Does social media affect how we interact with art?
Coming out of the quieter CBD streets of Boorloo/Perth and into the Sweet Pea Gallery, I am first confronted with the grating audio of Dan Bourke’s single channel video essay Attention Economya randomly sequenced collection of weird, half-baked — but ultimately trending — TikTok videos.
It evokes the sensations of sitting on the train, facing a stranger typing on TikTok with their smartphone at full volume. The foreigner never completely consumes it in its unquantifiable abundance. I don’t know exactly when they will land, but I am committed to the duration of this trip.
Holistically, Attention Economy features a fusion of ‘Montessori Busy Boards’ prints and sculptures and digital skeuomorphic design. In their intended context, Montessori animated boards are a tactile sensory activity designed to guide the learning development of babies and toddlers. Whereas skeuomorphic interface design Functions to digitally imitate real objects (such as a calculator, camera, or compass) to facilitate navigation on digital touchscreen devices.
The internet has always had a capacity for expansion to reach some pretty weird and inexplicable places, but with the ever-changing nature of social media, its weirdness is more easily accessible than ever.
In a “content-overloaded” society, as Bourke describes it, engaging meaningfully in art production can seem like an indomitable beast.
Brimming with humor and irony, his exhibition Attention Economy posits the reality that an oversaturation of monetized documentation of our lives on the internet is collapsing the boundaries between work and life. As Bourke says in his artist statement, “bathrooms become stages, bedrooms become studios, and life becomes content.”
Is it possible to build an artist profile without internet? Are artists at risk of having even more invisible and unpaid work in pursuit of a sustainable artistic practice? ArtsHub posed these questions to Bourke.
Aisyah Sumito: A “Montessori Loaded Board” is intended to engage the child’s sensory development without overwhelming their learning process. These objects you’ve created, and the technological context they’re drawn into, are moving away from that original intent to a really “busy” place. What were your intentions in reclaiming the “Montessori busy board” in the realization of Attention Economy?
Dan Bourke: I first encountered Montessori Occupied Boards through a Facebook Marketplace suggestion. I was interested in their specific aesthetic qualities (varying in appearance and quality depending on whether they were commercially or home-produced) and the use of security hardware (frequently incorporating padlocks, combination locks, door handles and sliding door chains). In combination, [they] read me like excessive use of clipart in desktop publishing in the 90s and 2000s or user interface (UI) design of the 2000s and 2010s.
At the time, I thought about the contemporary art object as a medium intended to communicate concepts or ideas to its spectators and I wondered about the effectiveness of this communication today, after the dematerialization of the object of art in the 1960s and 1970s, its subsequent rematerialization under late capitalism, and Web 2.0’s inversion of the historically typical producer/viewer relationship (in which there are now many more producers of culture and content than viewers).
By accessorizing the artworks with materials and props borrowed from Montessori occupied panels, and containing them within acrylic box frames, I wanted to maintain the semiotic implications of safety, restriction, and barriers inherent in these toys, while removing their function of tactile engagement and occupation. .
The works became a way of working through ideas regarding engagement, transparency, accessibility and the aforementioned efficiency of communication between an art object and its viewer.
AS: Skeuomorphism digitally reproduces or emulates analog tools rendered somewhat obsolete by the everyday smartphone. Attention Economy seems to care about the tension between innovation and technology obsolescence. How does skeuomorphic design play a role in representing this tension?
comics: Although my interest in skeuomorphic design began with the aesthetics of Montessori loaded boards, I’m not sure how much of either of these two references ended up in the final works (with the presence of the safety equipment apart).
I originally imagined the artwork to be more heavily accessorized, but the combination of elements started to read quite differently when juxtaposed against the final selection of images I had appropriated from different media sources.
When it came to these UI and UX (User Experience) ideas, I wanted to create a tension between creating something that would be aesthetically pleasing and engaging (building on familiar visuals like commercial signage vinyl, acrylic retail displays, film and TV title sequences and ‘graphic design reviews’), but also challenging and over-stimulating (with layered content, RGB hues (red, green, blue) notoriously difficult and a randomly generated video essay intended to be difficult to view in its entirety).
Read: How social media is changing the way we experience art
AS: The financial and financial precariousness of artistic practice forces practitioners to work incessantly to build and maintain a visible profile. In the media landscape of social media-based content production, it can be difficult to balance the work of maintaining visibility as well as producing the art itself. In terms of sustainable artistic practice, what does this media landscape face with this body of work?
comics: I was particularly aware of this work while doing this work. Not only are we competing with each other in the art world, as has generally been the case with limited opportunities and attention for all practitioners of the arts, but we are now also competing in a world broader culture and content, thanks to Web 2.0. flattening effect and its impact on our attention span, which requires more work than before to participate.
Subjected to algorithms and advertising, I feel more and more tired when I engage in online culture. The more I consume, the more tired and disenchanted I become, and the less inclined I feel to produce my own work.
Dan Bourke, artist
With online life impacting offline life to the extent that it does, and participation in the art world requiring some level of offline online, I don’t know how to begin to separate both.
Do the work for Attention Economy was intended to help reflect on some of these ideas and challenge this engagement… Are the conversations supposed to be sparked by contemporary art already taking place outside of art objects? In the “long tail” of culture and history, is it still possible to create a work that can last beyond the present moment? What happens when a work doesn’t work?
Unfortunately, I still have more questions than answers.
by Dan Bourke Attention Economy is presented at the Sweet Pea Gallery in Perth, from September 10 to October 29.
ArtsHub is a publishing partner of the National Gallery of Australia’s Young Digital Writers Mentorship Program 2022, supported by Learning and Digital Patron, Tim Fairfax AC.