Screenshot Show Challenges Curatorial Norms

Julia Peterson, Arts & Culture Editor

Exhibition Initiative’s Screenshot Show, opening this Sunday at Storage gallery, looks to question preconceptions about digital art and blur curatorial boundaries. The show’s concept is simple: display screenshots that people have taken on their digital devices in a gallery setting. This leaves room for participants, curators and visitors to interact with the showcase in a unique manner.

College junior Leah Newman, the organization’s co-chair, said the screenshot medium creates room for participation by people traditionally denied access to gallery spaces.

“We put out a call to artists that invited anyone to submit their own screenshots for the show,” Newman said. “I interpret this idea as … not only trying to engage with a larger community, but also as a statement about screenshots. Screenshots are taken by everyone, not just artists, not just members of the college community.”

College first-year Caspian Alavi-Flint, one of the co-curators of the exhibit, agreed. “[Participation in] this show is open to anybody with access to a computer and an email,” she said.

The Communications Director of Exhibition Initiative and College junior Natasha Simchowitz said a diverse range of people have submitted their screenshots.

“In terms of participants in the show, we have had a wide array of submissions from Oberlin students, community members, alumni and students from other colleges,” Simchowitz said. “As of now, we have roughly 30 people involved.”

One of the exhibit’s main themes is the question of what makes something art. “Though screenshots are often considered a rather common means of sharing one’s immediate experience, they can also be viewed as a still-life, a collage, even a form of portraiture,” Simchowitz said. “There is this [reflection] inherent to the process and evident in the work that does not apply to other art … created for public viewing.”

Newman said the show blurs boundaries between performers and viewers.

“Anyone is the artist in this case,” she said. “Or maybe none of us are artists. We are just displaying screenshots. If the viewers consider it a medium, then that is their interpretation and that’s cool.”

College junior Emma Laube, who proposed the idea for the exhibit, said the show might convey yet another idea.

“I was thinking about art-related reproducibility,” Laube wrote in an email to the Review. “Screenshots are exact, instantaneous and limitless, so they seem like the ultimate method of reproduction. They’re also ubiquitous. I would think that everyone who has a smartphone or a computer probably has some kind of screenshot saved, and there are so many reasons a person could have for wanting to save one.”

That no two curators have exactly the same interpretation of the nature of the show is neither accidental nor detrimental. Rather, it highlights how preserving an image means different things to different people.

“I think the main principle is that we all take screenshots, and some of us have huge collections,” Newman said. “The show is very informal, just like screenshots are. Screenshots are not usually intended as art, but for utilitarian or funny or whatever reasons. There are screenshots of anything possible on your screen, from texts to emails to photos to articles. So the concept of the show is very open-ended. Screenshots are the funny, kind of obvious things we store up … for ourselves. They are private-ish, but we all have them. Why not show them?”

Another important aspect of Screenshot Show is its relationship with Exhibition Initiative, Oberlin’s only student curatorial group. All of the co-curators are members of ExI.

“[Laube] came to us with the idea,” Simchowitz said. “We have been looking for ways to engage with both artists and non-artists, and this felt like the perfect opportunity. We were also interested in the curatorial challenges of putting up a show that deals with an entirely digital medium [and] translating the experience of looking at a screen to looking at a static print image.”

Simchowitz said the show is representative of ExI’s goals as an organization.

“ExI is just as much about giving students interested in curating opportunities to experiment as it is about facilitating and working with student artists,” she said. “We are approaching this show as a laboratory of ideas exploring transition media rather than a serious, set-in-stone exhibition.”

Alavi-Flint said curating an exhibit that deals with such an unorthodox form of art can be challenging.

“Curating this exhibit … entails figuring out the weirdest ways to present the pieces submitted,” she said. “How can we make these screenshots even more alienating and anomalous? Figuring out how to display these tentatively amorphous images should be a challenge.”

Screenshot Show will open at Storage on Sunday, March 13 and will run from 6–8 p.m.