Artists and Curators Share Pro-Tips for Successful Virtual Studio Visits

The in-person studio visit has long been regarded as the best way for artists to showcase their work. Given that most countries have trudged into 2021 while still being in lockdown (or under strict stay-at-home orders), artists and curators have been forced to adapt to the screen. To help, we gathered together the expertise of digitally native artists and curators (and yes, even an art meme account) to elaborate upon the merits (or not) of the virtual studio visit.

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Jeremy Bailey, Artist

Screenshot documentation of a recent Zoom studio visit (courtesy Jeremy Bailey)

I started out as an internet artist 15 years ago. A combination of forces — rising studio rent, telepresence technologies, but most of all, a digitally native practice — transformed my bedroom into a studio and my laptop into my primary method for facilitating studio visits. 

A traditional studio visit involves looking at your actual work, often in progress. But this can be hard during a virtual studio visit, especially if your work doesn’t translate well digitally. I recommend doing whatever you can to bring your studio visitor into your world. If you make sculpture, use your phone to tour your work area. (Don’t be shy, even if it’s your bedroom. Artist Petra Cortright was famous for highlighting her bedroom in many of her early works.) If you’re a photographer, provide a link to a secret website with works that aren’t publicly available. 

The number of studio visits that have ended poorly because of a poor wifi signal is frustratingly high. A wired connection is the best and cheapest way to improve your connection. You can [even] extend in your home with these little adapters that turn your electrical outlets into Ethernet ports. Investing in a Zoom Pro account or equivalent is also worth the cost in exchange for a solid high quality video connection.

After your meeting, keep the conversation going with a follow-up. Send your visitor a thank you email shortly after, include links and images to the works you’ve discussed, and mention that you’re looking forward to working together.

Faith Holland, Artist and Curator

Screenshot documentation of a planning meeting for the Well Now, WTF? (2020) online exhibition between organizers Lorna Mills, Faith Holland, Kelani Nichole, and Wade Wallerstein (courtesy Faith Holland)

Backgrounds are the new outfits. Come wearing your best, and have several costumes changes at the ready.

I did unconventional studio visits (such as in cafés) in the before-times too. Come prepared with a presentation of the particular work that you want to talk about as a Google Slide, PDF, or folder. I particularly like Google Slides because they can contain multiple media, captions, and can be shared if someone wants to refer back. If the conversation off-roads, you may need to go in search of something, but ideally you’d keep rummaging through files or web pages to a minimum.

Remember that the world is bizarre right now, people are going through a lot, and working under usual conditions. (This may apply to you, too!) Be as tolerant as you can about reschedules, disruptions, and less-than-ideal circumstances. If you need to conduct a meeting with a kid at hand, for example, might be a good idea to warn people in advance rather than trying to pretend life is normal.

Shawné Michaelaine Holloway, Artist

Trying to replicate an in-person studio visit remotely is impossible. It’s so deeply uncomfortable. You know what else is uncomfortable? Zoom itself. Why not suggest using open source software like Jitsi? Or, if you’re experiencing camera fatigue, try sending someone a PDF (an interactive PDF is even better!), call them on the phone, and talk through the work that way. Taking out the face-to-face element might increase our ability to wonder, speculate, and navigate abstraction. 

Consider how your work is best communicated. For example, I ask a lot of curators to only view my video work between the hours of 12AM and 2AM. Those focused on sound might want to use something like Audiomovers to help facilitate new kinds of interaction. Artists making work about sex work might ask a curator to meet them in their chat room (and perhaps even charge them). This gets curators to experience the medium you’re working with first hand. 

Studio visits are about exchange and that effort is a minimal ask in return for an hour of your time. Those who agree are the keepers. If someone is reaching out and you think you’re going to be bored out of your mind (or they’re not interested in having the visit in a way that shows the work best), ask yourself if it’s even worth y’all’s time. Understand, folks may be too busy for your experimental shenanigans. But it’s worth a try. Just say no to the routine.

Christiane Paul, Adjunct Curator of Digital Art, Whitney Museum and Director/Chief Curator, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons/The New School

Screenshot documentation of Christiane Paul and Claudia Hart at Synthesis Gallery’s Walkthroughs in Virtual Reality (courtesy Christiane Paul)

Since I’m a curator of digital art, meeting with artists to talk about their work via online platforms was part of my curatorial routine long before the pandemic. Discussing digital video or software-based projects via screen-sharing doesn’t necessarily feel constrained. I find virtual studio visits most successful when I get a tour of artists’ hard drives — having their desktop appear on my own creates an interesting new form of shared space. In a recent Zoom talk I did with artist Claudia Hart, we both used a video capture from her work Alice Unchained XR (2018) as a Zoom background to create a sense of continuity between our environments. I very much enjoyed the conferences or artist and curator tours of exhibitions that I did in virtual spaces over the past few months, among them curator Julie Walsh’s Re-Start or Claudia Hart’s The Ruins, on view in physical gallery space and as virtual replica in Mozilla Hubs.

Freeze Magazine, Instagram Art Meme Account

Marsha Pearce, Curator and Visual Art Scholar

Virtual studio visit between curator and visual culture scholar Marsha Pearce and artist Richard Mark Rawlins (courtesy Marsha Pearce)

In May 2020, I initiated a conversation series titled Quarantine and Art (or Q&A), which ran for four months and featured 26 creative practitioners. The series was conceived as a number of virtual studio visits with artists from the Caribbean and its Diaspora. The world had gone into lockdown, and I found myself thinking about community and intimacy — how I could leverage the virtual environment, and mobilize a deep interest in art practice as a portal between spaces of “here” and “there.” However, the Q&A virtual visits do more than bridge a geographical divide, offering an opportunity for both curator/researcher and artist to recalibrate their focus and consider the poetics of a shared moment.

Online engagements also invite a revisiting of how we understand (im)materiality. The digital domain can dull sensations of texture, scale, and even color in the mediated experience of physical artworks — rendering them immaterial. However, (im)materiality comes into play in other ways. Listening intently and probing something mentioned in passing can transform seemingly insignificant references (so-called “immaterial” information) into significant insights. The “material” shows up in this way. 

Virtual studio visits are also a possible means to rethink power structures. How might we reimagine artworld relationships in this “new normal”? I have found the online “visit” to be an opportunity to look beyond a digital veil to a present humanity. When I engage it, I try to imagine a world, in bell hooks’ words, “where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction.”

Doreen A. Ríos, Curator and Director, [ANTI]MATERIA

Screenshot documentation of a recent live brainstorm session via Google Meet (courtesy Doreen A. Ríos)

A lot of times, it’s easy to feel you’re confined into a very limited space to share your artwork and/or move around. However, there’s ways of making a Zoom studio visit more interesting when you play around with the design of the software, and take advantage of the rectangle screen and the grid. Even engaging in small performative activities with the audience to break the ice for questions helps, especially while working with tangible materials. 

Use the personalised background to share diagrams, sketches and/or to engage in collective readings. While it can feel very bizarre to share your screen during a talk and completely forget about the audience, you can get to a more compelling level by using the personalised background as a blackboard while maintaining your ability to look at the audience.

During lecturing, but also panels and talks, I’ve discovered it can be powerful to brainstorm live. Taking into consideration that some might feel a bit shy to ask questions or share inputs, live sharing via platforms like Miro or Jamboard can encourage more powerful discussions. I’ve realised that while talking about my own work or sharing a project I’ve been working on, it’s much easier to build a dynamic Q&A through these tools. It feels organic as well as open for all to share/keep afterwards.

Skawennati, Artist and Co-Director, Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC)

Screenshot documentation of a November 2020 Zoom artist talk for the Berkeley Center for New Media’s The History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series (courtesy Skawennati)

I’m not sure I have any good Zoom studio visit tips. (I haven’t done a Zoom studio visit! Though I have given a number of Zoom artist talks.) What I didn’t like about Zooming was having to see myself in action! It adds a whole other layer of self-criticism to your talk. So …

I bought a ring light. That greatly improved how I looked. And that made me feel better about Zooming. BUT then the reflection of the ring light shows up in your glasses. Looks awful! (Still working on that one.)

I bought a stand for my laptop, so the camera was raised, which, again, made me look better. More importantly though, it made me sit up straighter, because before I would slouch to be seen properly by the camera. My back has been pretty good despite sitting in front of the computer a lot. 

Turn on your Zoom beautification filter. Wear lipstick. (Real-life beautification filter.)

I’ve been tweaking (I guess you could say “curating”) the stuff that shows up behind me. Moved my beautiful Barbies out of the background since the plastic boxes were reflecting the ring light and creating a distraction.

Another thing I try to do is to keep my device as still as possible. When I watch someone who is holding a smartphone in their hand, or their laptop on their lap, their image is constantly moving and I gradually start to get a little seasick.

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