Must art have a place? Questioning the power of the digital artscape

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There is an ongoing debate on ‘place’ and where it begins and ends; on the ways that cities exist in both material and immaterial forms, and thereby, how to locate and understand place as an anchoring point amidst global flows (Massey; Merrifield). This debate extends to the global art- scape, as traditional conceptions of art and art-making attached to place require re-thinking in a paradigm where digital and immaterial networks, symbols and forums both complement and complicate the role that place has traditionally played (Luger, “Singaporean ‘Spaces of Hope?”). The digital art-scape has allowed for art-led provocations, transformations and disturbances to traditional institutions and gatekeepers (see Hartley’s “ Communication, Media, and Cultural Studies” concept of ‘gatekeeper’) of the art world, which often served as elite checkpoints and way-stations to artistic prominence. Still, contradictory and paradoxical questions emerge, since art cannot be divorced of place entirely, and ‘place’ often features as a topic, subject, or site of critical expression for art regardless of material or immaterial form. Critical art is at once place-bound and place-less; anchored to sites even as it transcends them completely.

This paper will explore the dualistic tension – and somewhat contradictory relationship – between physical and digital artistic space through the case study of authoritarian Singapore, by focusing on a few examples of art-activists and the way that they have used and manipulated both physical and digital spaces for art-making. These examples draw upon research which took place in Singapore from 2012-2014 and which involved interviews with, and observation of, a selected sample (30) of art-activists (or “artivists”, to use Krischer’s definition). Findings point to a highly co-dependent relationship between physical and digital art places where both offer unique spaces of possibility and limitations. Therefore, place remains essential in art-making, even as digital avenues expand and amplify what critical art-practice can accomplish.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Media and Culture
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


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