Decentralized Networks and Virtual Worlds in Contemporary Art

Kelani Nichole is a technologist and founder of an experimental media art gallery called TRANSFER. She has been exploring decentralized networks and virtual worlds in contemporary art for over a decade. Select highlights below, and here's a full exhibition history of her 80+ digital art installations.

2021 – Pieces of Me

Pieces of Me launches on April 1st in response to the NFT boom: a curated virtual exhibition of unique token offerings from 50 artists, asking ‘How can we transact with intention?’ Produced in partnership with left.gallery, the exhibition proposes an enhanced acquisition model for NFTs, along with fixed pricing, 50% artist resale royalties, and a solidarity economy distribution of proceeds to mitigate risk in a volatile market. Coverage from Tina Rivers Ryan.

2020 – Well Now What the Fuck?

Well Now What the Fuck? launches as a rapid response to the onset of the COVID pandemic in March 2020. The virtual exhibition includes animated GIFs from 80+ artists and online programming. Commission fees are distributed to the group of artists in a time of crisis via artist-led fundraising. Curated by Wade Wallerstein, Lorna Mills and Faith Holland with virtual installation design from TRANSFER. The show is covered everywhere.

TRANSFER opens in Los Angeles, California

The gallery’s physical footprint shifts from a storefront gallery in NYC to a salon-style loft in the DTLA neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2019. Intimate gatherings with installations of media art are accompanied by dinners and discussions. Five exhibitions open in the space before the gallery closes during the pandemic. Featuring artists Rick Silva, Sabrina Ratté, Cassie McQuater, Stephanie Dinkins, Ryan Kuo, LaTurbo Avedon and Amina Ross, Faith Holland, and Huntrezz Janos.

2019 – Forging the Gods

Forging the Gods curated by Julia Kaganskiy, an exhibition of A.I. systems, game engines and simulations. The exhibition offers new metaphors for thinking about the nature of intelligence, the kind of intelligent entities we might want to forge in the future, and the trappings of the limited ‘artificial intelligence’ that is increasingly shaping our world today. Produced with support from The Knight Foundation, this exhibition resulted in the acquisition of two A.I. artworks by the Whitney Museum. Coverage from Paddy Johnson.

2018 – The Current Museum

The Current Museum founded a virtual collection backed by a decentralized patronage and stewardship model in 2018. Members contributed to acquisitions for a vote on which works come into the collection, and then recieve access to dwell with the works in their home. The collection is preserved on decentralized storage by a network of stewards. Twelve artworks were collected in three salons, and membership grew from 15 founding members to 75 salon contributors in the first year.

2017 – Virtual Reality Commission

TRANSFER’s VR Commission launches to support experimental exhibition design and UX development for Virtual Reality artworks. The gallery applies an iterative development approach to working with artists building virtual worlds, where exhibitions serve as ‘test & learn’ environments to refine affordances and help launch the artworks. Claudia Hart’s very first standalone Virtual Reality work The Flower Matrix and Rosa Menkman’s DCT Syphoning are produced and launched via the program.

2016 – TRANSFER Download

TRANSFER Download is a traveling exhibition format presenting a curated survey of virtual worlds and simulations as immersive installation. Room-scale projection surrounds the viewer with a 3-channel display, and visitors can control the exhibition by selecting works from a playlist. The TRANSFER Download was commissioned and installed around the world for 3 years, with the final edition at Christie’s AI Summit in Rockefeller Plaza NYC (2019). The catalog includes virtual installations from 25 artists, available through TRANSFER gallery. Coverage from Tim Schneider.

2015 – Digital Museum of Digital Art

Alfredo Salazar-Caro’s Virtual Reality Museum DiMoDA debuts at TRANSFER, exhibited on Oculus DK2 in the gallery. This pioneering artist-led project embedded developers alongside studios to bring artist-conceived virtual worlds to audiences. Each ‘exhibition’ is an experience across multiple virtual worlds. 3D printed sculptural editions are offered to collectors to fund the continued development of the project. The 4th edition of DiMoDA launches in 2022 curated by Christiane Paul. Coverage from Benoit Palop

2014 – Ways of Something

Lorna Mills Ways of Something is a contemporary remake of John Berger’s BBC documentary, “ Ways of Seeing ” (1972). The project consists of one-minute videos by over 113 network-based artists who commonly work with 3D rendering, gifs, film remix, webcam performances, and websites to describe the cacophonous conditions of artmaking after the internet. The first edition of the work was acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art, and all participating artists are paid equal shares upon acquisition. Coverage from Ben Davis.

2013 – New Sculpt

LaTurbo Avedon’s New Sculpt opened as a hybrid virtual /physical exhibition in Second Life and TRANSFER – artwork installation, events and performances happened concurrently across both spaces. As a virtual artist, with a virtual studio practice, LaTurbo Avedon was the first artist to offer artwork in a virtual currency: bitcoin. New York Formation (2013) was offered online in an edition of 25 priced at 1BTC and sold on the gallery’s website via Mt. Gox. Coverage from Kyle Chayka.

TRANSFER opens in Brooklyn, New York

The gallery launches as an experimental exhibition space for computer-based practices in March 2013. The space transforms with each installation, working closely with the artist’s studio to evolve complex media artwork away from the screen, into the physical space of gathering. In the first year, TRANSFER opens 8 solo exhibitions and develops a lively local audience and international following.