Networking the Unseen

Villa Merkel, Esslingen am Neckar, Germany.

December 20, 2017 - March 4, 2018

Curated by Gretta Louw

Networking the Unseen was a group exhibition of international contemporary artists addressing intercultural transfers between the shifting poles of earthing and digitalisation; culture and technology; tradition and the future; the visible and the invisible. Digitalisation and its effects are amongst the most critical themes of our time -- every community around the world must wrestle with and come to terms with these changes. Increasingly, we hear digitalisation spoken of in terms of some sort of all-powerful, conquering force that is bearing down on us, intent on completely overhauling our society. Networking the Unseen dives deep into this subject matter and uncovers the myriad ways in which culture and technology are irrevocably interwoven. The project elucidates how we can hone our critical awareness about these processes and identifies tactics for recovering some control over them.

The Networking the Unseen exhibition constitutes impressive works across the genres of installation, video art, site-specific painting, photography, and net-based digital art. Works from primarily First Nations Australian artists are presented in dialogue with art projects coming out of Germany and Europe. The exhibition calls into question the mythology around the seemingly all-powerful internet and analyses the specific and observable social, psychological, and cultural impacts of digitalisation. The internet’s touted capacity to connect people across huge cultural, geographic, or linguistic barriers -- extremely rarely realised -- is demonstrable in this exhibition, along with the accompanying benefits: more comprehensive knowledge production; increased tolerance and cultural diversity; and a deeper respect for the depth of cultural transformation that we are currently experiencing.

The exhibition presents a range of strategies for reforming and reassessing our relationship to technology. The new media artworks from the different cultural perspectives of the Indigenous Australian artists and their proximity to the European artists’ positions highlights parallels and universalities of the lived experience of digitalisation, as well as cultural idiosyncracies and differences. The relationship between preservation of cultural heritage and technologically driven cultural change is at the crux of the project. The positions contributed by remote Australian artists offer enormous potential for an examination of the tension between the destructive and constructive tendencies of networked technologies in the cultural sphere. In Networking the Unseen, the concepts of liminality, of remoteness, collide with the contention that digitalisation is creating a global community; a new kind of universal public. It becomes clear, through the artworks in the exhibition, that the considerations and questions facing the geographically isolated Indigenous Australian communities apply no less to art and society in Europe.

Networking the Unseen directs our attention towards the margins of the network. The exhibition suggests subtle strategies for recovering a measure of individual and social sovereignty over the digital; to realise the potential of digitalisation as a tool for positive change -- the capacity to encourage meaningful intercultural exchange, to strengthen marginalised communities, and to preserve and communicate cultural heritage. Networking the Unseen focuses on the emancipatory and positive potential of technologically driven cultural change, whilst acknowledging the possible complications and risks when technological change is more rapid than our ability to process and regulate it as a society.