Hugo Michell Gallery worked with Jumpgate VR to make their latest exhibition of emerging artists available to all in the digital realm.
See Hugo Michell Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘New Collectors’ in virtual reality
SPECIAL REPORT: COVID-19 ADELAIDE
On the afternoon CityMag visits Hugo Michell Gallery, in the final days of March, the eponymous gallery owner, Hugo Michell, has made it through the initial phases of COVID-related uncertainty and has landed on a new sense of determination.
“We’re pushing on now. It was a couple of weeks where we were like, ‘What do we do now?’ Now, it’s like, keep on going, you know?” the gallery owner says.
New Collectors at Hugo Michell Gallery
260 Portrush Road, Beulah Park 5067
Showing ’til 5 June
See the virtual exhibition here.
Amy Joy Watson & Andy Nowell
For Hugo, this means finding a way to let people see the gallery’s latest exhibition, New Collectors, while still abiding by the government’s requirements on social gatherings.
Even amidst the most stringent restrictions, the gallery is able to operate on a by-appointment basis, but cannot be open for walk-ins. A significant portion of the gallery’s visitation also comes from interstate visitors, who will presumably not be crossing the border into South Australia for at least the next couple of months.
“A lot of people come and visit this gallery,” Hugo says.
“We have lots of arts students, we have the little old lady that lives down the road, we have the interstate people come over and they’re like, ‘Right, we’re going to see some galleries.’ So, people want to see art.
“And as much as we are a commercial gallery, we really encourage people to come in and just look and enjoy art, so very much like a museum.”
In order to make the space accessible to its usual clientele, Hugo hatched a plan with Andy Nowell, an exhibiting artist in New Collectors, to bring the gallery into the online realm through virtual reality.
As of last Thursday afternoon, with the aid of the skills and expertise of Jumpgate VR, the Hugo Michell Gallery space is now browsable via Jumpgate’s website.
Jumpgate is not new to the art world. The tech firm worked alongside Closer Productions to help create Trent Parke and Narelle Autio’s much-lauded VR work, The Summation of Force, among many other projects.
For founder Anton Andreacchio, the most effective way to marry virtual reality technology with the art world is to not lead with the tech.
“So much of the competition in the tech space is about the sale, rather than the experimentation of the medium,” Anton says.
“So we do a lot of work with Australian Dance Theatre and the Australian String Quartet, et cetera, but contemporary art is grappling with modern times using modern modes as well.
“Our approach [here] was not to get ahead of ourselves. It’s about the installation and the gallery – not the tech.”
While the global pandemic was, of course, a major contributor to this evolution of the gallery, Hugo says New Collectors was the perfect installation to use as a test case.
Not only was it unthinkable to cancel the exhibition – eight artists from around Australia have each contributed a substantial amount of work to the exhibition – but the concept behind New Collectors is affordable pieces ($650—$3,300) aimed at buyers looking to start their collection.
“[It] was just perfect timing, that this show was the show that came when this pandemic happened, because I don’t think people are really ready to spend thirty grand in this market,” Hugo says.
“It’s also a really fun show… Everything’s really hangable, and it’s priced accordingly, and so I think it’s a really nice show for COVID-19 timing.”
The digitisation of the gallery was also an opportunity to add to the space’s usual experience.
It would be rare to be able to hear from an exhibiting artist about their work unless you happened to drop in on opening night. The majority of the artists exhibiting in New Collectors have also submitted a short video introducing their practice and the artworks in the exhibition. When positioned in front of an artist’s work, an ellipsis in a speech box, when clicked, will bring down the video and details of the artwork.
“There’s so much potential. You could have CVs connected to it, and just a straight image as well,” Hugo says.
“We’re trying to see what else we can do instead. Things you wouldn’t normally get in real life, we can bring into the digital domain,” Anton says.
During CityMag’s visit to the studio, Hugo and Anton met to explore some of these possibilities, as well as map out how people will be able to virtually move through the space.
Whilst the virtual exhibition has now launched, Anton says there will be further iterations to the concept.
There are no plans as yet to try to bring the exhibition opening experience online – “We could have a Zoom opening,” Hugo laughs – but the concept of a virtual exhibition is one that Hugo says will survive beyond the pandemic.
“I don’t think this will be something that people do through his pandemic and then it disappears,” he says.
“I think it’ll happen – it’s happening overseas now, and it’s just going to happen more and more.
“It’s interesting for posterity as well,” Anton adds. “You’re capturing the show. You’ve now got a reference of that.”