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Annual Conference – The Virtual in Museums: Hot Medium?

Annual Conference – The Virtual in Museums: Hot Medium?

Held at the National Gallery on 10 May 2018

The Contemporary Art Society’s 2018 Annual Conference explored the rapid development of digital imagery in the artistic realm and its representation in museums. A key recent development is virtual reality, a computer generated environment that is both immersive and interactive, tied to its technology of a headset and screen. Using virtual reality – which is still a solipsistic experience at this stage – as the counterpoint to the shared experience of a museum visit, the speakers critically and constructively discussed the term virtual in relation to institutions.

The media theorist Marshall McLuhan defined a ‘hot medium’ as something that “engages the senses completely and requires minimal participation from the user”. The question arises whether this definition applies to virtual reality and how it is used both as a product and as an object in itself. Exploring the different possibilities of digital technology – from enhancement of collections to immersive environments – the speakers discussed the distinctions between what is real and what is artificial, expanding the notion of what the virtual can be. Read Conference Report, written by Isobel Harbison, art critic and Associate Lecturer in the Art Department, Goldsmiths.  

Part A: Context

The first section discusses museums strategies, exhibitions displays and acquisitions.

Video 1

  • Introductions by Dr. Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery and Caroline Douglas, Director of the Contemporary Art Society.
  • Speaker 1: Professor Andrew Dewdney, The Centre for the Study of the Networked Image, London South Bank University.
  • Speaker 2: Sabine Himmelsbach, Director, HeK House of Electronic Arts Basel

Video 2

  • Panel Discussion moderated by Ariane Koek, Independent Cultural Strategist Producer and Writer.

Part B: Engagement

In the second section the speakers discuss forms of interaction with artworks; from searching collections, to gaming and role play in artworks.

Video 3

  • Screening of Finding Fanon 2, David Blandy and Larry Achiampong
  • Speaker 1: David Blandy and Larry Achiampong, artists
  • Speaker 2: Chris Michaels, Director of Digital, National Gallery
  • Speaker 3: Daniel Hermann, Curator of Special Projects, National Gallery 
  • Speaker 4: Ed Fornelies, artist

Video 4

  • Speaker 1: Ed Fornelies, artist (continued)
  • Speaker 2: Suhair Khan, Google Art Project
  • Panel Discussion Moderated by Ben Vickers, Digital Curator Serpentine Galleries.
  • Cecile B. Evans, artist in conversation with Isobel Harbison, art critic and Associate Lecturer in the Art Department, Goldsmiths.


Part C: Immersion

The last section of the day looks into how virtual reality is linked to the context of immersion’ relation between viewers and work; solitary experiences and multiple perspectives. 

Video 5

  • Cecile B. Evans, artist, in conversation with Isobel Harbison, art critic and Associate Lecturer in the Art Department, Goldsmiths. (The first part of this discussion starts on Video 4)
  • Speaker 1: Dado Valentic,Chief Technology Officer, Acute Art.
  • Panel Discussion moderated by Andrea Lissoni, Senior Curator of International Art (Film), Tate Modern.

CPD Resources

C-type prints, wallpaper, ephemera on 100 placards on Correx attached to wooden struts and sound