Arts

This art show was made for the internet, and it's answering our most burning question: Well Now WTF?

You're invited to opening night. Bring your own bottle...and Zoom background.

You're invited to opening night. Bring your own bottle...and Zoom background

Well Now WTF opens Saturday, April 4. Much like social distancing, the show will go on indefinitely. (Molly Erin McCarthy)

On March 12, New York City declared a state of emergency. The next day, Faith Holland had an idea. "Now is the perfect time to have an online exhibition," says Holland, a multimedia artist and curator based in New York City. "I actually tweeted that," she laughs. "And then I was like, 'Oh! I should do that!'" — which she did, firing up a group chat to recruit co-curators (Lorna Mills and Wade Wallerstein) and, ultimately, some 80+ digital artists who'll be showing at Well Now WTF?

That's the name of the main event, an eclectic exhibition of GIFs and other moving image-based art, which launches with a virtual opening-night mixer on Saturday, April 4. 

Along with Toronto-based Mills, the show boasts a sizeable Canadian contingent. Stacie Ant, Adrienne Crossman, Maya Ben David, Alex McLeod and Nicolas Sassoon are among the names involved. "I think we wanted to cast a kind of wide net of people — people who are old school net artists and people who are up-and-coming," says Holland.

(Stacie Ant)

Saturday, the artists will be present on Zoom. "They're invited to what I'm calling a BYOB — a bring your own background — viewing party," Holland says, and to join the scene, anyone can visit the Well Now WTF? website between 5 and 10 p.m. ET. 

Free crackers and plonk are not provided, sadly, but you can schmooze with anyone and everyone via chat, a function that'll be available as long as the website's running. Nobody knows how long these weird times are going to last, so just like practicing "social distancing," this show's going to go on indefinitely.

Several of the pieces on view address the COVID-19 crisis, says Holland, and that includes one of her works: a glittering GIF with a waterfall motif. The title? "Wash Your Fucking Hands." 

Like the name of the exhibition — or just the concept of partying through a teleconference app — the whole enterprise has an element of pure jokes. "I mean, we don't need any more heaviness right now," she says. "We definitely wanted it to be fun, frankly — fun for the artists, fun for people coming to see it. There are plenty of works that are responding to what's going on right now with COVID, but there aren't any pieces that have a dour tone, really."

But distractions these days are hardly as scarce as toilet paper. Quarantine's seemingly caused a boom in digital content, and insofar as arts and culture is concerned, it seems everyone's scrambled to have an even bigger online presence than before. Museums, private galleries, housebound painters: they're moving collections online, publishing virtual tours, live-streaming lectures and interviews and whatever else they can think of. But while most of that programming is trying to translate some IRL experience for a stay-at-home audience, this exhibition is, to borrow a cheesy corporate buzzword, "digital first."

We definitely wanted it to be fun, frankly — fun for the artists, fun for people coming to see it.- Faith Holland, co-curator of Well Now WTF?

"Everything is being shown precisely as it's meant to be seen. It's not photographs of paintings or anything like that," says Holland. "You're seeing the work in its native form, which I think makes a big difference." 

"I feel really horrible for people who just put up a painting show right now. I mean, it's just unfortunate that you can't experience that in the way that it's really meant to be expressed, which I think is in person and face to face with the work."

"The GIF belongs in the browser," she says. "I do think of that as its native living space."

Certainly, digital exhibitions like this one have existed for ages. The Wrong, arguably the most notable digital-art biennale, just wrapped its fourth edition, she notes. But the timing's still interesting. In the last few weeks, people have become even more extremely online than they were already. And if isolation's making us bigger consumers, and creators, of virtual arts and culture, could there be a rise in programming like this — and a move away from content that tries to bottle the IRL experience?

You're seeing the work in its native form, which I think makes a big difference.- Faith Holland, co-curator of Well Now WTF?

"I'm hoping that this can be kind of instructive, in a way, for people who aren't used to putting work online," says Holland. "They can think through what it means, the specificity of putting work online and creating online experiences that aren't just, you know, photographs of walls." 

"But is that really going to happen? I don't know. I mean, the art world has been resistant to net art and resistant to putting artwork online for as long as it's existed, really."

After Saturday's opening party, look for future programming announcements on the Well Now WTF? website. More events will be announced as the exhibition continues, says Holland, and the plan is to build the site into a bit of a community hub. "Something that I think is really important is creating a space to gather," she says. 

"I think people are eager to go back to their art fairs and go back to their physical galleries — as am I. I am eager to go back to seeing people face to face and putting some art on the walls. But I hope that some people kind of fall in love with putting work online and continue to do it because I think that there is space and reason for both, even without a pandemic going on."

Here's a little preview of some of the GIFs:

(Alex McLeod)
(shawné michaelain holloway)
(Rita Jiménez)
(Yoshi Sodeoka)
(Lilly Handley)
(Wednesday Kim)
(Clusterduck Collective)
(haydiroket)
(Ellen.Gif)

Well Now WTF? Curated by Faith Holland, Lorna Mills, Wade Wallerstein. Opens Saturday, April 4. www.wellnow.wtf

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

About the Author

Leah Collins is the Senior Writer at CBC Arts.

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