Digital Bodies
Notes on the transition from the digital to the physical and back again
It’s good practice to have the title reflect the contents in some way. So the title “Digital Bodies” and more specifically the subtitle “Notes on the transition from the digital to the physical (and back again)” are chosen to say something about what is to be shown, and perhaps more importantly, why the shown is chosen. In this piece, we’ll briefly note our artistic/philosophical premises, go on to digital art in the context of the mainstream, then on to describe how the chosen artists/works fittingly represent our theoretical framework.
“The digital” in digital art as model for “the spirit” in art, or the idea-phrase
In “Digital Bodies”, we wish to trace the passage from the digital to the physical. The “and back again” is added because the passage we’re talking about is not one-way. In the works we plan to show in “Digital Bodies”  the digital feeds the physical, the physical feeds the digital. This, of course, is a metaphor for the the passage from “the idea” to “the implementation”, which is itself an abstraction of the passage from the idea-phrase of a work (not just art) to the physical action taken in the world. Including, again, the passage back. It’s a feed-back loop. So, in presenting the “Digital Bodies” we hope to add to the metaphor of the spirit/body dualism. Namely, that the passage that any work (of art)  takes from its conception to the stage in which it is considered an object within its context, is similar to the passage from the digital conception of the presented works to the physical presence of these works in the art gallery.
The digital as a model of the cultural
So why do we see ”Digital Bodies” as an important metaphor?  The digital stands for the world of the digital machine, a world that -- albeit unwittingly -- reflects our own cultural world in so many ways. Especially if culture is seen primarily as a linguistic system. An example can be found  in computer programming:  the programming languages used, the objects initiated by these languages, services and facilities that the initiated objects may refer to leading down to the hardware, all these are modeled by the outside world we made and are making still. And how could it be otherwise? There is no other model than our own.
We see the digital as a viable model of the cultural because the digital is evidentially man-made, whereas the cultural - that is the inter-related system of cultural institutions - is mostly taken for granted, as perhaps it should be to a certain extent. In the art world, the model of the digital would relate to the system of museums, collectors, art galleries and artists (not being exhaustive here). The art object, seen from the vantage-point of the art system, is a part of the art system -- a relationship, rather than an isolated object. The art object gains, and gathers, recognition in and through the web of relationships. The art system contextualizes the art object, but again, this is not a one-way passage. The art object of course plays a crucial part in the objectification of the art system.
The importance of the digital in everyday life
On another level, the digital has an ever-increasing impact on our day-to-day life. Our personal interactions, through email, instant messaging, cellphones, and perhaps more importantly our collective interactions through database systems of all sorts, including surveillance and corporate knowledge systems. Yet the impact the digital has in the mainstream art world is still marginal. De digital has yet to find its way to the physical world of art objects.
Experiencing digital art in the art gallery
One of the barriers we see is the distance imposed between the viewer and the work through the computer screen. The screen is just a medium, turned off, the engaging digital work of a moment ago is just another gadget. Most digital works are to be viewed exclusively within the digital sphere, a fact that inhibits a mainstream, object-oriented (programmers, forgive me the pun) experience of art. Of course, the same goes for most video art. Here also the TV box is to be seen as a “container” for the art to a far greater extent  than an abstract painting “contains” content. The visual properties of the box present the universe of industrial design, yet in the art gallery, it is presented within the same contextual space as a classical art object. This conflict we hope to resolve somewhat in “Digital Bodies”.
Tables, chairs, fire escapes and other trappings of the exhibition space
Of course the problem sketched here could be carried further if one were to mention other elements of the exhibition space that do not belong to the art world universe. One might argue that any part of the exhibition space interior that is not explicitly labeled “art” might trigger a feeling of incompatibility. Any art incorporating ready-mades can be readily misunderstood. Isn’t the viewer simply expected to know when an object is an art work and when not? Perhaps the answer lies in the way the art object is presented within the space -- the diction of the space. So is this a real problem or do we know what is intended by the way the objects are ordered in space?
Contextualizing digital art
The classical medium of the art gallery or museum seems unnecessary for most digital art -- especially if this could also be propagated and experienced through the internet. Does digital art not need the art gallery context? Here again, the video art can be seen as a model. A video art work may also be experienced through a television channel, but it is then experienced in a television universe, which enforces different rules, a different temporality, contextualizes the work in a different way than in the art gallery, and thus changes the experience. So too may a digital work be experienced through the internet, but the internet also imposes its own rules and temporality, and thus presents a universe separate from and incompatible with the universe presented in the art gallery.
This could be seen as an advantage for digital art, but for the mainstream art world, it robs art of a large part of its context. The art institutions are not able to contextualize the digital as they have contextualized the classical art objects. There is simply no physical object to place in the White Cube but for the medium of the work, and most of the time, the medium is not the point. So, digital art and physical art stay separate.
Digital bodies in the gallery space
In “Digital Bodies”, the works are chosen to show the passage, or transition, from the idea to the realization, from the digital to the physical. The works are a physical manifestation of the digital insofar as they objectify the digital in different ways. The sculptural presence of these works is such that they are able to be contextualized by the art gallery in which they are shown.
 Foofwa d’Imbolité uses the avatar metaphor in his choreography, at times quite literally derived from computer programs like Maya. In “Body Toy”, he quite literally plays the (computer) avatar, whose body movements are at times very unlike human movements. Alan Sondheim connects to the avatar theme in very many ways, in his writing, but also in his visual and auditory experiments wherein he prepares his collaboration with Foofwa, Mogens Jacobsens “I Hear Denmark Singing” uses the well-known potato battery to power the computer in the installation. Jan Robert Leegte takes visual elements of the computer user interface to build engaging sculptures in the gallery space. And in Geert Dekkers’ work, the stream of ideas that the thoroughly fictional “ exhibition hall” consists of, has for once taken on physical guise.