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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
When art met the webcam
By Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Spectrum Fine Art, a new London gallery, opened its doors on Thursday night showcasing contemporary art from established artists and fresh newcomers. The exhibition was billed as the "world's first truly international art gallery launch".

The champagne was flowing, the conversation was gushing and the art was, well, hanging.

14 July by Kim Rugg
Rugg's work deconstructs media
Art works from luminaries such as Peter Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi were on display alongside work from artists striving to make their name, some fresh from art college.

The observant at the launch may well have spotted two laptop computers being carried around with a small camera attachment on each.

They were being used as a conduit for eight journalists around the world, including myself, to take part in the launch, view the art and interview the artists via instant messaging software.

At least, that was the plan.

Journalists as far afield as Australia, South Africa, Japan and Brazil were invited to take part.

I was a lot closer - sat in front of a computer less than 10 miles away from the gallery - and it should have been a straightforward experiment in modern communication.

Unfortunately technical limitations and frequent crashes reduced the experiment to the annals of brave but futile failures.


Webcams usually provide a steady, if low grade, image but the movement of the laptops around the gallery created a strange, distorted affect akin to the bendy mirrors in a funfair.

Introduced first to artist Kim Rugg I had a glimpse of her art as it hung on the walls of the gallery.

It was like viewing art through the bottom of a pint glass, but did give a vague impression of what was hanging on the walls.

I typed in my questions and after a small delay during which time it was relayed to the artist and she responded, an answer would return.

But glitches and crashes turned the conversation into a rather stilted affair as the extract from the webchat below shows.

Darren says: How's the show - how does it feel to be alongside such luminaries in a show?
Spectrum Gallery 1 says: very exciting
Darren says: The work I've seen - re-crafting newspapers - what are you aiming to say about the relationship between readers and the press? Or is it wider than that?
You cannot send your webcam and have a video conference at the same time.
You have stopped viewing webcam with Spectrum Gallery 1.
Spectrum Gallery 1 says: lost u there darren

To be fair to the artists, a webcam is no way to view art.

Sarah Jeffries
Artist Sarah Jeffries answers via webcam
The use of webcams and instant messages to chat over the internet is nothing new and is very popular in the US.

With the broadband revolution still marching on, instant messaging firms such as Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL are hoping that users will add webcam and audio capabilities to their chats.

The Spectrum gallery launch was being backed by Microsoft, hoping to show off the versatility of its MSN Messenger software.

My personal experiences with the software are that it is usually reliable but that was not the case on Thursday night.

When it did work I was able to ask a few questions and received some interesting, if short, answers from the artists.

Rugg spoke of her art, which includes a giant copy of the Guardian newspaper with the text garbled and distorted, in fascinating terms.

Her piece, she explained, was trying to reveal the identity of the messenger by ridding it of the message.

Ten miles away in front of my webcam I attempted to nod sagely.

Flower Girl
Sarah Jeffries uses family photos as a source
A second interview with Sarah Jeffries was equally fractured and ended on a rather bleak note.

Darren says: What methods are you using?
You have stopped viewing webcam with Spectrum Gallery 1.
Darren says: webcam crash!
Spectrum Gallery 1 has stopped viewing webcam with you.
Spectrum Gallery 1 is inviting you to start viewing webcam.
Do you want to Accept (Alt+C) or Decline (Alt+D) the invitation?
Spectrum Gallery 1 says: hey darrene i'm not seeing you.
Darren says: you still there?

The exhibition runs until 23 October and I would recommend anyone who wants to see it to go down to the gallery and view the art in person - as the artists themselves intended.

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