Bamgboyé’s new work at Artace operates in the realm of interactive software, which viewers can access via computer workstations placed in the gallery. The artist’s work began with research on a bronze bust known as the “Queen Mother Head,” from Benin, Nigeria. Dating from the late 15th to early 16th century A.D., the bronze is considered one of the best examples of its type and is now housed in the Liverpool Museum, which continues to generate controversy.
Bamgboyé became fascinated by the technology and modes of production surrounding the bronze – from the iron plants in Africa where the raw materials were culled, to the ceremonial rituals for which the object was intended, to its transformation into a cultural artifact preserved in a museum, to the mass duplication and commodification of copies circulated in the form of souvenirs and, finally, to its current manifestation as an image on the Internet. In this most recent mode, the authenticity and ownership of the object – once held exclusively by the museum – are rendered ambivalent, as the technological innovations allow anyone to access, copy, manipulate and redistribute images of the “unique” object.
This interest in technology, representation and ownership led Bamgboyé to develop a digital 3-d model of the bronze “Queen Mother Head” for an Internet-based work in which audience members can enter into the matrix of production and reproduction described above. By spinning, dragging, magnifying, copying and otherwise altering the object, the viewer exercises control, and even ownership, over the object in a way that is precluded within the traditional museum framework.
As museums increase their presence on the web through virtual tours of collections, issues of accessibility, uniqueness and ownership become increasingly complex. Bamgboyé’s project at ArtPace heightens the artist’s concerns about cultural commodification and the impact of technology. In the coming world of virtual experience though technology, what will an authentic cultural experience be?