Platitudes about time passing too fast often disappear in times of strife. Unless you're Jeff Bezos, you want this disastrous year to end.
But don't let that lull you into a false sense of security. Believing that the worst is over has proven to be downright dangerous, what with city officials putting beach access and brunch ahead of human lives.
Still, some Miami institutions are responsibly attempting to prevent their own disappearance by leaning into the moment. Dimensions Variable's launch of its digital gallery with New York-based artists Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain's Get Well Soon is a good example. Commissioned earlier this year, the piece is more timely than ever.
"The art world is very much about buildings, about bringing people together in person. I feel like there isn’t much of a market or commerce system in place for the ephemeral experience, which is the digital experience," says Dimensions Variable cofounder Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova. "You usually see the digital space being used in conversations promoting something that’s happening in a real location, like an event. Yet, since the '90s, artists have been using the digital space as a very serious medium."
Although art institutions have appeared to have a monopoly on the avant-garde, the reality is that online experiences have become increasingly experimental. Think ten hours of a single person tapping and crinkling various materials is a performative meditation on endurance and the wastefulness of consumerist culture? Nope. It's an ASMR video on YouTube. And while most of us might write this off as simply weird, these emerging spaces are increasingly our only opportunities for safe exploration.
"The art world has kind of missed the boat on a very trail-blazing medium because of these preconceptions of what the interaction with art needs to be," Rodriguez-Casanova says. "In the vacuum of support being put into contemporary artists — because they’re always at the forefront and at the edge of technology and movements — that void has been filled by young YouTubers and influencers and bloggers who sort of stepped into this tech and understood it and just ran with it. All of a sudden, they have millions of followers and are making a name for themselves, completely circumventing the usual gatekeepers of the art world."
But Lavigne reminds us that the internet is far from a democratic space, increasingly dominated as it is by either massive corporations or covert government actors. He tends to think of digital spaces, instead, as an ephemeral landscape of information waiting to be dived into.
"Data already exists in the world. It’s often in a forum that’s harder to understand, but it’s ready for you to take a look at it," Lavigne says. "In this case, Tega and I were really interested in looking at GoFundMe. It’s this place of incredible contradiction. On the one hand, it’s amazing and wonderful that people help each other out and it provides a means and a forum to do that easily. On the other hand, it’s a business that shouldn’t exist. It’s an extension of this commodification of everything."
Brain and Lavigne collected a sliver of that forum with a simple program that sought out the comments on pages raising funds for specific illnesses. According to an article in the Atlantic, one out of every three GoFundMe campaigns are for medical issues. The company claims it has raised $9 billion since its inception in 2010, which pales in comparison to the $88 billion Americans borrowed to pay for medical treatment in 2018 alone.
Yet despite this, the archive that comprises Get Well Soon — an archive that Lavigne emphasizes, again, shouldn't exist — is effusive. Reading through the endless scroll of well-wishes, it's easy to feel the warmth of care and to imagine avalanches of support flooding the needy.
Maybe that's why, in the era of COVID-19 and protest repression, artist Johanna Hedva wrote about the care demonstrated in this work in tandem with revolution: "The world isn’t built to give carefreely and abundantly. It’s trying now, but look how alien a concept this is, how hard it is to make happen? It will take all of us — it will take all of us operating on the principle that if only some of us are well, none of us are. And that’s exactly why it’s revolutionary. Because care demands that we live as though we are all interconnected — which we are — it invalidates the myth of the individual’s autonomy."
For Lavigne, it's that liberatory potential that excites him, even as physical distance is increasingly necessary and digital spaces displace our sense of time.
"That’s what an archive can do. t can show you a scope of a situation, of a state of affairs," Lavigne says. "It’s still up to you to try and do something about that, to try to respond to it. But at the very least, it can reveal some truth."
Get Well Soon is on view via dimensionsvariable.net/get-well-soon.