Spatial Affairs, at Ludwig Múzeum
Spatial Affairs, the most recent exhibition at the Ludwig Múzeum in Budapest, is a reflection on the concept of space from a philosophical and at the same time practical and artistic standpoint. It analyses different problems based on the relationship and codependency between physical and digital manifestations of art. Using not only technological works, but also other contemporary creations, mainly of conceptual type and manifestos. The exhibition is part of Beyond Matter – Cultural Heritage on the Verge of Virtual Reality, an international and interdisciplinary project of Hertz-Labour, the research centre of the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe, which explores the (re)conception of exhibitions from digital and virtual technologies in physical and digital spaces. Therefore, Spatial Affairs was materialized in partnership with the ZKM and commissioned by its curator and director of the Beyond Matter project, Lívia Nolasco-Rózsás, in co-curation with Giulia Bini, a curator at EPFL Pavilions (Lausanne). It also has two Ludwig assistant curators, Jan Elantkowski and Fruzsina Feigl.
As the museum’s director Julia Fabényi said at the opening of the exhibition, in recent years “new definitions of time and space have come to life”. Right off the bat, the spatial limitation imposed by the pandemic that, for the time being, prevents the Ludwig Múzeum from opening to the public. In response, Spatial Affairs opened online in a live stream on 29 April and developed a superb digital replica of the exhibition that, until the opening of the museum, allows its virtual visit in augmented reality. There is also parallel digital programming, most notably the innovative artificial intelligence extension entitled Worlding, made by design studio The Rodina, which will extend beyond the physical show’s closing date, scheduled for June 27. This platform exhibits several digital works exploring computer-generated spaces, some of them from the 90s, covering the classic period of net art. It is a multi-user environment, interactive and with a controlled emulation, which allows the visitor to impersonate an avatar and move through a virtual space inspired by the book Calculating Space (Rechnender Raum) by Konrad Zuse. In this work made in 1969 by the German engineer, the universe is described as a place of living, evolving automata that reproduce and reprogram themselves. Through this digital interface, Spatial Affairs addresses some of the questions in reaction to technological development in art: How can the content of an online exhibition develop into a spatial and adaptive experience? How effective is the representation of artworks by avatars? Can the exhibition be an ecosystem and, to use Zuse’s expression, generate a “cosmos of computation”?
Now, as we realize when visiting Wordling and the digital version of the museum exhibition, experiencing the space is as revealing as its physicality. The same said, at the inauguration, Peter Weibel, the president and CEO of ZKM. He added that we live in the physical and historical, as well as the numerical/virtual, space, where the growing possibility of being situated in more than one at the same time is added. It is a journey through the most different spatial dynamics in Ludwig’s galleries, where the exhibition is divided into several areas, from the most immersive and fictive to the most “physical” and “real”. The starting point is introductory, with a piece by Jeffrey Shaw, a pioneer in virtual environments, entitled Virtual Sculpture from 1981, based on one of the first exercises ever done with augmented and virtual reality.
After this, the numerous questions of the exhibition project were reviewed, in particular the urgent clash between the natural and the technological, materialised in a magnificent large-scale installation by Alicja Kwade. Entitled Gegebenenfalls die Wirklichkeit (2017), it looks like a large granite stone, but it is a reproduction of 3D techniques where are the impressions of the coordinates of the original matter, that is, what constitutes its mathematical description. Also with large dimensions, but in a soft material, in the second gallery, a sculpture motivated by digital generative architecture relates the material with the “immaterial” and the tangible with the intangible, dichotomies diluted throughout the exhibition. Entitled Domestic Ruins, by Andreas Angelidakis, it invites the spectator to interact through the manipulation of its constituents, a performativity that contrasts with more visual experiences, suggested for example by a series of drawings by Cildo Meireles, which explores a concept of materiality through a perspective close to virtuality.
The transition is made from fixed to mobile imagery, with the design collective Metahaven, which also includes White Night before Manifesto (2007), one of several manifestos distributed in the exhibition, including Manifesto Blanco (1946) by Lucio Fontana and Manifeste Dimensioniste (1936) by Károly Tamkó Sirató. Returning to the designers, the video creation entitled Information Skies illustrates, in a mostly abstract way, the current virtual condition. This happens through information and disinformation, both of which are extremely important and play decisive roles in today’s and everyday life, contributing to knowledge and action. And, simultaneously, for confusion and dispersion, ambivalences that determine contemporaneity.
These conditions of information technology have been exacerbated by one of the most transformative discoveries in the social, cultural and artistic context: the internet. Therefore, Spatial Affairs proposes to recall the course and the historical and practical relevance of this technological sphere through several works. For instance, the digital representation of the office of Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the WWW, a piece by Lauren Huret. We are also suggested to rethink geopolitics within this context, as Aleksandra Domanović’s sculpture mentions. During the spread of the internet in the 1990s, it is important to remember that a belief in a cyberspace free of social differences and political domains was created, hailed by several, such as John Perry Barlow in the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace (1996). With utopia abolished, in recent years there has been more discussion about the materiality or infrastructure of the internet. As Nolasco-Rózsás underlines, this is central to the debate on virtuality.
Once the historical drift is over, Spattial Affairs moves us into two particularly interactive areas: an immersive multimedia dimension, which aggregates different elements into a multilayered narrative, and then a more performative and analogue one. Underlining the experience of space through action, there is an incitement to the highest potential of the visual and perceptual senses with Andrej Škufca’s installation. Its dimensions, form and expression define it as transformative of space and spirit. With astonishing magnitude, the piece exerts an overwhelming tension and establishes itself in a local, visual, perceptual and aesthetic way, with unique and captivating contours and physicality. Albeit titled Black Market, it relates primarily to The Dark Forest of the Internet, Yancey Strickler’s theory of the tragedy of communication when fueled by compulsion, necessity, futility and risk. Regarding Škufca’s work, it presents itself as an abstract entity but still representative of the clashes between real and unreal, tangible nature and intangible digital creation, i.e., different spatial dimensions. In a way, it integrates a large part of the subjects addressed in the exhibition.
We therefore reach the end of the exhibition, or, as Bini puts it, its brain, where different spaces converge, particularly the exhibition and the museum. The same is translated into a heterogeneous and highly discursive zone, which crosses decades and artistic practices, from the 1950s to the present day, from painting to computing. One of the vital principles is the white cube, decisive in the sphere of art since its instauration in 1976, which is worked on by the artists Adam Broomberg and Guy de Lancey, with the collaboration of the concept’s author Brian O’Doherty. Katarzyna Kobro’s plastic and written work is presented and analysed about what led to the establishment of the white space.
As we can see, the questioning of space has been going on for a long time, but it is more visible nowadays, because of a new dynamic of space issues that are transcribed, manifested and expressed in raw materials and algorithms, in a collision of expressions and perspectives with countless echoes and repercussions. In these intersections, networks and constellations, without spatial limitations, such valuable projects as Spatial Affairs assert themselves.
 More information at https://flugschriftencom.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/flugschriften-6-bogna-konior-the-dark-forest-theory-of-the-internet-1.pdf