By Dimithri Wijesinghe
In an increasingly digital world, art is gradually being transferred from a physical space to a virtual one. However, this gradual transfer has been accelerated in the past few months where the world has been experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic which requires us all to maintain physical distancing thereby leaving us to consume the majority of our content online or in digital form.
Particularly with regards to entertainment and art, content has been progressively digital even prior to the pandemic. However, things have taken on a life of its own, and mediums of art otherwise assume to be unsuited for the online sphere have also taken to it.
An example would be Saskia Fernando Gallery’s online live open studio which they launched as a part of their Art in Curfew series. It was essentially a live stream where painters and photographers would showcase their work online to an audience, live from their home studio.
In this scenario, what we see are pieces of art that are often displayed in a gallery where enthusiasts would come and witness it in real life, for various purposes to gauge the piece of art for themselves.
About this concept of online art, Saskia Fernando said: “It is important to keep things moving and everyone at present happens to be online.” Therefore, according to her, your online presence is of importance to promote and keep your art alive.
We also spoke to local artist Janaka Ambalampitiya of the University of the Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo who shared that to him, as a painter and someone who creates physical art, digital art is simply not the same. He said: “These days everything is digitised, especially during these times when there is no other option, you cannot determine if it is good or bad; that is not up to us to decide. However, as an artist, I cannot say that this is an alternative.”
“If you think about paintings in a gallery, say an oil or watercolour painting, it is a complex style with intricate brushstrokes; it is not just an image to be photographed or videoed. It must be seen and felt. The fact of the matter is that it was simply not intended to be consumed online and so you will not get the full effect,” he said.
While digitally appreciating physical paintings may sound a bit far-fetched for us right now, online music has been something that has been around for decades. However, during these pandemic times, musicians have taken it upon themselves to really step up their game by hosting fully digitised online concerts; a recent and popular example is the K-pop band BTS as they broke several online streaming records last weekend hosting a two-day-long live concert for their fans which amassed over 50 million views.
Following BTS’s success, Korean Entertainment Company SM Entertainment has announced the launch of their new programme “Beyond LIVE”, which is a real-time platform where the company’s artists will perform on a real stadium, but to an empty audience to only be broadcasted live, where audiences can interact with the performance from their digital devices.
While Korea is capitalising on this new wave of entertainment, the world will no doubt try to catch up. We spoke to some local artists about their thoughts on the online consumption of music, especially live concerts and performances.
DNM Crew rapper Dushanthan Sivananthan shared that for globally massive artists these are great platforms and they are useful even for those who are starting out. “In my opinion, the digitisation of art is building a platform to showcase your potential and talent, and to be able to learn and spread knowledge of your dedicated art is amazing in itself and at the same time productive. Artists then have the ability to put themselves out there, showcase their skills, get credited, and monetarily earn for their work which is a great advantage to their growth and career,” he said, adding: “Especially during this quarantine (period), artists and creators alike have more opportunities to put out content, since most people tend to be hooked on social media, and so they can build more exposure for their projects. So I believe it’s a great initiative if handled properly, by good use of productivity, flow of content, and marketing.”
The Soul Band Leader and guitarist Khazim said: “Personally, we enjoy performing live. From an artist’s point of view, any type of art, be it dance, drawing, acting, it is meant to be witnessed in person where the artist looks to interact with you; that way it is more insightful. In art, our performance is highly reliant on the atmosphere.
“However, since there is no other way right now, it is great that we have the opportunity to perform and provide some kind of solace to people who feel a certain way at home. However, performance in its raw form is meant to be experienced live in my opinion.”
Playwright and director Feroze Kamardeen also shared how even though they themselves made some of their stage productions available online during the curfew, “stageplay is best viewed as it was intended; in a live audience – the energy and performances can only truly be captured that way”.
It would seem that we are at a turning point in digital art history, with most content being digitised, either to be widely consumed or preserved with most primary materials being put into online collections around the world.
While at present, especially during our times of physical distancing, we may crave live content and the consumption of art in person, we have been headed towards majorly consuming digitised material for some time now, especially considering applications like YouTube, Vimeo, etc. However, while the schools of thought on digital art versus live will remain polarised for some time, it is fortunate that we have the tools and technology to connect art and its intended consumers in times such as this.