Digital art at Art Basel 2024

A compendium of all the digital art that was to be found at Art Basel this year

As always, Art Basel appears to be a mirror of the most current developments in contemporary art. As such, digital art was an inevitable feature of the event. From Unlimited to Liste, and even outside the borders of the official fair, around the city: here it is art-frame’s compendium of all the digital art that was to be found at Art Basel this year.

In the Unlimited section – dedicated to monumental projects – an artwork by the young Chinese artist Lu Yang, DOKU The Flow (2024), presented by Société, stood out for its aesthetic borrowed from the digital realm, manga and video games. As with other examples of his artworks, this giant led wall featured the artist’s digital avatar, DOKU, which takes its name from the Japanese phrase “Dokusho Dokushi”, meaning “we are born alone, and we die alone”. As with the other pieces, the work that was presented in Basel reflected, once again, the endless cycle of life, death and reincarnation as intended in Buddhist philosophy.

HEK, Installation view, Virtual Beauty, 2024, ph. Franz Wamhof

The digital was (not surprisingly) even more present at Liste, the fair’s sector addressed to new discoveries in contemporary art, especially to a younger generation of galleries exhibiting artists who are outstanding representatives of the latest developments in this field. One above all, Tabula Rasa Gallery (founded in 2015 in Beijing, and later opening another space in London in 2021) hosted a solo show by filmmaker Musquiqui Chihying. The Organology of the Worldwas a visual survey on the profound impact of technical images – or operational images, as defined by artist Trevor Paglen and art critic Jussi Parikka – on human society’s epistemic system. Produced by machines, these images and their stories function as the object of criticism on the complex relationship between new technologies and colonialism. In his experimental documentary The Link, the artist explores the history of the coolie system, a form of indentured labor that brought individuals from Asia to work in colonial plantations around the world during the 19th century. These territories – mainly islands and coastal cities that carry the indelible marks left by this system on the social fabric of these regions – now serve as testing grounds for smart city technologies – a Chinese government initiative aimed at expanding computational capacity – forming a nexus between ancient and new forms of colonialism.

Musquiqui Chihying The Link 3-channel video, 30'00, 2024

In the same section, visitors found the curated exhibition by Hek (House of electronic Arts) in Basel. The museum had a pop-up space at Liste where the public could sit and play video games or try VR experiences. Yet, it was a serious game: curated by Sabine Himmelsbach and Marlene Wenger, the show offered an investigation into the concepts of worldbuilding – the art of constructing digital worlds – through the works of Mélanie Courtinat, who presented Ten Lands (2021), a walking simulator video game with ten landscapes to explore; the work of Andy Picci, who invited the audience to wear a VR headset and get immersed in Cloud 3.0 (2023), and the installation An Image of Love (2021) by Moritz Piehl, who remixed reality TV and social media into new physical landscapes, questioning how online lifestyles shape physical space.

Leaving the fair to move to the edge of the Basel countryside, House of electronic Arts hosted Virtual Beauty, a collective exhibition that delved into the way in which post-internet culture has changed our idea of beauty (until August 18th). Curated by Gonzalo Herrero Delicado, Bunny Kinney, Mathilde Friis and Marlene Wenger, the show traced the contemporary history of the obsession with beauty, following the coordinates of a complex relationship that was born in the Nineties – here exemplified by a first work by ORLAN, Omnipresence (1992), where the artist undergoes her 17th aesthetic surgery – and which flourished with the advent of digital media, social media filters, dating apps and, finally, artificial intelligence and deep fake. Above all, this exhibition was dedicated to the post-human illusion of having succeeded in defeating death, modifying our own body (or the public perception of it) in order to build our own (more and more fragmented) self-identity.

Mélanie Courtinat, Ten Lands, 2021. Curtesy of the artist

Finally, for the first time in Art Basel’s history, the digital art galleries even had their own dedicated space: just ten minutes’ walking distance from the official fair, The Digital Art Miles – promoted by ArtMeta and conceived by Georg Bak e Roger Haas – hosted a selection of international platforms such as Objkt.com, TAEX, Cinello Unlimited, fx(hash), Makersplace and many more. A curated selection by the international platform fellowship.xyz took place in the nearby Space25: here, we visitors could find seminal work by pioneer Harold Cohen, including the first self-portrait made in 1992 by AARON, a software programmed by the artist to be the first AI able to produce images. Or again, Memories of Passersby I (2018) by Mario Klingemann, the second AI-based work ever sold at auction via Sotheby’s (the first one, which was sold a few months beforehand at Christie’s New York for $432.500, was Portrait of Edmond Belamy by the French collective Obvious).

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Laura Cocciolillo
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