"EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN ARTIST" wrote Joseph Beuys back in 1973. Forty years later, what was originally an iconoclastic statement has become an established mode of thinking, a utopian cliché for artists and curators looking for alternative modes of expression. While we can sit back and browse an endless supply of videos and images, reading reviews of events and exhibitions that we will never witness in real life, the simple act of gathering in space for a communal experience is more essential than ever.
Every day artists are creating works of art that few will ever see. They might be obscure, irrelevant, 'difficult' - but most likely they are just poorly publicized. Now that the internet has created an infinite archive for work to exist, the way that we choose or 'curate' content has become just as problematic. As the sheer quantity of artworks increases, the role of choice changes dramatically. Whether it's music labels deciding what bands to promote or museum curators selecting what artists to champion, it's clear that traditional, top-down modes of selecting the next big thing are no longer only in the hands of the few, but are in the domain of the many.
Freed from limitations of specific object-based media, Beuys coined the term 'social sculpture' to describe the way in which art could be a collective endeavour - a practice that could somehow change society itself. In a similar way, several formats for public exhibition have emerged over the past few years, such as TED talks (eighteen minute mini-lectures), Pecha Kucha (twenty slides, twenty seconds each). With this in mind, maybe a work of art's purpose could be about exhibiting other artworks rather than simply being an object in itself.
Bring Your Own Beamer is a series of one-night exhibitions that invite artists working with the moving image (beamer is another word for a projector) to show their work together as a collaborative installation. Initiated by the artist Rafael Rozendaal in 2010, the format was created to give artists the opportunity to show their work to a wide audience in a context that's closer to a happening or party than a conventional gallery opening.
Earlier this month, I organized a BYOB in Hackney Wick, putting out an open call for artists to submit work including "MOVs, GIFs, 3D worlds, intercontinental live streams, light box drawings and virtual sculpture". The enthusiastic response from artists wanting to exhibit work proved that the simple fact of participation was so much more important than the secondary concerns of sales, press, or budget.
At the same time, I started publicizing the event on Facebook before all the submissions had come in. Comments came immediately, saying that it was missing "the fundamental concept of the event" because it was "100% curated". Ironically, it turned out that the open call for submissions (posted on relatively obscure media art sites like Rhizome) had not been seen as widely as the Facebook page - which had spread virally as all the 19 artists started inviting all their own friends.
On the night itself, the sheer range of work - and equipment - was surprising. Some visitors observed that it looked like an Apple Genius bar or trade fair for projectors. But looking at the walls of the space, it really was more like a collective collage of the moving image, where individual authorship became less important than the fact that everybody was together. From the self-made games of Clifford Sage & Joey Holder, to the analogue videos of Viktor Timofeev & Chris King and a Google Hangout with Awe IX in Taiwan, the dependence on technology was so self-evident that it became completely unimportant. By exposing the actual equipment that the projections depend upon, everybody sees that they themselves could produce works of art in a similar way, that they could exhibit things if they wanted to, that everybody could be AN ARTIST. Beuys would probably have approved.
These acts of communal gathering around and watching a show unfold are not conceptual but sensorial. They recur throughout the history of technology, and form a central part of being a human being in a wider society. These rituals do not depend on the participants being acquainted with theories about cinema, societies of the spectacle, or of Plato's cave. If anything, the memories that the event created did not come from an intellectual experience, but rather from the primal pleasure of gathering around a campfire and watching it burn.
BYOB London 2013 | http://byoblondon.tumblr.com
Awe IX | Laurie Bender | Rebecca Cooper | James Hicks | Marinette Kaus | Lawrence Lek | Beatrice Lopez | Hannah Mason | Parag Mital | Antonio Roberts | Clifford Sage & Joey Holder | Andrey Shental | Camila Sotomayor | James B Stringer | Daniel Swan | Viktor Timofeev & Chris King | Simon Whybray