Making art online: a new media artist shares her experience

By Stella Botes

Willow Senior is an artist currently studying at John Ruskin School of Fine Art in Oxford. Her work leans towards new media technologies, from photography to website coding to text messages. This summer, she hosted an online exhibition titled ‘You’re Just Tame’, bringing together the work of various artists and collaborators in a novel online exhibition space. We met up with her to talk about what it was like to hold an exhibition online, and what it has taught her about both her artistic practice and life online.

Can you tell us a bit more about ‘You’re Just Tame’ and the inspiration behind it?
‘You’re Just Tame’ is an online art exhibition made up of works in different medias by lots of different people, including myself. I came up with the idea after someone on my art foundation off the cuff told me that I was tame. I spent quite a lot of time thinking about this entirely unnecessary/rather bizarre insult, reflecting on why the person had said it, what they thought about me, what I should have said in the moment… The exhibition is a reaction to that and a sort of cathartic way for me to process my experience and potentially resonate with others.

What draws you to the web/online world as a medium?

What I love about the web as an art medium is that it is a great platform for making art accessible to anyone and everyone really easily. So in a sense, it is quite similar to social media, but with more control over the design of the space. I find that all the social media platforms we use at the moment encourage individuality and yet they’re incredibly limiting. You can only be creative within a structured square box. By coding and designing a website, though I’m confined to a limited space, the design of the site is totally my decision. It enables me to have more creative control over how I express and present both myself and my ideas. It allows me to be creative but be a curator at the same time.

How do you think the art industry, and art audiences, have to catch up (if at all) with the rise of new media art?

I think we are beginning to get caught up. But, there is a common misconception that art that features something to do with new media/ technology will be a about technology rather than anything else. I think because all these techniques are so new it becomes hard to think about anything else because the medium is so impressive or high tech. I went to the Saatchi Gallery’s virtual reality experience the other day called ‘We Live in an Ocean of Air’, an experience where the “invisible connection between plant and human is revealed through breath.” Though they were trying to get us to experience this, I found my concentration leaning more towards the tech behind the experience: the goggles we had to wear, the backpacks, the wrist sensors. So, I think as soon as the public becomes used to these sorts of equipment, the focus will be more on the art than anything else.

Do you think that the online world is a democratising influence for art, or does it give too many opportunities for underpayment, misattribution and wilful copying?

The online world is such a useful tool in terms of promoting yourself and creating greater accessibility for your art. Instagram has become a sort of new, more approachable art market. Around 80% of art buyers under 35 now use Instagram to find new artists. And at art school, we are literally encouraged to make a name for ourselves online – whether that be through making a website, or an Instagram page. But, it is still way too easy for work to get copied and appropriated. Because work is online and available to all, questions of authorship arise. Who owns what? So, I think whilst it allows for less well-known artists to promote themselves, it still isn’t as good or protected as support from a gallery.

How has working in online art changed your own relationship to the online world, and especially social media?

I’ve realised a lot. First, in working with internet art, I’ve realised I don’t have to subscribe to the template format of any social media platform because I can do it my own way on the internet. At the same time though, I have also realised how social media has become a necessary platform for an unknown artist like me to showcase work. Third, it has changed my relationship with social media. Though I was spending a lot of time online, it wasn’t wasted like it usually is – when I deep dive through Instagram. Instead, I had a purpose and was using it productively. So I guess I’ve become more aware now of the countless hours we waste away scrolling and its destructive effects on productivity.

Image via Willow Senior. See ‘You’re Just Tame’ here.

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