Culture Writer Charis Gambon interviews Rene G. Cepeda, Media Art Curator at New Media Caucus, and finds the online museum space to be a challenging but exciting prospect

Written by charisGambon
Images by Charis Gambon

I was recently able to interview Rene G. Cepeda who is the Media Art Curator at New Media Caucus on the Header/Footer Gallery. The gallery exists in an online space which I found truly interesting as I have not come across many purely online galleries. You can read below about the gallery and Rene G. Cepeda’s job, background and experiences.

What is your background?

I am a new media art curator specialised in interactive art. I have a BA in Information Design, an MA in Museum Studies, and another MA in Art History and Curating, and a PhD in curating and display of interactive new media art. I’m also a lecturer and a researcher.

What does your job entail?

As the gallery’s first formal curator I also function in a way as its director.  I have been busy creating a code of ethics, an exhibition policy, outreach programs, a podcast, and the more traditional curatorial tasks which include finding artists, selecting artworks, researching, curating exhibitions (we do 3-4 exhibitions a year), designing exhibitions alongside artists and guest curators, and maintaining and archiving past exhibitions in order to create a curatorial memory of the gallery’s work.

What are the positives of an online museum space?

I think the biggest advantage we have is the utter freedom of space; given enough time and resources, online museum spaces are incredibly flexible.

I think the biggest advantage we have is the utter freedom of space.

Not being tied to the laws of physics is another benefit because it opens a lot of design space for creative curation, such as being able to get incredibly close to the work and manipulate it. We are also able to create longer experiences as visitors can stop and resume at their pleasure.

Online exhibitions are also more accessible in some ways, although you still need a computer and an internet connection, which in some places is still a privilege, but otherwise they reach wider audiences, and can be much richer as metadata, allowing us to extend beyond the gallery itself with just a click.

What are the negatives of an online museum space?

As liberating as online spaces can be, there are things they simply are not made for. Interactive physical objects for example, generally are not usable unless we create a virtual substitute and even then the experience may be limited. The lack of a physical space also diminishes the exhibitions in the eyes of some as its not hosted in a “real museum” or a “real gallery”.

One misconception I think a lot of museum professionals have is this idea that online exhibitions are cheap or easy to curate when in fact, a proper online exhibition can take as many resources as a blockbuster exhibition; it all depends on how much technology you want to implement.

a proper online exhibition can take as many resources as a blockbuster exhibition.

In some ways online museum spaces can use as many resources as creating an entire video game. But the biggest disadvantage for me is the lack of a physical space to play around with and creating interesting solutions to display digital born objects within a physical space that has very delineated cultural norms in terms of how we engage with it.

What is your target audience as a site?

I never liked this question, only because ideally I would like for everyone to be my audience. But from a more practical point of view, being the literal header of the New Media Caucus web page, most of our audience comes from a fairly academic and/or artistic background, from undergrads whose professors have recommended they join the caucus for the many benefits it offers, to academics interested in our symposium, to artists who are looking for funding and connections in the field.

However, I have been trying to expand our audience through our podcast by promoting it on social media as a means of drawing more people into the exhibitions that would not have even known we existed otherwise.

What has been your favourite exhibition to work on?

Era de Fractura/Age of Fracture was a very interesting exhibition as I did it alongside a group of Mexican artists, and so, we decided that everything would be Spanish first and English second, including the podcast. This was done with the intention of both recognising the artists native language but also making it accessible to their families, something that is not usually done in English speaking spaces. But besides that, their work was incredibly interesting and working alongside guest curator Harshini Karunaratne was really fun.

Do you think more places should explore the online exhibition option?

If its done with full commitment, yes, otherwise it may be better to not do it at all. Ideally, I would like every exhibition to have an online version that allows people everywhere to experience the exhibition remotely.

Like this? Read more from Culture Redbrick here!

Hockney’s Eye Review: the Intersection of Art and Technology

West Midlands Police Museum: An Interview with the Manager – Helen Taylor

Exhibition Review: Raphael at the National Gallery