New Collecting Awards: Digital warfare

Earlier this year Sara Bevan won a New Collecting Award. Here she writes about the progress of her project, to build a collection exploring war and digital for IWM London.

We only have to watch the news to see the major shifts that have taken place in the ways in which wars are fought: on-line extremism, cyber attacks, surveillance, WikiLeaks and drone warfare. The digital world is becoming as important as the physical battleground in our perception of conflict. It is artists' responses to this sinister new environment which I propose to explore using the Art Fund New Collecting Award. As I completed the application form, the US was accusing North Korea of launching a cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

IWM has exhibited works which touch on this broad theme: Omer Fast's extraordinary film 5,000 Feet is the Best or Langlands and Bell's ground-breaking and ultimately futile quest game, The House of Osama bin Laden. However, limited resources have made it difficult to acquire representative works for the collection. Admittedly it has also been slightly daunting to launch into this particular subject as many of the works are technically challenging, and not obviously collectible in a traditional sense. But it's incredibly empowering for curators to be given the opportunity not only to acquire important work, but also to develop their professional ambitions and really immerse themselves in a particular subject.

My first major research trip was to the Venice Biennale. It was great to be submerged in such a cacophony, and to feel that I could explore an artistic landscape beyond my immediate, familiar subject matter. At the Giardini some of the national pavilions are fantastic: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's eerily mobile trees and Hito Steyerl's adrenaline-fuelled installation, set inside a video game.

All The World's Futures at the Arsenale is denser. It highlights inequalities, frictions and struggles which were almost ungraspable in their volume. There were several familiar works, but some new discoveries were film collective Abounaddara's raw tales from Syria and Mika Rottenberg's hallucinatory NoNoseKnows, which unravels ideas around production through a surreal foray into a Chinese pearl factory. Towards the end of the exhibition, perched in a rotunda near the lagoon, is a particularly timely sound work by Emeka Ogboh in which we hear a chorus of African refugees who have been denied residency, singing the German national anthem in their native languages.

Outside of the main Biennale sites I fought through the selfie sticks in St Mark's Square to see Jenny Holzer at the Museo Correr: large canvasses of scratched and redacted documents: evidence of torture in the name of the war on terror. Just around the corner at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana Simon Denny confronts another surreal aspect of that war in Secret Power. In the historic library Denny has installed a server room filled with recreations of documents leaked by Edward Snowden: elaborately-designed NSA PowerPoint slides, logos and mascots; as the curator describes it: 'the iconography of geopolitical power'.

Having taken stock after Venice, I will continue to meet artists throughout the autumn. I also have some further research visits planned including Art in the Age of…Asymmetrical Warfare in Rotterdam and Globale: Global Control And Censorship in Karlsruhe. It’s a steep, but fascinating, learning curve.

The New Collecting Awards enable promising curators to pursue new avenues of collecting, while building skills. Read about the other New Collecting Awards winners.

The 56th Venice Biennale is on until 22 November 2015.

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