Mixing Art and Tech

Kateryna Ray Art curator, member and expert of: Congress of cultural activists, National Union of Artists of Ukraine Ukrainian cultural foundation

Visual arts went online. We are talking about an industry who was quite conservative and tech-blind. Till, few months ago, when it started to gain huge presence and visibility online. From museums, galleries, artists, advisors, collectors, activists, everybody shows its online muscle: art, but also, we could see their home, and unthinkable talents on how to make bread.
A small world famous for its ‘elite’ attitudes opened itself to the public. Besides celebrations of success and sales in the online world, the question is how technology will change this industry. What long term impact this openness will have on artists, on sales, on why we see art, we consume art?
To find some answers we have discussed with Kateryna Ray, who is a (Art curator, member and expert of: Congress of cultural activists, National Union of Artists of Ukraine Ukrainian cultural foundation) and Co-curator at XPlatform, and Serhii Nezhinsky, co-curator at XPlatform.

TechvangArt: Our lives changed a lot in 2020. Everything happened so fast that I have the feeling that I lived in 4 months more than in 2 years. The Information speed is faster than the Light. Some industries have gone into a total stop, others are in a coma, but for some industries Covid represented the possibility to enter or enforce its position on the market in a very short time. Many industries started to reinvent themselves.
What diagnosis would you give at this moment to art?

Serhii Nezhinsky: The history of art, from the very beginning until now, is the history of the development of the reality simulator. A person needs to somehow transfer the accumulated experience. Thus, some areas of art are able to be adapted and strengthened by new technologies, some, due to the fact that the experience can be specific, still remains within the framework of traditional creative forms. When we created the x-platform and virtual online spaces, we didn’t mean  to replace all analog art with digital, only to strengthen it where is possible. Therefore, I would like to emphasize that the process of digitalization of certain types of creativity is completely natural, and the lockdown associated with the pandemic served only as a catalyst for this already rapidly developing process.


Kateryna Ray: People need art to be able to live, to eat, to breath, to be ‘normal’. Art is everywhere, even if people don’t see it or don’t think that art is near them. In addition, it is a global ability for art to resist any problems, any crisis, because artists – the real artists – do their jobs, because they cannot not do it. And if artists exist, and the art world exists, it always be an aggregator around it – online or offline. Let’s just take the example of artists in soviet period, when avangardist artists would not show themselves (staying underground), but they created small exhibitions in their kitchen, in their apartments, so called “kitchen-exhibition”. And now, with the pandemic and the entire crisis that is going on, it is a narrative conception for artists to be different, to work, to see, to analyse, to create through this theme. But, in any case, it is NOT the time when artists have to stop. And it would be impossible, because art will exist as long as humanity exists. Yes, life has changed, but the need for art is not going away, it is just a question of time, how people will adapt themselves for this new format.

TechvangArt: Do you think that the process that is starting now, it is a kind of avant-garde?
Kateryna Ray: Of course, it is avant-garde!

TechvangArt: When avantgarde phenomena appeared attracted the majority of artistic forms. In those years, we can talk about a fantastic collaboration between different forms of art, that were searching for something new in literature, music, theater, fine arts, ballet, and so on. Maybe it is not the moment here to talk about the contributions of Alfred Jarry, Meyerhold, Pasternak, Stravinski, Mayakovsky, Kandinsky, Malevici, and so on. There was an entire ecosystem of cultural world thinking alike that in parallel witnessed the huge changes in our society – technological, political, philosophical. A cultural shift needed to happen.
Kateryna Ray: I must say that avantgard was possible also thanks in large part to the technological progress, development. In many meanings Avantgarde was created on the ideas and concepts of the Space rethinking on the improvements of the planetary constructions of the atoms. Plus, also the machines started to be more, developed, and implemented into life. Today, we have the similar situation, you are absolutely right, that we are heading toward a new avantgarde. I knew it would be like this, 5-7 year ago, that art needs new technology, new concepts, when today we are going to space. I think new technology today is making a new avant-garde in art, and is what xplatform does in the establishment, is on the XPlatform actually promoted this new avant-garde in art even as a small slogan- because of a new technology and new concept. Practical our XP is a research platform for artists, developers, representatives of creative industries, business, the purpose of which is to integrate science and technology innovations into visual art to expand its capabilities, by mastering new practical tools.

Serhii Nezhinsky: If we talk exclusively about technology, then of course it is a technological avant-garde, but what we see in most cases, unfortunately, is an attempt to transfer old ideas to a new format, often not realizing that digital is a completely different material that requires a special modus thinking, a new tool and a new approach.


TechvangArt: In this period many museums tried to develop online platforms; theater, opera started to perform online, everybody today tries to find a solution how to perform online. What is missing from online events?
Kateryna Ray: I can tell you two things about what on-line in not able to offer:
Firstly, the energy of people. Those feelings of “I want to hug you, I want to see you personally, to drink coffee with you” – online will never cover it, even if we go with VR and things like this. You never will feel the smell and touch, and for human beings is very important and is very depressing for people to be isolated.
Secondly, online is quite boring. For the moment. And now we are fighting with this, we have created several points on how to do things more interesting online, not only ‘zoom’. Any idea to organise this face, coverage of events, what to propose from the art point view, to make zoom and online life, not so boring. And this will be our case: how the industry can be interesting even online.

Serhii Nezhinsky: I would add that online exhibitions, in particular, are very lacking in high-quality visual content, this is due to both the limited technical capabilities of the devices, and the fact that the artist and the programmer are often people with a very different set of skills. We are fortunate that our team combines technical ability with artistic vision.

TechvangArt: can you tell us all about what you are preparing with xplatform in this way?

Kateryna Ray: I will not tell you all my secret how i thought to solve all these, how to cover what is missing. You have to wait a little bit longer! 😀 But some of it I can open. This September X-Platform will partially curate the famous music festival Respublica (digital part). We decided to add some interesting visual program to this. So people will see digital sculptures in the air, will be able to feel the music together with the virtual art objects, lightning installations etc. International audience will be able to join this concerts online and to see this visual and sound program online.
Right now, we organise an OPEN CALL for artist. We looking for international artists to collaborate.

Serhii Nezhinsky: We also are planing  to hold live performances using the latest cinematographic technologies, promotions, author’s and curatorial excursions, meetings with art stars in virtual spaces. It will be extremely interesting.

More info about this call you can find on XPlatform
And link for google form

TechvangArt: Have you seen Art Basel online viewing rooms, and what was your impression?
Kateryna Ray: It was…. how it was…. it was like, this is the picture of XYZ artist, you can buy it for 20k. No atmosfere, no nothing. Boring. Now, we prepare absolutely different things. We will open soon. I think this kind of presentation will be popular in the world.

TechvangArt: Let’s continue with the topic ‘arts in the online-era’. Will everybody stay online now? What about offline?
Kateryna Ray: We have plenty of online in the arts. Almost every gallery started to sell online. Here in Kyiv , we will also have an offline art market Kyiv Art Week in August for international galleries. It will be like an experiment on how to go from online to offline. People are really preparing for that, they don’t care about risks that in autumn, we are expecting the second wave again, but now, money is spent for this offline event – offline events are more expensive than online. People are really happy and there are already clients who want to buy. But, we will also have galleries online, who just sell through facebook, instagram, and internet,and they are quite successful.
With online and offline, it is not really a question of either-or, it is both-and. Some people like to go to the gallery, to have coffee, champagne, see how the artwork looks, to take it slow, to think, to meet galerist or artists – they enjoy the entire process of buying. Other people are more dynamic, they don’t like to spend a week at an art fair, when they can procure it on the spot, via some clicks. They know how an artwork of, for ex Jeff Koons looks, so they can buy it online as well. Online gives another possibility to people to buy, it is a new tool, and a new habit to buy. So, now, you have a choice: you can go offline, you can go online.
This quarantine made online more popular, but offline will not be less popular. With online as a new tool, it will be even more mass market that it was, which is crazy – it is good for the art market, not so good for the art. We all know Venice Biennale is a uncomfortable place to buy, I was 2 year ago, and I had a bad impression, I would not go, if I knew it was so bad, it is become to be a mass market.

TechvangArt: As you said, there was indeed a huge online shift in the visual arts – from online exhibition to flash sales. This has also brought more transparency in prices; all galleries were now displaying the prices. And even before covid, there were quite a few initiatives – such as art markets – of bringing sales of artwork online, with transparent prices, and the crisis just made it grow. On the other hand, how do you think that the massive entering online, where everybody can do sales now will affect the scene?
Kateryna Ray: I support the idea of clear, open, transparent prices of artwork. Especially when you go to Art Basel, you just take the price list and you know how much it cost. It is already for many years years; you can see and know how much it costs. At fairs, at least.
I think the problems in the online exhibition are quite easier than offline. I put on the internet my artwork. I think it is perfect and I can sell it for 500 bucks, and people will buy it – because that cat I drew is nice art and they can put it on the wall. The problem with the internet is that it is devaluating the selection. And this will be the real crisis. We will have a lot of art works that don’t have any treasure – like with so much rubbish art on the internet like now, and it will be even more. And fewer and fewer people who can really separate this quality from rubbish, the crisis will come for the art. Famous names will cost the same and nothing will change, but for artists who are young and dynamic and they try to be special, and try to put the price up, they will not be able to do that because there is so much stuff on the market that they will be lost there. And this is the problem.
On the internet, people just sell everything they want, for whatever money, and this is really disgusting, this is devaluing art, also in the eyes of potential collectors when you try to explain that a normal artwork starts at 3000. You put in the artist or artwork name a lot of investment – such as building the brand, participating in events, paid for advertisements, promotion, etc. You are trying to do an institutional exhibition etc, and then somebody can sell the same size picture for the same money without any promotion and people will buy that stuff. So, here is a big discussion which I am glad you started, because here is a problem: no selection, no rules! Everybody can send anything to an online art market that sells art, nobody will tell you no. And this is the thing. To make an exhibition in a recognized museum, for example MoMA, is quite hard, but to do an exhibition on your website, it is easy.

TechvangArt: Who establishes the prices? The experts, museums and other institutions or the markets that are maintaining the prices?
Kateryna Ray: Many times, yes, there are the institutions. And, yes, sometimes the oligarh try to pay each other through art, such as: “I owe you 10 million dollars, do you want a Picasso art piece?”. And of course, everything is open, they created a market, where they put the prices, and then they just share the money, and invest in art work. You know that better than me.
And some pieces cost much indeed, but it is like other fields as well. A dress from the Channel also doesn’t cost 5000 euro if you consider only the material and manual work. But you pay also for the brand, the value and life of a brand.
People started to look at artwork as an investment, similar to diamond or gold long time ago. It is a need to put your money into something, and not just keep it on your account. But they can have a Picasso series of works at home, nobody will say anything, that is money.

TechvangArt: How do you think collectors react to new forms of digital art that are coming? Because in case of painting or sculpture, collectors can own that work, it is a certain ‘physicality’ of the work, which makes it unique, rare. In the case of VR for example, artists might want to offer experiences to others, or works can be displayed online for example.
Kateryna Ray: In this case the rules from the media or video art will apply – you can have it at home, but that work can be also displayed. The real, progressive collectors know that they own not only the material, but they have the concept, the idea, and the visualisation of this idea.
But still remember, how this artist was called Dan Flavin used to work with luminescent lamps. He knew that his artwork would disappear in 20-50 years, and collectors knew that and still used to buy it because his works had a very powerful concept. And they are other examples as well, arte-povera art from Italy, or Joseph Beuys. Beuys artworks will not last forever, some are made from land, leaves, and so on. In addition, it is also not something you want to display at home, but people who own Beuys artworks are collectors that appreciate in art the idea, the concept, the power of expression. And they don’t care if it is made of plastic, fat or is digital art – absolutely doesn’t matter it is just a new tool. And the curators and artists who understand global ideas, concepts, they will be in avantgarde, when they will not be using tech only because of tech. My idea is to promote technology as a tool, but not as a concept. People can use tools to express themselves, and collectors can understand that and buy it.

TechvangArt: thank you for your time, and we hope to see you soon when you launch different products with xplatform.

We are proud to present some of representative artist of ukraine and their amazing work curated by Kateryna Ray.