Interview with Rene G. Cepeda: Curator of Media Arts at the New Media Caucus
I was recently able to interview Rene G. Cepeda who is curator of media arts at the New Media Caucus on the Header/Footer Gallery. The gallery exists in an online space which I found really interesting as I haven’t come across many purely online galleries. You can read below about the gallery and the work, background and experiences of Rene G. Cepeda.
What is your background ?
I am a new media art curator specializing in interactive art. I have a bachelor’s degree in information design, a master’s degree in museum studies and another master’s degree in art history and conservation, as well as a doctorate in conservation and interactive new media art presentation. I am also a teacher and researcher.
What is your job exactly ?
As the first official curator of the gallery, I also function in a way as its director. I’ve been busy creating a code of ethics, an exhibition policy, outreach programs, a podcast, and the more traditional curatorial tasks that include artist research, artwork selection, research, curating exhibitions (we do 3-4 exhibitions a year), designing exhibitions alongside guest artists and curators, and maintaining and archiving past exhibitions to create a curatorial memory of the gallery’s work .
What are the advantages of an online museum space?
I think the biggest advantage we have is the total freedom of space; given enough time and resources, online museum spaces are incredibly flexible.
Not being tied to the laws of physics is another benefit as it opens up a lot of design space for creative curation, like the ability to get incredibly close to the artwork and manipulate it. We are also able to create longer experiences as visitors can stop and resume at their leisure.
Online exhibits 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 a wider audience and can be much richer in metadata, allowing us to go beyond the gallery itself with a single click.
What are the negative points of an online museum space?
As liberating as online spaces can be, there are things they are simply not made for. Interactive physical objects, for example, are generally not usable unless we create a virtual substitute and even then the experience may be limited. The lack of physical space also diminishes exhibits in some eyes because it is not housed in a “real museum” or “real gallery”.
A misconception that I think a lot of museum professionals have is this idea that online exhibitions are cheap or easy to organize when in fact a proper online exhibition can take as many resources as a successful exhibition ; it all depends on how much technology you want to implement.
In some ways, online museum spaces can use as many resources as creating an entire video game. But the biggest downside for me is the lack of physical space to play with and create interesting solutions for displaying digital born objects in a physical space that has very demarcated cultural norms in terms of how we engage with it.
Who is your target audience as a site?
I never liked this question, only because ideally I’d like everyone to be my audience. But from a more practical perspective, being the literal header of the New Media Caucus web page, most of our audience comes from a fairly academic and/or artistic background, undergraduate students whose faculty recommended that they join the caucus for the many benefits it offers, to scholars interested in our symposium, to artists seeking funding and connections in the field.
However, I have tried to grow our audience through our podcast by promoting it on social media as a way to attract more people to the exhibits who otherwise wouldn’t even know we existed.
What was your favorite exhibition to work on?
Era de Fractura/Age of Fracture was a very interesting exhibition because I did it alongside a group of Mexican artists, and so we decided that everything would be in Spanish first and English second, including the podcast. This was done with the intention of both acknowledging the artists’ mother tongue but also making it accessible to their families, which is not usually done in English-speaking spaces. But on top of 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 exhibit option?
If it’s done with full commitment, yes, otherwise it might be better not to do it at all. Ideally, I would like each exhibit to have an online version that allows people everywhere to experience the exhibit remotely.
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