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5 Artists Explain How Digital Art Can Make The Real World Better

The internet can be overwhelming but it’s “the ultimate way to get free,” according to the digital artists leading the charge.

February 29, 2016

Visual art worthy of white-walled galleries does not always require a canvas and paint. There are equally talented artists using torrented software and updated iOS emojis to make their mark—in fact, the internet is the now both the stage and metaphoric incubator of some of the most engaging contemporary art of our time. The exchange between users, artists, and the powerful institutions that control the internet makes it especially interesting and seemingly limitless as a medium. David Bowie prophesized as much back in 1999: "The context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can really envisage at the moment, where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it's going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about," he said in an interview.

We asked five producers of digital art—including Chino Amobi, who makes the art for his label NON Records, and POWRPLNT founder Angelina Dreem—to tell us about their work in the context of the internet and how it can make the real world a better place.


ISAAC KARIUKI: I am part of a generation that’s been interacting with [the internet] from a young age but I’m also from a developing country [Kenya], so I’ve also watched us engage at a slower and altered pace. We sort of missed out on the PC boom and instead embraced the cell phone boom when it finally approached us. That gave me, and everyone like me, a unique outlook on these events. That’s partly what my SIM Card project is about: what participation determines.

If I look up something on Google, say 3D printing, the first five pages of results would be in English and probably from an American or European site. If I want to buy a domain, I would have to get it from a western provider. For me, this isn’t safe; for me, it’s a protruding reminder of who owns the internet. Everything from net neutrality to copyright laws have been western-centric and I don’t know how long they think this can go on for.

Digital art situates ivory tower institutional art in a very uncomfortable position because it’s still incredibly new and the people who involve themselves with it to the best potential are those very outside of the "norm." That would be my only entrance that I’d be confident and comfortable in. Spaces like The Low Museum and Arcadia Misa understand these connections. This time last year I didn’t think I’d have an audience for my work and now I’m participating in all kinds of things and that’s wholeheartedly because of technology.


I’ve been really fascinated by this website CrowdMed where patients who feel like they’ve been misdiagnosed basically crowd-source virtual consultations from actual medical professionals. It’s bizarrely pure and saintly because it palliates the rough and hostile edges we’ve come to know as the internet and instead occupies a space for virtual healing and comfort.

What are your dreams for the internet?

What if LinkedIn just never emailed me again?

Directed and edited by Yulan Grant  

YULAN GRANT: I’m a huge proponent of the constant flux of information. It’s inundating, overwhelming, and often times is based in opinion instead of fact but [it's] absolutely beautiful at the same time. Within the digital vista, it’s possible to have access to resources that aren’t possible in the physical world for many people. That’s what drew me to it immediately. With enough time and effort so many things are available at your fingertips; it’s the ultimate way to get free.

Nothing is safe. Nothing is sustainable. But that shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent. Since a lot of us in the west are constantly connected, it is near impossible to avoid something that won’t make you feel uncomfortable. Whenever a black person is murdered by the hands of the police or some spiraling white man with something to prove, I know that no matter how hard I try, chances are I’ll see images of them dying. Over and over again. Even in death we aren’t safe.

I see my practice delving more into the physical this year but in a very experiential way. Having a chance to further explore sonic forms has ignited a newfound appreciation for performance. I want to curate an experience for you. I want you to know how I’m feeling. Right now I’m interested in seeing how I can use the digital to transform the physical.

What are your dreams for the internet?

Raucous transformative bliss.

CHINO AMOBI: NON exists both in physical and digital space. Accessibility to the internet and sites such as Soundcloud and our website [allow us to share] lost narratives and stories of African artists and of African diaspora. Online interfaces become the field where most of our discussion is exchanged. It is important for us to represent ourselves and tell our stories on the internet, a space that communicates through colonized rhetoric. It is ever more important to mobilize these spaces. If you have access to the internet, you are privileged, as the majority of the world’s population does not have access to the internet, leaving this space elitist and exclusionary.

The internet is not safe at all; the internet is reflecting our age of terrorism. All safe spaces, such as Soundcloud, which were initially platforms for sharing music are now becoming major corporate entities, claiming ownership of our content, our political bodies. It’s also scary how everyone readily consumes everything online, when the internet is a completely whitewashed space, in the way it still functions and maintains under white power. For example, how Twitter will censor trending hashtags to silence and oppress people’s ideas and opinions on current affairs. We need to be cautious of media-mediated spaces.

What are your dreams for the internet?

The rapid proliferation of NON Citizens worldwide as well as an unchallenged increase in our global territories.

TABITA REZAIRE: A direct consequence of being a product of the digital world is trying to navigate what it means to use and be used by tech corporations’ visions. How are our desires, fantasies, and feelings transformed and controlled through the digital device? What are all those screens telling us or hiding from us? It’s such a pervasive tool for whitewashed conditioning, but it can also be used for decolonial healing. That’s what I am trying to do with my work: create tools to restore our energetic balance. My work embraces the digital and all its contradictions; it’s like another language to express yourself with. Like any language, it limits and controls the way you think, but it also gives access to new dimensions and creates new feelings.

Is the internet sustainable? Well, that depends on us. Any exploitative system is sustainable until those being exploited and abused start making noise and fighting back. As long as the capitalist-racist-heteropatriarchy is banging, I’ll be here making work! For me, it’s not about medium, it’s about why you’re making work and what you’re trying to say? I’d love to develop an online QTPOC emotional helpline bling—that’s the kind of app I’d need.

What are your dreams for the internet?


ANGELINA DREEM: I began doing digital art as my philosophy of de-materialization expanded. I sold a lot of my things, became very minimal, and invested in traveling around to art events and music shows that my friends were putting on, like Festival NRMAL in Mexico. I took a lot of photos at this time and was really into documenting the underground scene. I also started making music in Ableton and that changed my life. I could just sit at home, watch a YouTube video, and experiment. I enjoyed the mobility of digital art and the newness of it. There were very few rules so you could kind of feel good about anything that you put out because it wasn’t peak trend yet and no one else was calling that art.

Now that it is being legitimized as art, starting a place like POWRPLNT is only appropriate because the institutions aren’t able to bend in their idea of what art is. But by starting an institution that supports computer-based art, we can lead the way in inspiring new experimentation and forms. It’s very exciting. Nowhere is safe. People are going to be haters, the government is going to be a hater, and corporations are gonna hate. But if your intention is the search for truth, beauty, or even abjection, you’re going to find people that are into that, too. We will adapt as the internet of things develops into a more integrated part of our existence. Which is why POWRPLNT's aim is to be an IRL space for “the internet” to commune.

One of my main focuses this year is unpacking the materiality of media—where the minerals and the compounds that make up the concept of “technology” come from and the distributions of power within that. Images of servers in Iceland and Antarctica emerge and the concept of data storage and the lonely web impress us with the idea that the internet is a real thing, an object. How is the internet an art object that can be manipulated, hacked, or redesigned so that it’s not a completely wasteful deadzone of forgotten tweets and iPhone 3s?

What are your dreams for the internet?

Downloadable dinners, emotional uploads, tactile cinema, and POWRPLNTs all over the world providing free classes for teens and digital art resources for all.

5 Artists Explain How Digital Art Can Make The Real World Better