The last decade has seen a technological re-revolution in Asia. Japan, already among the world’s most technologically advanced nations, brought telecommunications into the 21st century with the first 3G cell phones in 2001, ushering in a new era of mobile TV, web-browsing and online game-playing. In 2006, South Korea became the first country to provide broadband-network access to more than half of its population. Last year, China surpassed the United States and became the world’s biggest internet user with nearly 300 million people connected to the world wide web. Meanwhile, in recent years, India has emerged as a global leader with its information technology services accounting for over 40 percent of its GDP, and in the Middle East, Israel stands at the forefront of stem-cell research.
As advances in science reshape society, artists embracing new media have increasingly sophisticated means for perceiving and reinterpreting the world. ArtAsiaPacific’s July/August issue focuses on artists who use technology to explore new frontiers.
AAP contributor Olivier Krischer looks at the work of Feng Mengbo, a painter who was one of the first artists to embrace new-media art in mainland China in the early 1990s. Krischer discusses Feng’s particular blend of the virtual violence of first-person shooter games with the aesthetics and iconography of the Cultural Revolution, and more recently digitally modeled shanshui landscape paintings derived from literati tradition. Also rooted in traditional art practice is Jerusalem’s Romy Achituv, who, originally trained in anatomical sculpture, sees new media as one of the many tools he wields to examine the human condition. Features editor Ashley Rawlings considers how Achituv employs a range of media, including photography, motion sensors and interactive software programs as a means for philosophical, historical and social inquiry, particularly with regard to marginalized communities.
Gazing at the frontiers of new-media practice in Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and India, New York’s Eyebeam Art + Technology Center executive director Amanda McDonald Crowley hosts a roundtable discussion by email with artists active in the new-media and interdisciplinary communities. Turning to the Subcontinent, AAP managing editor HG Masters considers New Delhi-based trio Raqs Media Collective’s examinations of virtual and urban landscapes as they engage with legal theory, the biological sciences and postmodern literary theory. When media art is not generated by microchips, it grows out of the petri dish, as AAP contributing editor Chin-Chin Yap discovers in the cutting-edge bio-art of SymbioticA. The artistic experiments at the Australian “curiosity-based, non-utilitarian” research lab at the University of Western Australia include a tiny coat made of living tissue from mouse and human stem cells.
In Profiles, AAP focuses on individuals who defy easy categorization. In an interview with Tejal Shah, we learn the Mumbai-based video artist’s views on gender, sexuality and self-censorship against a backdrop of increasing right-wing fundamentalism in India. AAP contributor Brian Curtin talks to Paul Pfeiffer, who was born in Hawaii and raised in the Philippines, about his manipulations of mass-media imagery. In Tokyo, contributing editor Michael Young follows Johnnie Walker, the irreverent outsider of the Japanese art world as he collaborates with artist-cum-architect Ai Weiwei on building a sleek gallery-studio space to commemorate his deceased Irish wolfhound, Francis Bacon.
The new-media theme runs throughout the issue. In Projects, Japanese video artist Tabaimo tells assistant editor Hanae Ko about how she instills her hand-drawn animations with a captivating sense of unease. In My Eight, Xu Bing uses a “font library” computer program to play with the digital limits of semantics and tell us about his eight favorite icons. For Where I Work, we visit the young Lebanese artist-engineer Ayah Bdeir, who recently debuted her do-it-yourself electronics kit for artists and designers, called “LittleBits,” at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center. And new-media artist and critic Jonah Brucker-Cohen reviews three recent books on the burgeoning field.
Though Asia has made phenomenal advances in communications technology, censorship still limits the region’s full potential for open channels of dialogue. In a straight-talking opinion piece, Ai Weiwei reflects on the importance of free speech as China reached the 20th anniversary of the protests in Tiananmen Square, and how the internet can offer greater transparency to its citizens.
As technology empowers a growing number of people around the world, ArtAsiaPacific continues to seek out artists who are leading the new-media revolution and making the crucial connections.