|An avatar of a Korea Times reporter wanders inside the virtual online gallery of Crazy Multiply's exhibition, Aug. 22. / Courtesy of Crazy Multiply|
By Jon Dunbar
The high numbers of daily new COVID-19 infections and corresponding social distancing measures have made it difficult for artists and art lovers to gather in galleries. So, Crazy Multiply, a nomadic Seoul-based curatorial collective that promotes Korean and international artists, held its latest exhibition, dotGIF, online in a 3D virtual environment showcasing the works of 27 artists from around the world.
On visiting the art show's website, dotgif.kr, users are prompted to choose a color, basic facial expression and screen name. They then find themselves in the lobby of Crazy Multiply's colorful virtual gallery, surrounded by other cube-shaped avatars careening around flashing basic greetings. Using the keyboard, they can navigate around the room and through doorways to exhibition halls.
It is disappointing to see so much human activity moving online, but maybe that's what makes so much fun: its commentary on virtual environments and online culture is poignant, especially in a time when public opinion is transmitted through memes and animated gifs, while art is increasingly traded in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and the "metaverse" is blowing up as a buzzword in the tech industry.
"We had no explicit intention of exploring the concept of a metaverse, but we did want to provide a more interactive and real-life experience that would best simulate an offline exhibition, while presenting mostly strictly digital artworks," members of Crazy Multiply said in a prepared statement to The Korea Times.
This virtual realm is not a real example of metaverse, as each user is alone in the gallery, surrounded only by bots coded with randomized appearances and greetings, no more sophisticated than a video game non-player character (NPC).
"Their movements are quite simple and repetitive so we weren't sure if people would actually believe them to be real-time visitors to the site, but as we were told by some, they thought they were viewing the exhibition with other people at the same time," Crazy Multiply members said. "They said it really added to the experience."
"I personally see them as a replacement for actual people," explained Crazy Multiply's designer, who described the exhibition as "a digital artwork that pays homage to the metaverse." "To believe that the people you meet online are actually existing in real life feels like a mutual agreement in a sense."
The artwork is separated into five exhibition rooms, which must be approached sequentially like advancing levels in a video game. By moving up close to an artwork, the user is prompted to press the space bar to get more information on the piece and the artist.
There is also an extensive menu that offers text-based information about the exhibition and artists, as well as an overview of the history of GIFs and memes, from the very first GIF made in 1987 showing a jet in flight, to the Bernie Sanders mittens memes.
|Estrobomb's '@voicemailberlin' digital collage presents a pastiche of phone sex ads of the 1990s, emphasizing loneliness and longing for companionship amid increasing isolation and anti-Asian racism. / Courtesy of Estrobomb|
The five rooms are themed: 3D/glitch art, retro-style GIFs, memes, illustrated GIFs and mixed media. Of the 27 participating artists, eight are based in Korea while nine are in the U.S., and there is one each from Romania, France, Norway, Germany, Belgium, the U.K., South Africa, Australia, Italy and Taiwan.
|Kim Young-mi's animated GIF 'On the Way to a Picnic' shows digitally drawn rabbits inserted into images of her past work in order to transfer it to the digital realm. / Courtesy of Kim Young-mi|
Among the panels in room 1 is "Computer World" by LA-based neo-pop artist and graphic designer Wilmer Alexander Gonzalez, showing a ball bouncing through a virtual room with the slogan "Don't be afraid" on the wall. "Now that the digital world is a permanent part of the world I decided to juxtapose those two realities into one," the artist explained in his write-up. "Though it may seem like criticism on how we interact with technology it's actually meant to celebrate its oddness. Why not embrace the change? Why not use what we're given as a tool to not fear anymore, to help one another more. To not let the fear and anxiety consume our soul."
|Wilmer Alexander Gonzalez's animated GIF titled "Computer World" / Courtesy of Wilmer Alexander Gonzalez|
In room 2, South African illustrator Meryl Booth's simple animated image provides a "look at vapor- and retrowave as both a medium of digital relaxation and nostalgia in a boring dystopia of being trapped online, at home."
In the crowded third room on memes, Belgium-based artist Kopano Maroga displays sexually suggestive self-portraits in their "Venus in Pisces" series, overlaid with provocative text like "all i want is to be a powerful slut … and overthrow the government." They comment in a writeup, "Your body can be a cage but it is also a key."
|A meme from Mats Nesterov Andersen's 'Global Self Hypnosis' series / Courtesy of Mats Nesterov Andersen|
In room 4, Italian artist Obsolater's untitled animated GIF showing a human heart morphing into a social media representation of a heart strikes a powerful image of "how the digital era shifts perceptions and meanings."
Room 5 presents three of artist Halo Lahnert's "Who is Flung Baby?" images, depicting the artist as a young girl exploring the virtual, physical and emotional world, made on embroidery and hook rug. "No matter where she is, the worlds she encounters are non-linear, fragmented, and layered atop one another ― just as our experiences are," the artist said in a writeup. "I imagine Flung Baby thrown endlessly from situation to situation; but she is also strong, flexible, and adventurous. I use Flung Baby as a way to explore my transness and the ways I feel multiple, virtual and chaotic. I am interested in pulling the internet offline and into my hands, either as drawings or textiles."
|An image from Halo Lahnert's 'Who is flung baby?' series / Courtesy of Halo Lahnert|
After passing through the final door, the user is presented with closing credits, inspired by retro video game ending credits, early customizable homepages on sites like Angelfire and Geocities, as well as the scroll from the "Star Wars" films, solidifying the exhibition's "homage to video game, internet and nerd culture."
"If and when the technology for virtual and augmented realities is developed to the point of being indistinguishable from reality, I think the metaverse will truly be a metaverse," Crazy Multiply's designer said. "I just think that the term only makes sense once it is indistinguishable from reality, or has an unmistakable impact on it. Somewhat like how we can no longer live without our phones. A life that cannot be sustained without the metaverse. Perhaps that's where we're heading."
|An avatar of a Korea Times reporter bumps into a talkative bot inside the virtual online gallery of Crazy Multiply'sexhibition, Aug. 22. / Courtesy of Crazy Multiply|
The Crazy Multiply team expressed interest in returning to small-scale, more frequent, community based events, depending on how social distancing measures play out. "Preferably in-person but online as well!" they added. "For now though, we'll be laying low. We've been working hard over the years and through the pandemic, so giving ourselves some rest is priority. However in the future, further exploring the use of the internet as an event and exhibition space is something we would definitely consider."
Visit dotgif.kr to jump into Crazy Multiply's online virtual exhibition, or Instagram @crazymultiply for more information. The event closes on Sept. 15.