A 20-year ‘art project’: Drew Hemment’s journey through digital art and innovation with FutureEverything leads him to Singapore
The FutureEverything festival began 20 years ago in Manchester as a hub for digital collaboration and innovation in the arts. This September, the festival lands in ‘the city of the future’, Singapore, ready to blow minds and challenge perceptions of digital art. FutureEverything CEO, Drew Hemment, discusses the implications of our ever-expanding digital culture surrounding the arts.
How did you find your way into digital art and what led you to transition to focus more on curating it in a large festival setting?
I came across Internet art in the early 1990s, when I spoke at and helped organise the Virtual Futures conferences. Before that in the 1980s I got fascinated by networks when I was DJing and organising acid house parties. I set up the festival in 1995. I’d hung up the decks in ‘92 and in ‘95 I ditched the literary agent and book deal and threw myself into festival curation full time.
This was an incredibly creative moment but there was nowhere people could come together. I wanted there to be an event that was about new work and practice as well as ideas. In secret, the festival itself has always been an art project to me, or at least an arts enquiry.
It seems to me that digital art is a lot more accessible for members of the 21st century public than more traditional or current experimental art forms. What is it about digital art that makes it more accessible and do you think its accessibility promotes or encourages accessibility in other artistic mediums?
Accessibility is a good thing, but it can also be a ruse. Many digital artists working today consume and replay interaction forms and images that saturate our lives, through advertising, social media etc. So digital art can be instantly familiar and accessible, in the same way pop art was before it. Any sense of a single ‘thing’ called digital art is decisively over. I am mostly interested in art, and design, which asks questions about the underlying codes that makes changes, leaving the world and the audience different to how it found them.
How do you focus on encouraging digital art and culture that creates a ‘moment’ or ‘event’ in a digital world that allows for instant access to a variety of archived artistic material and ideas? In other words, how can one innovate artistically and digitally in a world that uses technology to access an infinite amount of ideas and artistic endeavours?
We can access everything instantly; it is at our finger tips. This can create a challenge, however, because we have this overabundance of content and connectivity, people need to meet face to face. We need to focus really hard on one thing that is amazing and profound. We’ve seen music gigs explode because people need the live experience to give meaning to streaming and downloads. It’s the same in art, and ideas events, it’s a symptom of our time.
How important do you think artistic collaboration between individuals is in digital art and culture?
Collaboration, sharing and openness are central to the DNA of digital culture. People can collaborate with tens or thousands of strangers across networks to create original and beautiful media objects in which the results of individual creativity can be seen. Mobile networks enable swift and spontaneous collaboration across loosely connected groups. There are always new ways to collaborate with people from other disciplines using them as tools for new development. Having said this, collaboration does not always lead to good art. Solo practice and isolation can create exceptional things.
How has the FutureEverything festival developed since its conception to the upcoming festival in Singapore? Are you witnessing significant changes in the way technology is being used in collaboration with art?
FutureEverything Singapore does feel like something of a culmination of our journey. We have been on this 20 year rollercoaster, imagining the near future, making it and mucking around with it. Then we rock up in this city that is a city of the future, in so many ways. We have never done two festivals the same, we keep on reinventing it. In Singapore my ambition is that we hit the mark, we tap into deep and unexpected currents there and I feel like we can do something beautiful and profound.