Viewing artwork in real life, like listening to live music, is an experience which can’t yet be beaten by any virtual facsimile, but as screen resolutions get better and mobile devices ever more numerous, web design develops to ensure the best viewing experience for the user. One of my favourite features of the upcoming new Biennial website is the fluid design which not only allows for lots of beautiful images of artists’ works to be displayed, but also shuffles the page elements around depending on whether you’re using, say, an iPhone, a tablet or a desktop computer, so you always get the full content – and if you zoom in or out, enlarge an image or adjust the browser window, the gallery and other information re-organise themselves to make the best use of space, in an almost magical fashion.
This means that there isn’t a static hierarchy in the display of images, and the shuffling galleries create changing juxtapositions of artworks, a contrast to the precisely-curated sequence of works a visitor might find in an art gallery. All this playing around with space made me think about how the way things are presented to us in the real world affects our response, often without our realising it. We can be easily manipulated – advertisers clamour for our attention with eye-catching window displays and noisy adverts, unless they are selling us luxury goods that is, in which case less is more; the more expensive the item, the more expansive the surrounding space and minimalist the approach used in display, or the more esoterically irrelevant the television advert can seem to the product itself. This is really an only slightly cleverer way of selling us something we probably don’t need: a product so magnificent it hardly has to try has to be worth having, surely?
The pristine white walls of the archetypal modern art gallery can alter the way we feel about the artwork on display, inducing a reverent attitude toward the pieces: a contemplative atmosphere deemed necessary by most, perhaps, but a form of conditioning nonetheless. For the Liverpool Biennial and other city-wide festivals, artists make use of a wider variety of urban spaces, not setting their works apart from the everyday but bringing the two together in unexpectedly eye-tickling ways (see Richard Wilson’s Turning The Place Over, or Do Ho Suh’s Bridging Home), heightening the impact of the former through the way they makes us view the latter in a different light – and isn’t encouraging the viewer to consider the world in a new way one of the main functions of art?
‘For decades… international artists have questioned the idea that visual art should be static, sanctified and presented on a wall or plinth to be viewed from a distance.’ (Peter Gorschlüter, Touched guide, p. 82)