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Art Dubai 2022

Clara Peh Shares Insight on Curating Art Dubai Digital 2023

Last year, Art Dubai launched its first-ever “Digital” section, sharing a multimedia snapshot of the global digital art landscape with its attendees. It was the first global fair to establish a dedicated digital exhibitor section, welcoming guests to dynamic multimedia presentations at the Madinat Jumeirah. As ambitious as the inaugural presentation was, its second iteration for the fair’s sixteenth edition—on view this week through March 5, alongside other sectors “Contemporary,” “Modern,” and “Bawwaba”—aims to elaborate on the impact of digital art, as well as programs that aided to its success. By building a bridge between art and technology with an array of presentations that utilize immersive technologies, Art Dubai Digital is breaking down the boundaries of traditional art with over 20 new media presentations.

For the 2023 edition of Art Dubai Digital, the Singapore-based educator, arts writer, and founder of NFT Asia, Clara Che Wei Peh, has curated a presentation from six continents that expands its number of participants, media program, digital platforms, and virtual spaces. Alongside artists, artist collectives, DAOs, and brick-and-mortar galleries showing digital works, other entrants are exhibiting presentations on screens, in VR headsets, and through immersive and interactive installations. By joining together the physical and digital spaces that present digital exhibitions, Art Dubai Digital challenges models for artistic production, as well as the support they need to survive and inspire. 

Clara Che Wei Peh x Art Dubai Clara Che Wei Peh, courtesy of Art Dubai.

First-time exhibitors at Art Dubai Digital include a handful of exciting names—including 6529’s “Open Metaverse” project; a presentation by Lian Foundation, established by the collector and Blockchain parton Fiorenzo Manganiello; and UAE First Immersion’s show of crypto art co-presented with MORROW Collective, produced after their first visit to the UAE last November. Included in the show are new works, too, by artists like Kirk Finkel and Raphael Torres, Colborn Bell, Monaris, Bryan Brinkman, and Coldie.

To hear how the curator approached assembling Art Dubai Digital 2023 and what she’s looking forward to seeing and doing in Duabi and the UAE, Whitewall spoke with Wei Peh.

WHITEWALL: Can you tell us a bit about your professional role as an educator and arts writer,  outside of curating this year’s edition of Art Dubai Digital?

CLARA CHE WEI PEH: My core work is in curation, exhibition-making and research, and that naturally brought me into arts writing. In this age of hyper media, we often have a short attention and memory span, but texts and writing can help to extend the public memory of an exhibition and its narratives beyond the date of its physical realization
. Having grown up in Shanghai and Singapore, I also noticed early on that much of the art history I was educated on or reading about was Western centric. So, when I decided to work in the arts, I wanted my work to focus on artists and practices beyond the dominant narrative and contribute to the broadening of our overall perspectives. This also guides my writing. 

With education, I was an Adjunct Lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts in the School of Fine Arts and School of Fashion from 2021 to mid-2022, where I lectured on visual analysis and cultures as well as supervising fine arts students. I had to take a step back from lecturing to focus on my curatorial practice, but I continue to lecture frequently on art on the blockchain. 

WW: Does being based in Singapore impact your approach to art, such as curating this edition of Art Dubai Digital?

CCWP: Being from and based in Singapore, I am naturally focused on and looking at works of the Global South, as much as I am also paying attention to what is happening in the art world in general. With digital and new media art, especially, a lot of artists and platforms that have been recognized in the space have been based in the U.S. and Europe. By being in Singapore, I am able to connect more intimately with institutions and independent artists who are also doing important and challenging work outside of these loci. But I think this awareness can be shared regardless of where I am based. 

Art Dubai. Art Dubai 2022, photo by Cedric Ribeiro for Getty, courtesy of Art Dubai.

WW: What does the second iteration of this presentation offer that the inaugural show didn’t?

CCWP: This second edition builds on top of what the fair achieved last year—the first global fair to have a dedicated digital exhibitor section. We are welcoming new exhibitors to the section, including more ways of presenting and experiencing digital art, and furthering the bridge between the global art world and blockchain-based communities. 

WW: For the “Digital” presentation, a selection of galleries, collectives, and DAOs are exhibiting, alongside a roster of programs. Can you share your highlights (of artists, spaces, digital mediums, etc.)?

CCWP: AKTHR x Aorist is collaborating to present the works of six leading artists and collectives in the digital art space, including Andres Reisinger, Jonad Lund, Ahmed Mater, and TeamLab. Lund’s series, “MVP (Most Valuable Painting)”, consists of 512 individual digital paintings that evolve and transform based on public reception. 

Over in Galloire’s presentation, we also see works such as Daniel Canogar’s “Billow”, which is a sculptural LED screen that depicts abstract animations created with real-time data from Google platforms, including search interests, knowledge graph topics, trending videos, and so on. Lund and Canogar’s works demonstrate how artists are bringing data and digital behaviors into their practice and that are then transposed into artistic realizations. 

Gazelli.io is presenting a solo exhibition of Brendan Dawes, who is creating a new body of work inspired by the Book of Kings, an epic poem written between c. 977 and 1010 CE. This work, alongside Ahmed El Shaer’s “AI Heaven” from Wizara, draws upon cultural heritage and history and demonstrates how digitally-native artists are also using technology to reimagine the past and look into the future. 

Art Dubai. Courtesy of Art Dubai.

WW: The selection is drawn from six continents. Where are you seeing the most growth? 

CCWP: It’s in the fair’s DNA to focus on artists from the Global South and pay more attention to the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, so naturally, I think these are the regions I am learning the most about.  

WW: How are participants developing new models for artistic production through digital art? 

CCWP: When we look at participants like Wizara and Afrofutourism, these are curatorial projects and studios that work more laterally with artists in their networks, rather than representing them in a traditional gallery’s sense. With digital and new media gaining more attention and market interest in recent years, I think it’s opened up more possibilities for ways of supporting digital art that was more difficult to achieve before. You also see this in Morrow Collective’s “UAE First Immersive” presentation, a series of new works produced by leading digital artists after their first visit to the UAE by invitation fo the UAE Embassy in Washington in November 2022. 

WW: What would you say is a key element in digital art evolving into a permanent movement?

CCWP: Throughout history, artists have always been some of the first people to experiment with and adopt new tools as well. It’s also important to consider that digital art has really been around since the 1950s and ‘60s, and what we are seeing now is the culmination of decades of artists, technologists and cultural workers experimenting with and building on art and technology. So I believe that naturally, digital and new media will become an increasingly important part of our cultural fabric. 

Art Dubai 2022 Art Dubai 2022, photo by Cedric Ribeiro for Getty, courtesy of Art Dubai.

WW: Art Dubai was the first art fair to initiate a dedicated digital section. How does that draw attention to Dubai as an international art world hub, and one focused on digital creation?

CCWP: Art Dubai is coming into its sixteenth edition and has been establishing itself as the region’s premier fair through this time. With the opening of the dedicated Digital section, the fair put forward its commitment to chart out a global platform for digital and new media art, and continue its leadership to the newer forms and mediums that are becoming increasingly important in the global art scene. With a dedicated section, I believe it allows the fair to address the unique considerations and learning points around collecting digital art, such as how to display it or where to store it. 

Dubai as a city has always been forward-thinking and agile in its adoption and innovation on new technology, especially with the city announcing its strategy for building out its virtual economy. Within this backdrop, I think Art Dubai highlights just how much innovation and creativity there is around digital and new media in this region, and further cements the ways in which the fair offers refreshing and exciting viewpoints amongst the global fair circuit. 

WW: How will you be spending your time in Dubai when not at Art Dubai?

CCWP: I am really looking forward to visiting different galleries and institutions while I am in town, such as all the openings at Alserkal and throughout the city. I am also hoping to make my way down to the Sharjah Biennale and Louvre Abu Dhabi to get to know more of what is happening around Dubai better!

Art Dubai 2022 Art Dubai 2022, courtesy of Eliza Jordan.

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