Beyond the geek ghetto

One of Shane Walter’s chief frustrations is that Onedotzero’s Adventures in Motion, the annual digital arts festival he co-founded 15 years ago, has been typecast by the arts world as a geek fest.

“For many years we were trying to get Onedotzero off the computer pages [in newspapers], reviewed next to Windows [operating systems].”

Now that Onedotzero is participating in dozens of events around the world, including the Resonate festival in Belgrade and the UK’s first contemporary graphics art fair, Pick Me Up, later this month, it seems time that its image has moved out of the technological ghetto. “It is a very broad look at digital culture,” says the 43-year-old Walter, “primarily looking at moving image, animation, computer graphics [and even] feature films if they are visually progressive.”

As well as showcasing music videos, short films and animation, early festivals showed work by directors who went on to become well-known film makers, including Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry.

Walter concedes that attitudes are gradually shifting, as technology increasingly pervades nearly every area of life. “There used to be [a division] between the suits, the creatives and the coders in the basement. Now code drives everything you do in the world. In recent years the idea of a coder being a creative [has become accepted].” A measure of the digital culture’s creep into the mainstream may be that the last Onedotzero festival hosted the UK premier of Up, the US computer-animated comedy-adventure film produced by Pixar, the animation studio co-founded by Steve Jobs.

“The digital revolution is happening now. People who grew up with computers and the internet and Facebook will have a very different outlook on culture to people now in their 30s and 40s. It’s interwoven into their daily lives. Digital is natural.”

He predicts a future where people will become so used to interactive art work that they will be baffled by paintings. “They will look at it and wonder why it’s not doing anything.”

For artists and designers, Walter finds, “digital is now part of their work . . . and in the last 15 years the art work has become much more sophisticated because of the technology.”

Yet, still a snobbishness towards digital arts persists in Britain he says. Last year he curated Decode, a digital and interactive design show at the Victoria and Albert museum. “A lot of the art critics that came to the show were challenged because people were having fun. They said, ‘It can’t be proper art because someone’s laughing over there…’”

He suggests that this “fear” of not understanding the work may be a peculiarly British trait. “We’ve always had interest from Asia, particularly Japan which is an accelerated culture. Their creators don’t tend to be pigeon-holed as much.”

Walter is determined to build a legacy by nurturing young talent. “There is a crisis in creative education due to cuts and increased tuition fees which will have an impact on the cultural industries. We take 40 students from 20 different colleges and disciplines – we put them in groups and get them to work together to [encourage] collaborative ways of working.”

Yet just as Onedotzero is expanding fast, its future is in jeopardy. Amid government efforts to cut spending, the organisation lost all its Arts Council funding. “Even though this area is massively growing, the [UK government] cut most of the digital arts funding. They don’t understand it.”

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