A visitor sifts through a pile of black-and-white photos printed as part of Free Wifi. PHOTO: Farnia Fekri

Where physical meets digital

In Arts & Life /

By Leah Hansen

Free Wifi, an exhibition curated by Ryerson image arts student Parker Kay at the IMA Gallery, explores the intersection between the physical and virtual worlds, connecting digital images with their real-life counterparts.

The exhibition, which opened on Oct. 31, includes two components: an online stream where anyone can upload an image, and a physical installation, where the uploaded images are printed and strewn out in a pile of black-andwhite artwork on the gallery’s hardwood floor.

Kay, a third-year student, says this creation process questions the traditional interpretation of art as something that hangs in a gallery.

That interpretation still prevails, which can be intimidating for newcomers to the art world, Kay says.

With Free Wifi, anyone can submit an image, chipping away at the formal barrier between what is considered amateur and professional.

“I think a lot of people become discouraged – especially when they’re starting out in the art world – by having to know the right people,” he says. “Free Wifi gives opportunities for a lot of people to participate.”

Kay’s exhibition depends on user participation to survive and thrive – if no one uploads images to the site, the project doesn’t exist. The concept behind Free Wifi parallels the concept behind immensely successful sites like Facebook, Twitter and blogs, where the user isn’t the consumer, but the curator.

Free Wifi also explores recent changes in the way we view images – and therefore, the way we perceive art.

The meaning of online images constantly changes based on the images positioned before and after them. An image taken from the floor of the gallery may be jarring on its own but has a coherent meaning when surrounded by the other pictures.

“We see so many images today and the way we see those images is by scrolling past them, which is why the online exhibition is structured very much like a blog,” says Kay.

The idea for Free Wifi originally came from Kay’s fascination with the intersection between physical and digital space, which, he explains, is like the relationship between an island dweller and the sea.

“The only way you’re able to experience and understand the vastness of an ocean is through the coast. And if you don’t have that coast, you’re lost in this expanse,” Kay explains.

“I’m making a comparison to that and being surrounded by digital information, and the only way to understand it is through [a screen]…A lot of images people are creating are digital, and the most appropriate way to see them is digital.”

Free Wifi runs until Nov. 23.

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