Art electronica

Art is being embraced by the digital form, and Tammam Azzam’s electronic offerings are just one example of the clash between classical and modern

In an era in which we stream music online rather than purchase physical records, and books are read on electronic devices rather than paper, it makes sense that art should next make the migration to the technology-heavy, digital realm. After all, thanks to Google’s Street View technology it’s now possible to stroll around famous art galleries thousands of miles away from the comfort of home. And when Dubai-based artist Tammam Azzam’s Freedom Graffiti went viral - a piece which transposed Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss onto a war torn Syrian building - it appeared not to matter that he had created it all on his computer. There is no actual pockmarked structure boasting a Klimt in Syria.

Meanwhile in Dubai this week, a major exhibition of light installations opens at a gallery more used to fine art. LED and neon works in Arabic script will light up walls shorn of canvasses. Night Light, at Cuadro Gallery, is part of the 20th International Symposium On Electronic Art which, after visiting Australia, the United States and Turkey in recent years, comes to the UAE for the first time today. The idea is to provide a platform for local and international artists in the fields of electronic art, science and technology.

Anne Spalter
Anne Spalter's video, 'Sky of Dubai', video, is shot using original footage from a helicopter over Dubai, developing a patterned composition that explore the concept of the 'modern landscape' and merges Eastern and Western compositional strategiesImage: Anne Spalter

“There is a growing interest in those fields,” agrees Professor Reyadh Almehaideb, Vice President of Zayed University, which is hosting the symposium. “ISEA2014 will provide a unique opportunity to connect audiences and artists from the Middle East with the international art community, meeting in galleries, universities, shopping malls, and public parks across Dubai.”

Such connections are crucial to the burgeoning digital art world, where the amount of content available is akin to the early days of mp3s - when any tech-savvy band could theoretically put their music into the public domain. The trick for listeners was finding the good stuff. It’s no coincidence that this week, raised $1.9m in funding from New York investors to broaden their start-up idea: to be a place from which digital artists can sell their work to the public in limited numbers. When you choose a piece, you can then specify the size you want it in to fit your requirements: the smaller it is, the less you pay. It’s a brilliantly simple idea - and it began as a tumblr blog.

ISEA, then, helps bring technology and art together - and when even some of the more academic seminars have intriguing titles such as “Locating East West Robot Culture”, it would seem there’s genuinely exciting work in the places where the two disciplines collide. One of the public discussions is how cities can learn from artistic practice when they plan their future developments, so the conclusion is clear: electronic art isn’t another internet-based fad. It will end up shaping our world.

ISEA 2014 runs from 30 October to 8 November across Dubai.