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Background and Acknowledgements

This book is initiated with intentions of contributing insight and reflection on how contemporary art is changing in the era of the digital. It embraces an expanded field of
contemporary art, one that evolves not only within the confines of the domain of fine art, but also in synergies with other domains that, with the digital, are brought into closer proximity to art, and which might bring the art into closer encounters with society and its evolution. As we are still in an early phase of cultural and societal change with the digital, we are equally at a very early – though critical – stage of seeking out how the digital announces new roads for art’s enquiry and role in society, which is the main objective of the book’s investigation. I would like to first of all thank all the close to 100 participants of this book project – artists, curators, authors and assistants – for sharing your thinking and time to make the book happen.

This book did not come about swiftly. It has evolved through a slow but thorough process
of ongoing conceptualization, research, writing and feedback. As initiator of the book, my
curiosity on what we see happening in art and artistic discourse today, influenced by the
digital dynamics that restructure society, has grown from almost a decade’s research in this domain. The examination of this condition, particularly in a Nordic contextual perspective, is furthermore a result of curatorial practice and research within and beyond this context, which has allowed for encounters and exchanges with artists, curators, architects, innovation designers, cultural producers and scholars, whose inspiration and ideas have contributed to fine-tuning the book’s conception and approach.

During this time, I have been mostly geographically located outside of the Nordic region.
Sometimes, you realise how distinct and specific things are when you are distanced from
them. While closely collaborating with curator Nina Colosi in the framework of her exhibition initiative Streaming Museum in New York City, I had the opportunity to research art, discourses and trajectories in the domain of digital, video and other media art in the Nordic context especially during our development of the curatorial project titled Nordic Outbreak. Unfolding throughout 2013 and 2014, this initiative presented video art by 32 Nordic artists in public spaces across New York City and on tour throughout the Nordic region. I want to thank you deeply, Nina, for developing and carrying out this project with me, which made an essential foundation for the becoming of this book. With Nordic Outbreak, a basic premise of the book was established of examining expanded formats, cross-genre and site-contextual significances of contemporary digital art in relation to various urban contexts – and as such, seek to grasp the reality of contemporary art of today as evolving and contingent phenomena.

On tour through the Nordic region, Nordic Outbreak visited Helsinki, Copenhagen,
Reykjavik, Stavanger, Nuuk and Umeaa, in collaboration with KIASMA Museum for
Contemporary Art and Media Facades Festival in Helsinki, Danish Architecture Centre,
Screen City Festival in Stavanger, Reykjavik Art Museum, Katuaq the Cultural Centre
of Greenland, as well as Umeaa in Sweden on the occasion of the city named European
Capital of Culture in 2014. Throughout the Nordic Outbreak project, I had the pleasure of
collaborating with and learning from Daniela Arriado, Birta Gudjonsdottir, Kati Kivinen,
and Jacob Lillemose, who were invited as guest curators. Also, with curators with whom I
collaborated in the various Nordic contexts, Signe Cecilie Jochumsen and Dan Lestander, as well as scholars and curators Erkki Huhtamo, Margrét Elísabet Ólafsdóttir, Björn Norberg, Minna Tarkka, and Jonatan Habib Engqvist, all to whom I am deeply thankful for furthering my understanding of art in the expanded digital domain and its specific conditions and artistic implications in the various local Nordic art contexts.

An early conception of the book especially developed on the basis of a symposium held at Scandinavia House in New York City within the framework of the Nordic Outbreak programme, which continued in the form of talks and panels on the Nordic tour. On these
occasions some of the book’s contributors were brought together and shared perspectives and ideas that have since amounted into chapters for the book.

My deep thanks also goes to my former research assistant Laura Goldschmidt at Copenhagen University. Laura and I developed the methodology of interviewing artists in the Nordic art context together, and she has been an invaluable and persistent companion in the process of identifying the artists, inviting for and collecting their testimonials. Her insightful master’s thesis examining a ‘digital avant-garde’ in the Nordic context – also based on some of the artist testimonials in the book – is a noteworthy side outcome of these research efforts (Laura Goldschmidt, ‘Digital avant-garde: The mobilization of an acute avant garde through digital art in the Nordic countries’, 2016). Later in the process, I gratefully received help with data handling and distribution of the book from the wonderful Chananthorn Vinitwatanakhun (Lilly), and skillful design assistance for the book’s cover by Kirstine Edith Toft (my sister).

I would like to thank the artists and curators who have helped me with nuancing my
understanding of the Nordic art context, whom I have met during the processes of curating the Voyage to the Virtual exhibition at Scandinavia House (2015) – with special thanks to Ariana Tiziani and Kyle Reinhart, some of whom have contributed their artist testimonial to this volume – the Here All Alone (2015) in Copenhagen, allowing for inspiring conversations with Swedish artist Anders Weberg, and during my involvement with the Screen City Biennial in Stavanger, Norway (since 2016), which has provided a curatorial and research framework for examining digital dimensions and implications of contemporary art in the urban context of Stavanger. Thank you, Daniela (Arriado), for inviting me in to develop the biennial and discourse around the ‘expanded’ moving image in this context with you.

I would also like to thank specific curators from the Nordic context who particularly
inspired the thinking grounds of the book through in-depth interviews conducted in 2013,
and who were important initiators within this realm of contemporary art in the Nordic context: Daniela Arriado – initiator of Screen City Biennial (was Screen City Festival in
2013 and 2015), Magdalena Malm – initiator of Mobile Art Production (2008–12) and
Trevor Davies – initiator of the LightSound project (2008–10) and director of Copenhagen International Theatre. I thank you all for sharing your insightful perspectives on discourses and trajectories when operating on uncertain, experimental, interdisciplinary and mediamaterial grounds in the domain of contemporary art – in this particular context.

I hope that this book will prove a helpful resource for researchers, artists, curators and others with an interest in the broad domain of digital art, as reference and perhaps an empirical point of departure for further research. I especially hope that by ‘hearing’ the artists voices, and voices by authors of diverse perspectives and areas of expertise, the book will stimulate and broaden thinking in the field of contemporary art as this is evolving and changing with digital culture and technologies. In particular, that it will further acknowledgement and support of new ways in which art can participate in forming society and our cultural horizons. It is thus my hope that the book will prompt others to pick up where the chapters and scope of the book end – continue with pursuing and examining in more depth the crucial questions raised in the book concerning the expanded domain, matter and inquiries of contemporary (digital) art.

Most ambitiously, and with particular regards to the Nordic context as the main domain
of investigation, I hope the book will inspire the field of art (its gatekeepers, critics, fund
distributors and initiators) towards greater open-mindedness when it comes to emerging
forms and ‘genres’ of art, and encourage reformulations of how to assess art’s quality –
perhaps sometimes found in experimentation rather than reference – and considered value in society. To this extend I am grateful to the Nordic Culture Point, Lilian og Dan Finks Fond, Ny Carlsberg Fondet, Beckett- Fonden and Scandinavia House in New York City for supporting the book and its premise of contribution to the contemporary field of art. Also to my publisher Intellect and namely production editors Katie Evans and Jelena Stanovnik, who saw the potential of the book and patiently allowed for it to develop in focus and scope throughout the process. Support in all aspects for this project is important not only in order to maintain art’s relevance as the antenna of our species but also to encourage continuous pursuits of new avenues for art and art’s significance – in whatever forms, manifestations and inquiries it will explore – as an ethical, conscious and critical participant in (and on the critical verge of) the (digital) shaping of our future societies.

Tanya Toft Ag