The digital arts are becoming an increasingly important part of our cultural lives. They challenge our senses of space and aesthetics, of meaning and interpretation. The arts have always pushed boundaries and digital arts are no exception. MozFest 2016 led to a partnership between Mozilla and two of the world’s most respected arts institutions, the Tate and the V&A.The result was MozEx, a grand scale digital installation curated by Irini Papadimitriou of the V&A and Luca M Damiani of the Tate.
Both Luca and Irini have been involved in MozFest before, and have participated in Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio and design sprints, but this was their first time as MozFest wranglers and co-designers. They both have an art and technology background and this really inspired the installation.
Luca said: “Irini and I wanted to create an exciting, engaging and collaborative work which demystifies technology and opens up discussions and exchanges. We have similar aims, similar kinds of practice and was a great opportunity to work together, and how better than to do it than with Mozilla?”
Irini explained: “The work Mozilla does has so many aspects — the Internet of Things, web literacy, accessibility, so we were already working around and exploring these areas, working with artists and other professionals. In a way, all these things came together. Part of the work we both do is about cohesion between art and tech, the more bridges you can build and conversations you can start the better.”
Each of the 54 components of the installation examined one or many of the five key issues facing a free and open internet — web literacy, digital inclusion, open innovation, decentralisation, online privacy and security. This meant there was a need for a wide variety of contributors and perspectives, so Irini and Luca issued an open call for people to get involved. This led to a great diversity of submissions from plenty of artists who hadn’t been linked to MozFest before.
“We wanted to attract artists and also coders,” Luca said. “We also got academics, creative technologists; those interested in art, technology, learning, interactive participation, copyright. It’s rare to be able to combine so many different perspectives together in one place. It’s a really dynamic collection of voices and critical thoughts. A combination of writing, photography, video, audio, mix-media, and Twitter bots gives access to so many different audiences who may relate to different kinds of work.”
Because the focus of the work was an exploration of the five key issues, the digital art was spread around the festival venue rather than grouped together in one space. This connected the festival’s thematic elements , such as web literacy to visual culture, and Dilemmas in Connected Spaces to its surroundings. This connectivity between the spaces was highly reflective of the nature of the festival and the open web community.
“All these different aspects can work really well together,” Luca said. “There are pieces in there about human rights, education, privacy… it all feels like one piece, like one web. Not all the same- there are so many facets — but it comes together as a whole.”
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the installation is the way it reflects the nature of the internet. This is best summed up by Irini’s closing comments.
“People are creating in the space. Where does the exhibition end and the visitors begin? MozEx is a living, breathing thing. It’s a liminal space, people don’t need permission to participate. It flows, grows and evolves.”