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Feature: Toward a virtual minimalism - Finding and defining honesty in the virtual gallery space: 1

Note: As part of the exhibition Toward a Virtual Minimalism, Invert/Extant is running a series of essays and reflections on the idea of Toward a virtual minimalism - Finding and defining honesty in the virtual gallery space. Over the next three Transmissions there will be three instalments: Toward a virtual minimalism - Finding and defining honesty in the virtual gallery space: 1, Jared Pappas-Kelley's - Art Lies, and Toward a virtual minimalism - Finding and defining honesty in the virtual gallery space: 2.

Connor Clements - Director of Dovetail Joints Virtual Gallery

The virtual gallery as a dishonest entity

In the wake of a newfound need and engagement with virtual gallery spaces, massive possibilities for new works have opened up. These 3D modelled online spaces hold none of the restrictions associated with traditional physical exhibition spaces which means quite literally anything is possible with the right means, regardless of physics, materials, budgets, scale. As with any new medium though, the eagerness to dive straight in has led to an engagement with the medium without fully considering its implications. Thus far, spaces seem to either manifest in the form of:

1. Direct replications of real-life space, along with all the restrictions that come with it in an attempt to closely substitute the real thing out of necessity.

2. Replicating real life space in the virtual realm but tweaking and bending it along the way to create new works which couldn’t exist IRL

3. Approaching from the opposite end, translating the digital data-driven internet realm into 3D spaces, totally abstract when compared with real life

The approach to virtual 3D exhibition space making can be seen as lying along a spectrum, with the three above examples lying at key points along it. Virtual spaces are defined along the spectrum in accordance to their degrees of separation from real world spaces, and how rigidly they abide by the laws of physics, budget, and resources that affect their real world counterparts.

Wherever along this spectrum the given space falls, one unchanging factor remains that the space is an illusion. It is neither authentically real, and it is not wholly an honest depiction of the abstract data that the digital space is built on. If the virtual gallery space is, by definition, a dishonest medium, does that negate its ability to house honest works created specifically for it? Not necessarily, the virtual gallery space exists within a unique middle ground; by creating works honest to this space, in turn can we create artworks existing honestly in the intersection between life and data?

Minimalism as a foundational reset

‘In regard to both the colour and the material, these are things i consider primarily given, they already exist in the world, and I’m interested in using them as they are’ -Donald Judd

The minimalists of the 1960s found themselves at a kind of reset point in terms of artist progression, the removal of expression, illusion, symbolism, and biographical reading to create works which were honest to their materials, the physics associated with those materials, and the presence of objects in space. The removal of illusion and association results in an overwhelming focus on honesty, not allowing the object in the space to appear to be anything other than it is, ensuring those who look at it understand it fully in a physical sense and nothing more. This movement immediately followed abstract expressionism, a movement which was inherently focussed on the artist creating the works.

Minimalism provided an antithesis to the drama and celebrity personality which was inherent in the movement. So, how can the ethos and practice of artists such as these re-manifest in the virtual gallery space, how can works exist in a similarly honest fashion within the inherently illusionary virtual 3D gallery space and provide a similar antithesis to the inflated sense of ego and narcissism present in the digital sphere, artistically or otherwise.

Donald Judd



Laying a digital foundation to build upon

By adopting the minimalist approach to creating work to the virtual 3D modelled space, a means and process could be created to manufacture work without external influence, work which is built purely tectonically from the elements that are given to this medium and without the influence of illusion, replication of elements not native to the virtual space, and resistant to biographical, allegorical or historical readings.

In creating authentically honest work for the virtual space, the work only has to exist honestly in relation to the world around it. The virtual space status as a dishonest entity by definition only exists in its relation to the real world we live in and the digital realm it manifests within. So long as the work created for this space abides by a logic consistent within the virtual space, a self contained level of honesty can be achieved. This acts out in the same way that the minimalist artists of the 60s would not concern themselves with the honesty and metaphysical implications of our universe as a whole, instead creating work honest to what is in front of us. If anything, to create work which concerns itself with matters outside our world as we know it would be to take on allegorical and conceptual qualities which would negate any sense of simplicity, and pure tectonic creation based on materials and their given qualities.


Digital axonometric


Of physical honesty - Mass

Sculptural works and installations in real world galleries ultimately always consist of the addition, manipulation, or in some cases removal, of matter. All matter has mass, so mass is the fundamental building block we are dealing with when creating these works to be placed into a gallery space. The case could be made that certain works which deal with light, or the likes of video/text-based installations are created outside of this realm, though their existence in the space is still facilitated by the manipulation and addition of mass in one way or another. Judd’s work highlights this basic act of adding or subtracting mass from a space honestly in certain works such as ‘Untitled 1969’, wherein the top of the box is recessed, demonstrating its makeup to the audience and removing any illusion of it being a solid box. The viewer is made aware it is hollow, and therefore can understand its complete presence in the space.

The virtual realm exists outside of these physical properties, mass is an abstract notion in the virtual space. All objects within the virtual space exist as a series of two-dimensional polygons arranged in three-dimensional space to give the illusion of solid mass. When you breach the surface of a 3D modelled cube, you are not greeted by any sort of solid matter; the inside is hollow, and therefore the faces are infinitely thin, since they cannot accommodate any thickness, since thickness would require mass. Similarly, to how Judd ensures viewers hold no pretences when viewing his work, and only see what is there, so should work in the virtual space in order to be honest to the medium, exposing their hollow nature through openings, or the display of the infinitely thin 2D plane which forms them.

Donald Judd

Untitled (Brass)



TAVM Exhibition



Connor Clements is a Teesside based curator, artist, and architectural graduate. Currently Connor's practice has revolved around the virtual realm and using it in the context of exhibition making in response to the challenges faced by institutions in the wake of COVID-19. This practice manifests in the form of the Dovetail Joints Virtual Gallery, a 3D modelled, ever expanding virtual space showcasing local and international creatives.

In Our Own Words is an ongoing feature where artists and writers are asked to speak about their new work, ideas or projects, or works that they have been thinking about in their own words. It is also part of invert/extant Transmissions for the Artist Writings series. If you would like to be kept up to date on this or other projects, please sign up for our newsletter.

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