On ‘Digital Platforms’ by Dominic Smith

Over the last month as part of my work on CORNERS I have witnessed the development of an incredible body of collaborative artwork. I’ve seen the first iteration of a number of pieces as I visited Stockholm and the Stockholm County municipality of Haninge. I also discussed concepts and ambitions with project leaders during a trip to Donostia / San Sebaistan. I am working on this project thanks to Isis Arts who asked me to work with them to develop a ‘Digital Extension’ for Corners (With the amazing support of our friends at Sourcefabric).

I want to collect my thoughts in this post regarding the term ‘Platform’. To be more specific, what we mean by ‘Digital Platform’, expressing a bit of ‘Platform Fatigue’ and revealing some of my thought processes when developing the Corners Digital Extension.

The first question I ask when people talk to me about needing a ‘Digital Platform’ is “do you mean a website?” The answer is often yes, at which point I introduce them to some very skilled and arts friendly web developers I know. The team at Isis Arts have a wealth of experience in a number of creative fields, all of which intersect perfectly over the terms Digital and Art. When I began working with them I asked the question “do you want a website?” They said “no”.  This was music to my ears.

Through meetings with The Isis Arts team and the wider Corners diaspora it is becoming apparent that we have a real opportunity to build a set of digital tools and a framework on which artwork can thrive.

To start with, let’s ditch the term platform. What we are building is an extension, or even an expansion in the classic Youngblood sense. It intrinsically behaves as Intermedia, fusing the offline Corners practices with network ready media. The extension does not exist to document the artwork. It is both an online repository for Art in the same way as a gallery could be classed as an ‘offline’ repository for art and a set of tools that enable networked interaction with Art. This is a modular programming approach that separates the functionality of the platform into a number of independent interchangeable modules.

This framework makes it possible to configure, and reconfigure a number of versions of the extension that can respond to a range of circumstances including a traditional gallery space, a broadcast environment i.e. radio and television, and exist within the intimate context of a web browser (Ceci n’est pas une site Web!). This framework also makes it possible to address another concern I have with the static nature of ‘Digital Platforms’. Despite the fact that many existing platforms offer a wealth of media experiences, they are largely discrete and unchanging, you click play and Sisyphus rolls his boulder back to the top of the steep hill. Again. There is no real sense of liveness, continuity or shared experience and to use digital technology to recreate what is essentially early cinema is absurd. The Corners Extension aims to include many possibilities for continuos networked engagement in which the audience can become a participant in the creation of countless, iterative engagements with the artists working practice.

I think I’ll leave it at that for now. The platform is close, but we’ll launch it in few weeks. I will post more then, when I can illustrate my point better and name some names.