Poems Running Away, designed by Hwiyoon Jeong, screen shot © Seehole
Poems to be Whispered, designed by Joheun Yeom, screen shot © Seehole
Your Floorplan exhibition poster © The Floorplan
Your Floorplan exhibition screen shot © The Floorplan

Making an Internet-Specific Exhibition

Seihee Shon

With coronavirus variants continuing to emerge, the pandemic still threatens our daily life, including physical contact with family and friends. The art world, seeing radical disruptions to their performances and affairs under the extensive global measures of social distancing, travel restrictions and lockdowns, began to pay more attention to virtual museums and digital platforms that previously had been of little interest. Many curators who worked mainly with physical exhibitions in museums, galleries and art centres now face the challenge of establishing new tactics and finding new collaborators in order to move their shows to virtual space. Using two short cases of online exhibitions which took place last year in Korea, this essay will examine some of the strategies that can be used to offer an audience a more accessible and relevant experience.   

Seehole (2020),[1] a multidisciplinary project, experimented with ways of appreciating poetry in virtual spaces. Curator Katie Sangmin Lee says that imagining how an audience would encounter poems on their personal devices and how they would engage with the digitally-rendered poems using a mouse or touchscreen, helped her to develop the ideas for this online project.[2] The Seehole poems were selected from an open call, with the initial aim of presenting them online. These poems are shown in three sections: Poems to Be Whispered, Poems Written and Torn Up Today and Poems Running Away. Each section was imagined by a different pairing of musician and designer, so each one explores a different way of experiencing poems. For instance, Hwiyoon Jeong, designer of Poems Running Away, says she created spaces for each poem in 360-degree VR and wanted the poems “to be text and simultaneously texture.”[3] The exhibition seems to use ‘intimacy,’ created by the close proximity of an audience member to the objects (poems), connecting the experiences of digital devices with those of physical experience. Tactile sensations are produced in the audience/user from visual stimulation (Poems to Be Whispered) and users are asked to uncover hidden poems, using their mouse or touch pad just as they would use a coin on a scratch card or lottery ticket (Poems Written and Torn Up Today).

Your Floorplan (2020), another online project, addressed the need for novel approaches to exhibition-making, questioning whether an online exhibition is able to deliver an experience as immersive and meaningful as a first-hand one in a physical space. In doing so, the project employed the concept of aura discussed by thinkers and theorists such as Walter Benjamin and examined whether born-digital artworks have an ‘aura’.[4] One work that caught my eye was a set of twenty-nine interactive images from Seunghye Hong’s series the Organic Geometry (1997 – ongoing). Her sculptural and sometimes plane geometric shapes, resembling computer pixels, often intervene in physical spaces; they appear variously on the floor, walls and in the middle of exhibition spaces. They are pixels that are copied and multiplied by the artist’s hand using computational tools, and then embodied in a physical form. In Your Floorplan, Hong’s “geometric cells”[5] return to their origin, the digital world, that of the immaterial. As part of the virtual world and the Internet, they only gain their organic lives in the hands of an audience who click to animate them, not just as spectators but as participants.

There are two strategies common to both of the above cases. Firstly, in line with the rich history of net art, both projects stress the importance of adapting to the specificity of the exhibition site, the Internet, rather than simply digitizing or immaterializing material objects to make works for an online exhibition. Hyunjoo Byeon, curator of Your Floorplan asked each participating artist to imagine a new work “not just a digital reproduction” “but as the work itself” for the exhibition.[6] Talking to the curator of Seehole, Katie Sangmin Lee, and one of the designers, Hwiyoon Jeong, both underline a focus on the characteristics of virtual space and the nature of the Internet: “an online exhibition is not to bring things in reality into the web.” (Lee); “there are different rules operating in virtual space.” (Jeong)[7] Secondly, both interfaces were designed to encourage active audience involvement, and indeed this is related to the first strategy insomuch as the audience involvement is based on interactivity, a defining element that the networked digital platform offers.

In Digital Art, Christiane Paul points out, “the digital medium’s distinguishing features certainly constitute a distinct form of aesthetics: it is interactive, participatory, dynamic, and customizable, to name just a few of its key characteristics.” These two cases, which scrutinize the “inherent possibilities” of digital technologies “from production to presentation,” suggest very coherent examples of this approach, in a time that specifically calls for a renewed reflection on digital practices.[8]

[1] Seehole is an invented word combining the Korean word ‘see’ meaning poetry and the English word ‘hole.’

[2] In conversation with Katie Sangmin Lee on 8 June, 2021.

[3] In conversation with Hwiyoon Jeong on 11 June, 2021.

[4] Hyunjoo Byeon, the exhibition leaflet, 2020, Accessed Aug 17, 2021, https://thefloorplan.net/wp-content/uploads/Introduction_Your-Floorplan_eng.pdf

[5] Nanji Yoon, ‘A Moving Grid by Seunghye Hong’ in Korean Artists Today (Seoul: Hakgojae Books, 2010) Accessed Aug 17, 2021, http://www.artprojectco.com/bbs/board.php?bo_table=ARTIST&wr_id=30

[6] Hyunjoo Byeon, the exhibition leaflet, 2020, Accessed Aug 17, 2021 https://thefloorplan.net/wp-content/uploads/Introduction_Your-Floorplan_eng.pdf

[7] In conversation with Katie Sangmin Lee on 8 June, and with Hwiyoon Jeong on 11 June, 2021.

[8] Christian Paul, Digital Art (London: Thames & Hudson, 2008), 67.

Back to Publications