

The gallery has opted for a weekly turnover, featuring select artworks from the exhibition in line with a specific theme. The week of April 13 focused on the idea of feedback, spotlighting three of the featured artists. Their programming asks viewers, “what experiences and responses arise when feedback falls silent, tightens its constraint, or contradicts the output we’re accustomed to?”

During the exhibition, members of the virtual public were invited to watch Ahreum Lee’s Memory Palace, an autobiographical account of the intersections between politics, technology, the immigrant experience and  family, to consider society’s control of bodies through Diyar Mayil’s sculptural series (dis)bodied, and to view documentation of Janice Ka-Wa Cheung’s YOU ≠ I, an interactive installation exploring digital narcissism and the uncanny within the everyday.

The gallery’s website isn’t very obvious to navigate, and it takes some sporadic clicking around before you can make it off the homepage. Once you find your way to the programming, you are met with three columns of bold text, and it is within the middle of one of these columns that you will finally reach the online exhibition. In and of itself, the online exhibition doesn’t seem any different from the gallery’s usual webpages for in-person exhibitions.

The feature image on the Ignition 16   page has no context either, although I presume it features the artist’s works—but whose, exactly? The page is divided into two wide columns, one containing a breakdown of the week’s themes (upon my visit on April 17, only the description for the week of April 13 was available), and the other containing the curatorial statement and a list of the artists.

It is only in this second column that the works are accessible to viewers. Each artist section contains a description of their practice, a statement for the selected work, questions to spark further exploration, and links to further information (usually the artist’s own website).

While some of the ideas brought up under the “explore” subheading are quite relevant in this time of social and physical distancing, unless you are going to write about the works or plan to ponder the gallery’s questions in the intellectual corner of your home with a lovely beverage, these questions do not really promote active engagement.  I am left wanting more, wanting full screen viewing, not a window with 15 tabs open for me to click through and eventually get overwhelmed and bored by. These artists had their graduating exhibition cancelled, so they deserve full screen gallery representation.

Among the nine artists, the best received works were the video pieces, hyperlinked on the Gallery’s webpage via Vimeo. It’s evident why that is: audio-visual work thrives online. It’s incredibly accessible, and anyone can view it in it’s intended quality when following the right link. Interactive pieces shared through documentation are a close second, especially when viewers are granted insider access to the artist’s process. Although I’m sure the work could have been designed in another way, with the specific purpose to be interacted with online and under the current circumstances, it’s understandable why it isn’t.

These are trying times we’re living through, and we are all learning as we go and doing the best with what we’ve got. This experience has left me wondering what we can learn from the first wave of virtual exhibitions. How can we better them for future renditions? How can we include this kind of digitally-accessible content in everyday museum and gallery programming as the pandemic blows over?

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PS, we are hiring for the 2020-2021 academic year! For more information visit

Feature image courtesy of the Leonard and Bina Art Gallery. Gif includes the works of Ahreum Lee, Memory Palace, 2019-2020, Christopher Johnstone, Five Acres, 2020, Diyar Mayil, Leaky Pants, 2018 and Janice Ka-Wa Cheung, YOU ≠ I, 2019.


Happening in and around the white cube this week…

Changing the way we interact with each other, technology, and the way we make art

Hello, and welcome to the white cube, online version. Should this be a podcast? Maybe.

Over time, I’ve gone through waves of whether or not I wanted the white cube to be capitalised and this is it, finally: no caps. It will just be in italics, that way you know I am referring to this column and not to an actual white cube. Moving on.

I have spent more time than ever on my computer this week. It’s truly astonishing. I’ve used it for everything. Working, writing, countless emails, bingeing Tiger King, and of course, becoming a ~digital artist~. So, I’ve taught myself how to make gifs using powerpoint and a screen recording Chrome add-on and, since I don’t have photoshop, I’ve been playing around with more Chrome add-ons, like Sumo Paint. My style is painterly, naive and wobbly—oh, how I have grown to love this word over the past two weeks.

I feel wobbly. Picture a jelly bean on its back, rocking back and forth. It can only stay still on its side. It’s unstable, and that’s how I feel. I don’t feel sad or angry, nor do I feel worried or anxious. I know this current situation is out of my control, and I’m riding the waves. I’ve lost my footing and I’m finding it again. I don’t want to talk about the c-word anymore.

Instead, let’s talk about this Instagram account, belonging to Max Siedentopf, a German multidisciplinary visual artist and now apparently, my wobbly dream-come-true.

Look, I had no idea who this guy was when I stumbled upon the account (between falling asleep during Baumgartner Restorations’ Youtube videos,) but I was immediately enthralled by his Home Alone project. As I’m writing this, Siedentopf’s account is home to 50 ways to occupy yourself while you are home during this global crisis, or more nicely put, Global Crisis of Being Stuck at Home: a survival guide. Check it out. You are very welcome.

Siedentopf posts the next day’s challenges on his Instagram story, inviting followers to choose and photograph themselves doing them, for him to share in galleries on his feed the following day.

Home Alone Day 9  (March 27)

  1. Place your bed vertically
  2. Find a way to communicate with aliens
  3. Build your own indoor mountain
  4. Use your mouth to become a human fountain
  5. Sleep in your bathtub for variation
  6. Wear all your jewelry at the same time to stand out

This bit of participatory/interactive performance art almost feels like a meme. Though Siedentopf is initiating the performances, he isn’t actually doing them. His prompts are simple, yet incredibly bizarre, resulting in the uplifting content we didn’t know we needed. Siedentopf’s creative endeavour stands out against the waves of posts tagged with “isolation art club” and “quarantine art club.” There is a surreal pressure on creativity right now. With all this time we have, we’re forced to face a burst of inspiration or stagnancy, telling ourselves we have no excuse to not exercise our artistic practices and creative hobbies.

I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like post-c-word. The way we interact with each other, technology, and the way we make art is changing more and more everyday.

On Animal Crossing, some artists are even throwing together virtual exhibitions. Most recently was Brighton-based artist, Stephanie Unger, who hosted an ultra-creative exhibition on the game, inviting players from around the world to visit.

Can you taste the future isolation-flavoured art world?

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