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15 May 2020

Cultivating culture in the face of speculative virtualization

From the possibility of “rehearsing other possible scenarios” and from the conviction that the curatorial task is above all a practice of healing and caring for bodies that cannot be separated, we share some reflections on the immediate reactions that different cultural institutions have shown in response to confinement and the impossibility of continuing to carry out face-to-face activities open to the public. We believe it is essential to raise the issue because they help to question the limitations and possibilities of curatorship and mediation in the field of the visual arts.

The first reaction of the institutions has been to try to transfer the materials and contents they had available to online platforms. This trend, which has been so present in recent weeks on websites and social networks of museums and art galleries, is not new: virtualization has been used for years as a tool for preserving and storing physical exhibitions or collections. It is a resource that we already had at our disposal and to which we ourselves have resorted on many occasions as archive material. However, the major institutional response to the temporary closure of cultural spaces and physical distancing has turned material shared on the web into the main ways of relating to art and culture.

The exhibitions are conceived and curated in a specific physical space, considering the material and spatial resources of the museum. When institutions try to move them into a virtual dimension, without rethinking their settings, they end up using the same hegemonic code of representation. This is an indication that museums have not understood what the “museum without walls” really means. They are using methods of substitution, instead of new types of mediation on the web, uncritically adapting our analogical practices to the digital realm.

The exhibitions that are attempted to be placed in the digital framework become linear tours, translated into 360º visits that do nothing more than reflect in virtual reality an experience that we are dragging along from the Romantic era: that of a solitary and individual contemplation of works of art in a museum, an experience of a body anchored in the gaze that moves between pieces placed at a “universally” fixed height but never touching them. It is a hyper-representation taken to the extreme because it reduces this experience to the technical gaze of a camera attached to a tripod placed in a specific position; because it places it in a single direction, that of the focused view; because it displaces it to the universe of the static body sitting in front of frames that stretch the gaze: the frame of the screen, the frame of the lens, the frame of the work of art; because it translates it into an intellectual speculation where an infinite number of bodily perceptions disappear; because it dissociates it from the body.

We find a similar dissociation in the proposals that some centres have had when they have proposed the creation of “virtual residences”. Artistic residences are spaces strongly marked by the presence of bodies, scenarios to be inhabited that imply the experience of a relational place and time enriched by sharing with other colleagues. They are spaces mainly thought to mediate plastically and creatively in relation to the place of reception. In view of the proposal to develop these stays in a virtual format, the body, the matter, the movements and even the smells are rejected, denying the possibility of a collaborative work and the real link that allows the generation of community, a necessary community for the access to the art-textile. The non-residence is projected as a speculative place, a tutored abstraction that only parasitizes the studio or the actual dwelling in which the artist is already confined. A paradox of residing in a virtual non-inhabitable space that can mean an extra expenditure of time and resources.

These replacement proposals that move us from a physical plane to a virtual one, as well as online parties or concerts, are covered by the apparent horizontality of involvement, interaction and exchange that the network makes possible. However, the problem of the “horizontal character” story becomes latent when the digital becomes a substitute medium. A medium without which there is no access to information: is this horizontality real? What bodies are the institutions thinking about when they share content?

Access to information in an unequal way shows the social differences and the limitations suffered by the most vulnerable groups. The quarantine and access to online platforms makes the existence of the social gap visible: not everyone can access online culture in the same way and, even more so, not everyone can access teleworking or transform their home into a workshop. In this way, telematic options as a truly horizontal space are called into question: firstly, because of the interaction between bodies and, secondly, because of the unequal availability of access to networked content and information.

Perhaps if this translation to digital platforms is so simple for many, it is because artistic devices still need to approach them critically and question their presumed horizontality and accessibility. They should also promote community practices open to friction and overflow where the body and its vulnerabilities are at the centre of their reflections.

At this time, we believe that the response by art institutions cannot and should not be a generalized virtualization [2], but rather an attempt to explore other forms of contact, relationship and accompaniment, taking into account the current situation. Through mediation and curatorship, it is time to start imagining collectively the ways in which we can live together in the world that presses on us and gives us space; to travel through the meeting spaces we have occupied up to now; to learn new routines for living together and adapting to what is happening far away from isolation; to take care of ourselves from distance and closeness in order to go beyond an unsustainable couch culture.


[1] Some people even think that the idea of the “museum without walls”, proposed by André Malraux, has become a reality through the Internet. We do not share this notion of a museum and we believe that the walls of art institutions can only be broken down by exploring other forms of relationship that go beyond virtualization and allow for the active participation of an audience that is not strictly bound to the hermetic nature of the art ecosystem.

[2] In this regard, we recommend reading «La necesidad de luchar contra un mundo ‘virtual’. Contra la doctrina del shock digital» Riechmann, Jorge; Almazán, Adrián y 300 firmas más (2020): en Contextos. Disponible desde:

(Featured Image: Photo by Beatriz Dubois)

pli-é collective is a body shared by Eva Paià, Marina Ribot Pallicer and Angelica Tognetti. A space-time of encounter from which we conspire and generate spaces of listening and resistance; an organism in which we tension and deform the hegemonic stories through processes, trials and errors. A fabric where we cultivate curatorship as a form of care and accompaniment.

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"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)