Céline Berthoumieux is the director of ZINC, an incubator and creative centre for digital arts and cultures in Marseille, and president of HACNUM, the national network for hybrid arts and digital cultures. She is co-director of CHRONIQUES, The Biennale of Digital Imagination, organised by ZINC and SECONDE NATURE, which is taking place from 12 November 2020 to 17 January 2021.
You have a master’s degree in Information and Communications from the University of Aix-Marseille and have worked as a communications officer and journalist specialising in football. How did you come to take an interest in the digital arts ?
During my undergraduate degree, I did an internship at the community radio station Grenouille at the Friche de la Belle de Mai, a cultural centre on a former abandoned site in Marseille featuring workshops or spaces for the arts and culture, performance and exhibition spaces. It’s an incredible place, and after working for that radio station I wanted to stay on the site. I took an interest in the digital arts by applying for a role at ZINC, which was already located there at the time. I’ve always been interested in creativity and contemporary art, but this specific focus on the digital arts came when I started working at ZINC in 2004.
How would you describe ZINC, the creative centre “for digital arts and cultures”, which you now run ?
ZINC is a structure for digital experimentation with an artistic and cultural approach. We have three main purposes. The first is to support the production and programming of works in the field of the digital arts. The second is focused on sharing and teaching the public about the digital world and new technologies via a cultural, creative and critical approach. The third is to run professional networks. Today, all our work falls with a shared framework with Seconde Nature. Alongside Mathieu Vabre, I am also co-director of this group that also includes Chroniques, the Biennale of Digital Imagination.
What major changes to the digital arts have you noticed since starting your career at ZINC 16 years ago ?
There is greater – if not total – recognition of the digital arts. For several years, maybe 5 or 6, digital artworks have started to hold their own, whereas before there was a certain lack of works that were sufficiently powerful to gain a consensus in the contemporary art world. This problem of recognition also comes from the difficulty that public policies have with this sector, particularly in terms of the way artists make use of new technologies. This new generation of artists has taken on the transdisciplinary issue. Producers, programmers and structures are able to support them, and other cultural professionals need these players in the digital arts to understand what is happening nowadays in terms of the creation of artwork.
The term “digital arts” refers to a very broad genre of works. How would you qualify the public's reception of these hybrid forms of creation? Are you seeing new trends in terms of exhibitions and new ways of presenting or even promoting these works ?
The public is often pleasantly surprised, whether by installations, visual art or generative art – programmed works in constant yet ever-changing motion. Work by Adrien M and Claire B often has that “wow” factor. Interactive or generative pieces tend to be quite democratising, including in exhibitions that don't have a digital element. Events such as the Fête des Lumières or Nuit Blanche have started a trend for exhibition circuits in the public space. It’s something that allows cities to stand out, because the works are very striking and are shared a lot on social media, which is a real advantage for producers and programmers!
ZINC works collaboratively by running professional networks. The desire to work as part of a network also seems evident in your recent position as president of HACNUM, the national network for hybrid arts and digital cultures. What are the aims of this network ?
We would like greater recognition and legitimacy for our sector in order to be better supported and funded and to be identified as the Ministry of Culture’s interlocutor. This network allows us to pool skills, equipment and productions. HACNUM, founded on 12 March 2020, brings together around forty structures. One of the challenges is the issue of trans- and interdisciplinary hybridisation in order to be able to support public cultural policies in this creative proliferation. We also need to decompartmentalise funding mechanisms and adapt them to hybrid creations.
Along with SECONDE NATURE, you co-organise the Biennale of Digital Imagination CHRONIQUES, which is taking place between 12 November 2020 and 17 January 2021. What is the impact of an event like CHRONIQUES on a local scale ?
The aim of this event is to enable the metropolitan area of Aix-Marseille and the PACA region to energise the production and creation of digital arts and cultures. It also enables us to build an entire local ecosystem with the twenty-or-so regional stakeholders and producers from all disciplines, such as Ardénome or the Scène Nationale de Toulon.
You have set this 2020 edition the theme of eternity. Why ?
Some figures in Silicon Valley, like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, buy into the fantasy of transhumanism and eternal life. Running parallel to this is the issue of the collapse and depletion of the planet and the potential extinction of humanity. We wanted to work on this dual tension confronting us. The exhibition evolved with the emergence of the pandemic, but this tension between eternal life and the collapse and depletion of the planet remains topical.
The Institut français is a partner of the CHRONIQUE Biennale as part of its Focus Arts and Digital Creations programme, which invites foreign professionals to discover the French digital arts scene and meet key figures in the sector. How did this collaboration come about? What objectives does it meet ?
Having invested in other fields of digital creation (virtual reality, innovative books, video games, etc.), the Institut français wanted to increase its action in the field of the digital arts by looking to the HACNUM network. This dynamic led to a desire to organise a Focus in the middle of the CHRONIQUES Biennale. Initially, we were supposed to host 40 to 50 professionals from around the world. The public health conditions mean they are unable to come, but we are working on an online experience. The issues that we want to address are the international circulation of artworks and artists and, for us as producers and programmers, the forging of international partnerships or co-productions.
What impact do you feel the public health crisis is having on the digital art and cultural offering ?
This crisis is pushing us to think about remote access to works. Together, we have to find alternatives to the major platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and stop giving away all the artistic and cultural content we produce for free. There is a problem between an excess of cultural consumption online and the degree to which the culture sector is affected economically.
The Institut français is a partner of Chroniques, The Biennale of Digital Imagination, with the Focus digital arts and creations.
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