As the title of this article may suggest, we’re giving you another reminder that Coronavirus has completely changed creative industries. One prominent consequence of the ongoing pandemic is the closure of galleries, museums, and art fairs – public spaces that facilitate the showing and telling of art in all its forms.

Not having access to this crucial aspect of the art world has made my job as an art journalist decidedly trickier. But rather than wait for these spaces to reopen, I’ve turned to the world wide web in the hopes of finding an exciting online offering – one that’s not just a YouTube video of someone walking around a gallery, either.

One gallery in particular caught my eye: digital exhibition space, Fluorescent Smogg.

Fluorescent Smogg

Set up by UK-based artist, Sickboy, in 2013, Fluorescent Smogg is an exhibition platform that is known for delivering forward-thinking, out of the box art shows. Despite having production bases in Bristol, London, and Barcelona, Fluorescent Smogg continue to expand their outreach globally with digital exhibitions and interactive shows.

The Dividing Line at Fluorescent Smogg
‘The Dividing Line’ at Fluorescent Smogg, 2020 (Photo credit: Fluorescent Smogg)

Fluorescent Smogg gained more traction last year with the launch of the first in a series of virtual reality exhibitions, titled ‘The Dividing Line’. The exhibition has since become the template for the online gallery’s other shows, in which a 3D space is rendered digitally for the showcasing of artworks.

These immersive group shows feature some of the world’s leading and up-and-coming contemporary artists, such as Sickboy, Duncan Weston, Existential Pleasures, and Ralph Steadman.

The gallery’s current show, ‘Dream Machine’, only builds on the exciting possibilities for digital exhibition spaces.

Dream Machine

Despite using the same digital space as ‘The Dividing Line’, ‘Dream Machine’ is almost completely unrecognisable from its predecessor.

Gone are the clean walls and more traditional elements of the contemporary gallery, instead viewers will find a “Virtual Utopia brought from Dystopia” complete with crumbling architecture, graffitied walls, and neon purple lighting.

The show is a reflection on “the complexities of this year’s metaphysical landscape – and re-examines the fundamental nature of reality and expression in a changing world.” By looking at how everyday landscapes have been disrupted during current times, ‘Dream Machine’ aims to highlight how creativity has adapted and flourished.  These “utopian manifestations of creativity” are seen co-habiting and thriving in the collapse of familiar urban spaces, giving a sense of optimism to those who previously felt that art exhibition was on the decline.

The digital space is meant for autonomous exploration just like a physical gallery, but with the added excitement of hidden messages and images for you to find during your viewing experience.

Being a group show, the art exhibited supports a multitude of practices, from painting, printing, and digital art to sculpture, light boxes, and video installation.

Traversing the Dream Machine

The space itself reminded me more of an abandoned, dystopian prison, rather than an art gallery. Everything was bathed in neon purple and the floor was covered in rubble and structural ruins. This effect seems to be achieved by the open ceiling, which provides a direct view of the manufactured galaxy surrounding the exhibition space.

Small details, like the cracks in the walls and the purple LED tube lights strewn across the floor, created an intricately detailed space begging for exploration.

Enabling the audio only adds to the sensory experience of ‘Dream Machine’, as instrumentals by DJ Krust, Mudd, and Gaslamp Killer build upon the 80’s futurist aesthetic of the space. Each space has its own soundtrack, allowing for an experience that is fully immersive and varied in its presentation of different spaces.

Entering the Exhibition Space

The exhibition opens with an image of a castle floating in space before the viewer is “dropped” into the gallery. Using a similar method to Google Maps’ Street View, viewers are able to see the space from an avatar point of view.

The first part of the gallery you’ll see is a wall of arrow markers indicating different areas of the exhibition. With names like ‘Genex Zone’ and ‘Geisel Zone’ (words referring to independence and creativity respectively), ‘Dream Machine’ indicates from the first few moments of viewing that the experience is intended to innovate current means of exhibition. 

Main Exhibition Room

The main exhibition room is central in the digital blueprint of the space, being one of the first rooms off the main corridor. The room itself resembles more of your typical exhibition space, with artworks hung on the wall and installations marked on the floor.

I thought the presentation of artworks here was very clever, as viewers can click the space by an artwork to “walk” towards it. Clicking on the Fluorescent Smogg logo under each artwork also gives an opportunity to get a closer look and see the artwork’s product details. This was a bit of a high point for the exhibition, as it felt like you could view each artwork at your own leisure without getting in someone’s way – as would be the case in a busy physical gallery.

the-rise-of-the-digital-art-exhibition-dream-machine-at-fluorescent-smogg
The main exhibition room in ‘Dream Machine’, 2021 (Photo credit: Fluorescent Smogg)

Details to look out for in the main exhibition room are the patchy ceiling, the stranded fire extinguisher, and phrases scrawled on the walls:

even in my fantasies my expectations are low

Highlights from this room include Nano Abia’s ‘Reality Tunnel’, Sickboy’s ‘Heart’ Lightbox, and Finsta’s ‘Birds’ series.

Left Hallway and the Basement

Turning left from the start point, you are immediately greeted by graffiti and crumbling walls. The main point of focus here is Duncan Weston’s ‘Universal Credits’, which is located within the mass of black graffiti. Featuring a scribbled version of our solar system, Weston’s artwork is a special edition signed print for the exhibition available for sale. This is another clever marketing tactic for the gallery, as it only takes a few clicks on the screen to add the artwork to your digital basket.

Digital graffiti highlighting Duncan Weston’s ‘Universal Credits’ (Photo credit: Fluorescent Smogg)

Following the bend round the hallway leads to four doorways – one is inaccessible (believe me, I spent about five minutes trying to click on it), but the other three lead to the main exhibition room, a spare room full of rubble, and the basement.

The basement is where the video installation of the exhibition is held, featuring ‘Visions of Light’ by Existential Pleasures. The video aims to transport viewers through multiple landscapes that transition into dystopian environments – something that probably isn’t as successful as it could be given the digital space, despite it resembling the typical ‘cinema room’ found in galleries.

Nevertheless, ‘Visions of Light’, with its modern utopia buildings, exaggerated natural environments, and nightclub-inspired blinding lights, is an interesting installation that viewers can watch and dissect at their own pace.

Right-Side Room

Much like the main exhibition room, the second exhibition room located on the right hand-side of the first corridor is laid out traditionally, with artworks on the walls and small sculptures set in the centre of the room on plinths and tables.

This room features exclusive collaborations between the gallery and selected artists, which are characterised by more detailed product descriptions and videos. One of these collaborations, ‘Fluorescent Smogg x The Chambers Project – Ralph Steadman’, is definitely worth stopping to look at if you decide to check out the exhibition.

The right-hand exhibition room (Photo credit: Fluorescent Smogg)

A small bronze sculpture titled ‘Dr Gonzo’, Steadman’s artwork is a caricature of Hunter S. Thompson’s character of the same name from the book ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (who in turn is based on the attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta, who went missing in Mexico back in 1974). An attorney chasing the American Dream through a drug-induced haze, Steadman’s ‘Dr Gonzo’ is pipe-wielding old man seen sneaking away from a scene with a pipe in his mouth and bullet cases trailing behind him. Like his fictional character, this mysterious figure grabs both the attention and imagination of the viewer.

Clicking on the product description takes viewers to a video showing the making process of the bronze sculpture, as well as various passages from ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. While not a plethora of information about the artwork, there is enough available to draw viewers – and potential buyers – in to the story of the artwork and subject.

Highlights from this room include Ben Eine’s ‘Why Can’t We All Just Get Along’, a series of portraits by Adam Neate, and Cain Caser’s ‘Backwards Séance’.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

‘Dream Machine’ was an excellent space that was fun to explore. The playfulness in which Fluorescent Smogg organised the digital environment was not lost on me, and at times the experience could have been likened to a video game.

The diversity of art on show fit surprisingly well with the chaotic aesthetic of the digital space, drawing out the more whacky and vibrant elements of the artworks. The variation of price points was also a pleasant surprise, with tags being marked in from the tens to the hundreds. This factor made the artworks on show feel more financially accessible from the perspective of an art collector.

My engagement level with the virtual exhibition space was high, but I couldn’t give ‘Dream Machine’ full marks due to the more frustrating aspects of the VR experience.

Clicking around the space was fun at first, but this novelty quickly wore off and it started to feel a bit like using Google Maps. Some of the spaces – in particular the nooks and crannies of the hallways – were also not available to view. For people like me that like to check out the entirety of the space, the limitations of walking to a ‘click space’ were more annoying than helpful.

Nevertheless, I can see exhibitions like ‘Dream Machine’ continuing to thrive and adapt to the needs of art consumers. There’s something about the video game-esque adventure sequence that is refreshingly engaging and allows the digital viewer much more autonomy than is usually given.

If you’re looking for a fun way to go to galleries from home, Fluorescent Smogg’s ‘Dream Machine’ should be your first point of call.


Illustration by Hollie Joiner

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