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The Pure and the Impure in Cyberspace

by William Hunt

Jurying slides for the Virtual Ceramics Exhibition brought to mind the title of this article, because the so-called virtual quality of this "exhibition" offers both polarities. Viewers and jurors surely must wonder about the unique opportunities of this show (and please forgive my impure thoughts): to exhibit even very old work already sold and gone from its maker's control, to exhibit work with only one side worth viewing (cracks out of sight, ugly views to the back), to show work aided by epoxy or with the value of fine detail reduced to meaninglessness. On the other hand, works are completely removed from the stream of commerce-you can't sell digital clay-so price has no impact whatsoever on this show; art or craft purists will be pleased by that. Since slides minimize scale, small pieces have a fine chance to impress a juror even when pitted against massive works. That should please the purveyors of "small is beautiful." So, immediately, everyone can see that virtual ceramics present both pure and impure opportunities, a new playing field, when compared to "real ceramics."

But clay translated to other media is nothing new. Magazines translate slides and photos of ceramics into halftone dots on paper; nearly all clay exhibitions are juried from slides. Most of our knowledge of the field of ceramics comes to us through these translations rather than touring from show to show, studio to studio seeing actual ceramics. In many respects, cyberspace is just another translation.

So what is the value of an exhibition that pits a photographic abstraction of one poorly detailed side of a ceramic work against another photographic abstraction of one poorly detailed side of another ceramic work? Well, it is both pure and impure. More importantly, it's different than a show of actual ceramics. But in its primitive newness, virtual ceramics does offer some (almost) pure opportunities. First, there is the convenience of viewing megs. of ceramics in the quiet of your own home or studio. Don't forget longevity-why this might be the longest-running show in clay history-sort of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" of ceramics. The obvious one is distribution: potentially very broad and very inexpensive indeed, if you discount the cost of all those computers. Exhibition-goers probably would have bought those anyway...sooner or later. I doubt anyone bought a computer just to see this show! But don't forget that the Third World remains cut out of viewing this exhibition like most of the other kinds of exhibition presentations-this show is for technologically advanced societies only. So on the impure side, this Virtual Ceramics Exhibition is neither broadly distributed enough, nor inexpensive enough to include all the world. Maybe someday?

Will the dealers be looking in? Will they offer fame and fortune in the roadside galleries on the "information superhighway"? It's doubtful. I never met a dealer who knew how to do more than word processing, a spreadsheet (without macros) or a nonrelational database-enough to control a simplistic gallery business. Gallery assistants or consultants do most of their computer work. Dealers don't seem to get on line much-too busy using the phone, I guess. What do those dealers do all day? You'd think they'd have lots of time to log on and surf when things are slow (and they've been really slow some places lately). Maybe the next generation of dealers will go really digital.

So what does it all mean? Not that much really, provided you think the Wright brothers' first flight wasn't that important. After all, it wasn't particularly practical; no mail was carried, no fares collected. But it did herald the end of one age and the beginning of another, and it proved a point. This show does both of those things, too. If you're smart enough to foresee what that means, there is a world of opportunity ahead for you. If you think it's just a parlor trick or a fluke, guess again. Ceramics are in cyberspace to stay.

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