MuDA: The new digital art museum in Zurich

Update Feb 2016:  MuDA, the first physical and virtual museum dedicated to digital arts  will open its doors on February 13, 2016 with the digital arts exhibition by the Swiss artist duo Gysin-Vanetti : fb event

The proposed digital art museum initiated by the Digital Arts Association in Zurich is more hopeful than ever that it will open its doors in January 2016 in the wake of its successful Kickstarter campaign.

Following the success of crowdfunding on Kickstarter (over 110,000 dollars raised in one month), the opening of the MuDA (Museum of Digital Arts), heralded as the first European museum combining both physical and virtual works of art and totally devoted to digital arts, is now on the right track. The fundraising  was launched mainly to cover the cost of the planned works in the chosen building, located in Zurich – in fact the 400 m² ground floor of the Herdern Hochhaus, one of Switzerland’s first ‘skyscrapers,’ now part of the historical heritage of Switzerland. The opening is currently planned for January 2016.

Caroline Hirt and Christian Etter, Digital Arts Association

A very active Zurich association is behind the project, the Digital Arts Association, founded and directed by Caroline Hirt and Christian Etter, artists and curators who have already produced several exhibitions in Asia and Europe, and worked in prestigious places like the Centre Pompidou and the Shanghai Art Museum. Having notably organised several game jams, they share the same interest for new media, the relationships between science and technology, studies into and around the genre and new journalistic practices.

A new venue exclusively devoted to ‘the art of code’

However, in the context of the MuDA, the objective is more overtly political: to succeed in creating an appropriate artistic site solely devoted to digital art, in terms of its physical productions, devices presented or interactive installations, as well as its virtual, software and web dimension. This principle is in keeping with the militant approach of the Digital Arts Association that is similar to an NGO strategy. ‘There are many impressive exhibitions devoted to the art of code worldwide,’ recognises Caroline Hirt, ‘many in Asia, Japan, South Korea and China, several in Europe, notably in France and the United Kingdom. There are also an increasing number of 3D art galleries on the web. Our idea is to showcase these two physical and virtual approaches, in one place. There is a logic to connecting these two major principles of digital arts to their best advantage.

Yet, the problem for digital art, in spite of its current creative dynamism, is its lack of sufficient and lasting resonance through established venues that already have  a foothold. Of course, venues for creation and media platforms exist, like in Germany the ZKM in Karlsruhe and the HMKV in Dortmund, but what about large international museums? ‘Very often large institutions, like the V&A (Editor’s Note: the Victoria and Albert Museum, is a large London museum particularly renowned for its decorative arts collections) for example, may present a superb exhibition of digital art, with many visitors,’ notes Caroline Hirt ‘but when it ends, the next exhibition is completely different. There is no continuity, no loyalty. There is obviously a lack of venues devoted to digital art, giving it constant visibility.

The cautiousness of ‘traditional museums’

According to her, there is in addition some reticence concerning these established places becoming more involved in digital arts. ‘There is a great deal of confusion regarding the digital arts,’ she confirms. ‘Many museums do not seem to know what to do with it! The problem is that digital arts do not fit their criteria. The very nature of digital art is more often than not focused on ideas rather than on raw material, more concerned with accessibility than ownership issues. It is not that simple to ascribe it a cultural monetary value to the extent that there is some resistance by ‘traditional art institutions’ towards digital art. A contrario, and in any case until now, this fact also enables digital art to remain an innovative field, that takes risks in comparison with other art disciplines. Its creators appear to be more driven by the precision of their devices than by critical recognition – which is always better when it is the result rather than the goal! Fortunately also, the public does not appear to want to give in either to the demands of a cultural system where the norm would be de rigueur and is interested in anything new. This creates a dynamic around digital arts and explains why many of the most exciting current artistic works derive from it.

In terms of dynamic, Zurich stood out as the best choice for the venue available. ‘We are able to rent this fantastic place in the middle of a patrimonial industrial building, and close to an artistic community and quite an enormous business and university hub. It’s fantastic!’ exclaims Caroline Hilt. ‘We just need to raise funds to bring the venue up to standard.’

Independent and pragmatic

The development of the project aims to be resolutely independent. ‘Half of the costs will be covered by the MuDA itself through its ticketing. Our idea is to have a pricing policy that is accessible for everyone, in contrast to most museums, particularly in Switzerland,’ explains Caroline Hirt. ‘We will also have partnerships with selected companies, but they will not be involved in the programme and communication. Moreover these will only be companies connected to digital technology. In my mind it is not credible for a Viennese bank to support a project or event that, essentially, does not interest it.

With the first potential names announced such as the artist and designers Eugene Krivoruchko, from New York, and Andreas Gysin, from Lugano in Switzerland, the MuDA has no intention to create a buzz. Its aim is more to provide the conditions for creativity and technology to interact. ‘The place will be small, but pragmatic,’ clarifies Caroline Hilt. ‘In parallel to each exhibition, we will develop a virtual counterpart through a system of applications. We will also host workshops for children and teachers, conferences about relationships between digital technology and society. We hope to invite many protagonists from the digital network such as scientists, programmers, lawyers, economists, but also more simply people whose lives have been completely changed by the shift to digital.

Laurent Catala

MuDa, Museum of Digitala Art, Zurich