WORDS: art, text and digital spaces

WORDS is an online exhibition exploring the possibilities of art and text in digital spaces. Featuring interdisciplinary creatives from around the world, this exhibition will be hosted online from March 18, 2015.

Curator: Jessica Oliver

Artists: Jessie Adams; Mez Breeze; Claire Capel-Stanley; Nicci Haynes; Rosalind Lemoh; Anja Loughead; Maryann Mussared; Kate Ruebenson; Frances Spurgin; Monica Styles; Chris Sutevski; and Louise Upshall.

Exhibition Design: Yasmin Masri



WORDS: art, text and digital spaces presents artists’ forays into reinterpreting their practice for a digital space. With the exception of Chris Sutevski and Mez Breeze, artists participating in the exhibition work predominantly offline in the fields of sculpture, installation, photography, collage, drawing and audio-visual technologies. In WORDS, artists do not just show art online, but create, or re-create, art specifically for a digital space.

In addition to this change in platform, artists incorporated the use of text into their works. Text based artwork has a long history on the internet, which is in itself a platform created entirely from text through a complex and many-layered series of codes. WORDS presents a phenomenological encounter with words: they are not simply read, but seen, heard and interacted with, stimulating both visual and intellectual engagement. In utilizing the internet as a dynamic platform, where the boundaries between work and outside space become permeable, the work becomes an experience and the viewer becomes the user. It is precisely this level of interaction that has informed the curatorial decision to leave sharing and comment options open for each piece (subject to moderation). The interface also becomes a key part of the experience, shaping the way the viewer negotiates and understands the works. The ‘tag’ section has been deliberately utilized to communicate ideas behind the work in a disjointed, ‘key word’ format.

The internet allows for a high level of engagement between the viewer and the artist, even the act of clicking in and out of a work becomes part of the experience of that work. Chris Sutevski’s Vincent Van Gogh - Type Specimens (2014) offers even more opportunities for audience input, inviting the viewer to interact with his glyphs to create sentences that are both meaningful in idea, and meaningless in that they don’t make any semiotic sense- although we know that each glyph signifies a letter of the alphabet, we cannot read them. Sutevski’s glyphs originate from marks found in drawings created by Dutch expressionist Vincent Van Gough and explore the use of text as a form of mark-making.

Frances Spurgin offers a similar experience of words that cannot be read in her work A Common Activity (2015). Through a series of six GiFs, Spurgin investigates the experience of physical dialogue through the winding and unwinding of a ball of wool that has been spun to include text about the making process; interestingly, the movement of the winder/un-winder’s hands evoke the gestures made during verbal speech.  In this way, a simple and commonly used object becomes loaded with significance and creates a silent physical dialogue between artist, object and recipient.

Online narratives and storytelling play to the internet’s inherent strength in facilitating greater engagement between message creator and message recipient. Narrative and story-telling can be seen throughout the works, particularly Jessie Adams’ works Dark with Dark and Who is It (all 2015) which invites the viewer into a mediated engagement with the artists’ private (body) space whilst simultaneously drawing attention to the abuse of female bodies in online spaces. Adams’ words, presented as both audio and image, form a hypertext that adds an extra layer of meaning to the visual imagery presented.

Hypertext is also utilized by Anja Loughead in The Australian Screen (2015), a video work that subverts jaunty and overly optimistic depictions of migrants moving to Australia to create an alternate, darker narrative. In this work, Loughead questions “the way in which Australia continues to capture, record and transmit information through the television screen[i].”

US-based poet Kate Ruebenson uses story-telling as the dominant expression in her work, Ephemreel (2014). A clip from a longer video work, Ephemreel documents the fluidity of language where the narration, originally taken from a poem by Reubenson, is chopped and changed during the editing process. The narration continues to re-form in scenes where the artist records voiceovers in response to viewing the work.

Canberra artist and writer Claire Capel-Stanley also utilizes story-telling techniques in her compelling work, North (2015), a timelapse animation story inspired by Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader, who in 1975, embarked to sea in a tiny dinghy in a performance piece he titled ‘Search of the Miraculous’. Three weeks into the voyage Ader disappeared, his boat was found empty off the North Coast of Ireland the following year and Ader was never seen again. Interested in the ideas of accident and chance, as well as the link between the accidental and the deliberate, Capel- Stanley uses a chalkboard aesthetic to both ‘tell’ and illustrate a story of danger, chance and deliberation.

Monica Styles’ work, 'International Same-sex Sexual Activity Laws - as told by Wikipedia', (2015) draws on her practice as a photographer with a strong interest in exploring ‘truths’. Styles imparts the information on same-sex activity laws (or the repercussions of same-sex actions) in a matter-of-fact format, without implied judgment or subjectivity.  At the same time however, the artist capitalizes on Wikipedia’s reputation as an unreliable resource and invites viewers to make their own conclusions. In this way, Styles expands the popular quote: ‘don’t believe everything you read…on the internet’.

Many of the works in the exhibition display a sense of self-awareness of their medium and this is particularly evident in Rift (2015), by Louise Upshall. In the stop-motion video the artist reinterprets her collage practice and the word ‘rift’ signifies the space between the “very intimate, handmade and physical nature of collage and the detached, mechanical nature of photography, videos and digital data[ii].”

Maryann Mussared’s work Aa- Zz (2015) displays a similar sense of self awareness. Entranced by words and all things etymological, Mussared presents some of her favourite words from A – Z using both GiF format and still images. In her work, the artist muses on the gradual redundancy of physical sources of information, such as the dictionary, as the internet becomes a more and more prevalent and accessible source of information.

In her series of GiFs, Speaks, Talk and The Conversation (all 2015), Nicci Haynes expresses the frustrations of verbal communication and the divide between communication and language, and experience. Haynes’ GiFs are intriguing and, at times, discomfiting with a chaotic effect that mirrors the incessant and sometimes nonsensical ‘chatter’ of social networking sites such as Twitter.

Paying homage to flash fiction and post-internet-design, Mez Breeze’s The Truncate (2015) is an online publication that rejects the truncated content of the internet and offers a more nuanced perspective that “takes square aim at a reader/viewer’s cognitive load.[iii]” For Breeze, the abbreviation of content in favour of instant online gratification risks the loss of meaning in the process. The Truncate offers viewers a choice between long and short interactions, with either choice offering meaning and satisfaction.  

Finally, Rosalind Lemoh’s work Reserving Time (2015) invites the viewer into contemplation and relaxation -- finding some quiet time in a ‘loud’, information heavy world (both online and offline). Based off a physical, 5-part work of the same name, Reserving Time presents a series of still images taken by Damien Geary that capture the ‘essence’ of the physical work in situ. By using text, which includes a quote by Rudyard Kipling and the artist’s own musings, Lemoh reinvents the authoritative parking sign and its function, presenting a humourous engagement between artist and audience. Lemoh’s physical work can be found around Civic and Braddon over the duration of You Are Here, from March 18- 22.

Text plays a significant aspect in our online and offline lives and WORDS: art, text and digital spaces is an exploration in transitioning from offline to online mediums, either through reinterpreting the artists’ work or practice, or through artists shifting physical forms and techniques into the digital, as is the case with Breeze and Sutevski. Through greater user (viewer) engagement and the eradication of traditional gallery spaces confined by temporal and geographical constraints, WORDS is accessible anywhere, anytime and all that is needed is internet connection, a screen and a little curiosity.

- Jessica Oliver




[i] Email correspondence with the artist, 2015

[ii] Email correspondence with the artist, 2015

[iii] Email correspondence with the artist, 2015