This week’s Web Artist of the Week is not an artist, but a gallerist and curator, as we zoom out to feature the arts professionals working to expand the spaces and visibility of new media and digital art.
Julia Greenway is part of a slowly growing global movement of people dedicating physical galleries to new media art. Shows featuring new media are now fairly commonplace but gallerists deciding to focus on it exclusively are still relatively rare. Greenway’s Seattle gallery Interstitial stands as the sole permanent beacon of new media in a city that has been surprisingly slow to embrace that discipline, despite its status as a corporate tech epicenter.
Greenway has made good progress in bringing Seattle’s exploding tech and traditional art scenes a little closer together. Her programming has been bold, adventurous, and eclectic but she is always careful to be inclusive of a wider, less digitally inclined, audience. Greenway will rightly find herself at the forefront of an inevitable, dramatic shift in the wider embrace of new media art, both in Seattle and the wider art world.
I spoke to Greenway about what new media art means to her and the unique challenges of running a gallery dedicated to it.
Julia Greenway. All photos: Joe Freeman
Christian Petersen: What was your first experience of digital or new media art?
Julia Greenway: I was taking an intro to sculpture class my freshman year of undergrad and our professor screened the first Cycle of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster. Life changing.
CP: What is the history of your association with creative arts?
JG: I have a BFA in painting. Painting is a complicated medium and I have a lot of opinions about it. Ultimately, there was a point in my practice where I felt constricted by the medium. I was never fulfilled in making art; I was more excited by the conversation that visual mediums present. When I moved to Seattle I knew that the method in which I approached my practice needed to change.
Kira Burge and Julia Bruk founded Interstitial (formerly Interstitial Theatre) in September 2010 after noticing that Seattle had no dedicated exhibition spaces for new media art. They had a call out for an associate curator and I applied for it. We had access to a large warehouse space and began working collaboratively to develop one-night events and exhibitions. I was excited about video art and I was eager to find exhibition outlets and methods of engagement for the medium.
My curatorial practice was built out of the necessity to represent time-based mediums in Seattle, because no one was doing that. At the time, local artists did not have exhibition outlets for their work and our arts community didn’t really know how to engage with video art; it was clear that there was a void to be filled.
In the end, I have fallen in love with curating and facilitating space for artists.
Hannah Patterson, Wish You Were Her
CP: What inspired the decisions to open a gallery dedicated to new media art in Seattle?
JG: Opening a gallery has been the hardest and most rewarding work I have ever done. In January 2015, Interstitial began leasing gallery space in the Hamilton Arts Building in Georgetown, Seattle, where we began a series of monthly exhibitions.
Prior to opening the gallery space, From 2012 through 2014, Interstitial functioned as a curatorial project, popping up at various established venues within the region, including the Seattle Art Museum, Bumbershoot Festival, SOIL Gallery, LxWxH Gallery, Fred Wildlife Refuge, the Henry Art Gallery, Northwest Film Forum, and the Seattle Storefronts Project, and others.
The decision to open the Georgetown gallery was in an effort to develop consistent programming. I wanted to build my personal curatorial practice, the impact that Interstitial had as an organization, and to provide an outlet in the Seattle community where patrons could have an immersive art experience. My goals have always been to create exhibitions unlike anything I was seeing within my direct, local community.
Sam Vernon, Rage Wave
CP: How would you describe your gallery?
JG: Formally, Interstitial functions as space between the studio and the commercial gallery for artists to explore ideas related to the creation and consumption of digital media.
That is our mission statement and I am constantly holding our programming within that mission. Most importantly, I feel that Interstitial is a platform for conversation. I provide an outlet for artists to build exhibitions that challenge our community and create space for a critical discourse in how we experience our world.
Our recent programming has focused more on exploring the barriers of race and sexuality in new media. This new programming includes most recently work by Sam Vernon, a New York-based artist. Vernon used the gallery space to explore themes of body, labor, domestication, and the boundaries between public and private, responding directly to the cultural history and built environment of Georgetown.
The exhibition also provided an occasion to reflect on issues of racial profiling and police violence. Rage Wave was basically a platform that we asked artists and people within the community to respond. The gallery hosted "Our Present Hauntology: Poetic Responses to Sam Vernon's Rage Wave” facilitated by Natalie Martinez, with readings from poets Aaron Reader, Fernando Pérez, Catron Booker (recorded in Oaxaca, Mexico), and Joy Okot-Okidi. Each presented original poetry inspired by the exhibition, connecting it to broader themes of social justice and the lived experience of oppression.
Rage Wave is great example of how I currently define Interstitial and is a platform that I hope to continue to build upon.
Adam Ferriss, Unsupervised Learning
CP: New Media is quite a vague term—how would you personally define it?
JG: It is, yes. I have actually made a point to stop using it as a term to define my practice and the artists that I work with.
I had previously defined “New Media” as exactly that: a new or contemporary medium being used by artists. That definition is problematic though, because how do we define what is “new”? I don’t want to define all the beginnings and ending of the various art movements in this context, I just feel that “new media” is one of those terms that we have all been tossing around with no real definition as to what it actually is. I refer to the work that I exhibition as time-based, tech-based, or digital. Additionally, the medium of installation provides dimensions to the exhibited artwork, including but not limited to duration, materiality, tactile response, spatial orientation, and social engagement.
CP: Despite its large tech presence the new media art scene has been slow to grow in Seattle, why do you think that is?
JG: Pfffttt, I don’t know honestly.
Juequian Fang, Orchids That Look Good in Bad Lighting
CP: What specific challenges are there to showing this kind of work compared to a traditional art gallery?
JG: I am sure my perspective on this question is biased as I started my curatorial career focused exclusively on time-based media and installation. I have a background as a visual artist and exhibition preparator, and I have always worked in close collaboration with artists on the presentation of their work. Every exhibition at Interstitial is individually designed and constructed along the lines of this collaborative relationship. Special attention is paid to utilizing the unique spatial and lighting characteristics of the gallery space, essentially giving the artist and myself another medium to work with.
I am not only working with the artist to develop the best execution of their work, but I strive to make my very small 800-square-foot gallery look and feel different between each exhibition. That process is a challenge, sure, but it is the element of my practice that I enjoy the most. I curate installations; my process and objective are not about commercialization or the individual object, it is about providing an experience. By making that choice, Interstitial functions as an institution rather than a commercial or traditional gallery.
Coley Mixan, SYNKRHA Pies & Patries, Bumbershoot 2016
CP: How do you generally fund your shows?
JG: Interstitial is a fiscally sponsored nonprofit through the Washington State organization Shunpike. We raise funds to support our programming through granting options and donor contributions.
CP: Can you talk a little about your curatorial process, how do you go about choosing artists for your gallery?
JG: I mean, I spend a lot of time on the internet. Like any curator, I find artists through various forms of research and network-building.
In 2016, I undertook a month-long term of research and network-building in Shanghai and Hong Kong through the The New Foundation Seattle as part of The New Fellows program. This trip was crucial in expanding my professional network and increasing the scale of my curated exhibitions.
I work to build my programming within a conceptual framework. Currently, I am interested in working to further define and broaden a movement known as “post-internet” art. Established through online galleries, and conversations by artist-curators such as Marisa Olson, Gene McHugh, and Artie Vierkant, this term refers to the internet’s broad and continuing impact on culture and aesthetics. I have been spending time learning and researching about this movement so that I can develop a season of programming that can provide a critical platform in defining “post-internet.”
I am looking for artists that can relate to each other, that can use the gallery in vastly different ways, and most importantly, artists that are coming from varied social and cultural backgrounds.
Mario Lefama, last_resort
CP: New media and digital art are, currently, notoriously hard to monetize. Does that affect your practice as a gallerist?
JG: I haven’t made much of an effort in monetizing digital art. There was a point where I was interested in that, but ultimately, my curatorial interests were in creating an art experience.
I have worked really hard to create an accessible platform for patrons to engage with experimental and tech-based mediums. It is my goal that these experiences reflect the climate of our culture in a critical way. I am hopeful that my programming allows gallery patrons to think differently about how they move through the world, interact with technology, or question the ways in which we define each other and ourselves as individuals.
It is possible that a lot of the installations I have curated could go into a collection, absolutely. Either way, the hustle is real: either you are working to build a collector base or you are striving to gain donor support and smoothing over institutions to invest in your weird ephemeral art experiences.
When it comes to tech-based mediums, there is still a lot of education and awareness building that needs to happen. I play just as big a role in that even if I am not offering a monetary experience. I believe that it is important to move the medium forward within contemporary art in all the ways that we can.
We are already seeing institutions that have committed new media collections and curators. I am also confident that there will be a new generation of collectors that will readily embrace tech mediums within their personal collections. It is going to take time and I intend to continue to advocate, research, and explore how tech-based mediums can exist and be sustained within the art world.
Nat Evans, Mutual Therapy
CP: Are there any artists that you’d particularly love to work with in the future?
JG: Yes of course, absolutely. I am doing a lot of research at the moment to narrow down who those artists are.
I am very excited for Interstitial’s upcoming exhibition by Jennifer Mehigan opening on November 14, 2016. Entitled Watch Yourself Rot, the exhibition examines the aesthetics of excess, overkill, queer femme desire, and unrealized teen goth fantasies. It’s gonna be wild.
Jennifer Mehigan, Watch Yourself Rot
We run an online magazine, so of course, we're interested in what's happening with art on the web. We invited online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, to write a bi-monthly column for us. Every other Wednesday he selects a Web Artist of the Week.
(Image at top: Lu Yang, Delusional Mandala. All photos: Joe Freeman)