The Art Exhibition Experience during Covid 19

Are online Galleries, breaking barriers or revealing them?

“Lockdown has forced exhibitions behind the screen, trapped in a 2D world but now accessible 24 hours a day, without travel or cost implications.   Quick exists at a back click button or the freedom to revisit and linger at will, but what of the presentation?  How does the experience for artist and viewer translate as one intended as physical environment to a digital one?

Having personally been prepared to exhibit my exhibition Forest Distribution at the Hive, Worcester from the 20th April, by 7th March I was beginning to feel decidedly edgy, as the pandemic began to reveal its true and lethal potential, doors began to close, visions began to disappear behind shocked and closed eyes, as we began to enter a movie like scenario of a viral, science fiction nightmare.

My exhibition was to include sculpture, physical books and publications, and an element of invitation to explore and locate sites beyond the 3rd Floor balcony of the Hive and it’s public access began to reduce in scale with every government announcement and personal protection decision.   With only a month before showtime we were in total lockdown, with an accepted resignation that this would be for months, not days.  

My practice usually involves a participatory involvement, and the premise of this project was looking for the connections and links with our environment and exploring their fragility; decided at the beginning of last year, the topic has now proved to have collided in its significance with this crisis, in its unforseen timing.   With the Hive still supportive of a socially distanced exhibition in some form, I urgently needed to find a way to translate the project into an onscreen digital format.  Working alone and not a digital artist, approaching this transition brought barriers with software, hardware and my own limited experience in the field.   I built my first website, a complete novice, aided by caffeine and youtube help pages (and no doubt full of flaws) but it captured a part, through photographs, short video and supportive text.   But the offer or a feeling or spirit of the work I found impossible to translate.  The offer of discovery, exploration and revelation, from my artistic intent, for me lay unrealised.

The experience and the extraordinary significance of a site and physical presence of art work, till now I have never truly appreciated, whether inside or out of a gallery, the live experience provides unique and multiple moments of connection.  Our current Covid induced position, where images are flattened behind screens in a viral free ,sterile environment, strips much of what I now consider essential essence of a work.  Whilst able to wander the Tate on screen, while waiting for the kettle to boil, the instinctive interaction as a viewer, to see the actual object that the artist has created, to move with choice around a painting or sculpture and weave your way through a gallery and pause, without need to zoom or touch a screen for instruction, is to remove the mask we are now virtually wearing. 

This isolation has certainly opened the potential for artists to reach wider audiences, reduced the impact on climate from travel and it has inspired a mass escape into virtual art experiences, but I now know that personally, I can’t wait for the freedom to exhibit live work and to personally to get out and experience it.   Some things cannot be translated and certainly cannot be appreciated with a barrier.  

So when it safe, when we regain what we have lost, we will also be free to return with a new consciousness and awareness, to travel with climate consideration, to share lifts or use public transport but do go to the galleries, say yes to exhibitions that you may not even have considered before, find your viewing point, wander and ponder as you add the sound of footsteps, the background voices and interpretations of other, see the shadow move or watch wind and rain alter the surface of a sculpture,  acknowledge that waft of coffee from the café and allow your senses to reawaken, those starved blocked and sterilised by the digital screen.  These moment create our unique experience with art,  the direct connection with the artist through the object and its environment, unrepeatable and unpredictable, because of your physical presence. “

Forest Distribution is accessible online at 

Other digital art projects from 2nd Year Fine Art Students at University of Worcester are also available at:

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