Embracing technologies in the service of Aesthetic
Just as the International Symposium On Electronic Art (ISEA) 2008 passed off quietly after 10 days of conferences, workshops, exhibitions and other collateral events started since 23rd July, “Relocations” – the media art exhibition in the theme of Locating Media among many other themes ended on 3rd August below the radar of many people. This world’s premier media arts event for the critical discussion and showcase of creative productions applying new technologies in interactive and digital media, is less of a limelight if compared to Singapore Biennale which was also hosted by Singapore but with higher regards. This relentlessly reflects the little interest if not development of creative media in the Asian region. Nevertheless, the fact that this is the second time ISEA is hosted in Asia represents a wonderful opportunity to support, define, shape and recognize the development of creative media in Asia.
“Relocations” was curated by Roopesh Sitharan – a Malaysian curator, researcher and a loyal follower of media arts development in Malaysia. “Relocations” featured two Malaysian artists: Hasnul Jamal Saidon and Niranjan Rajah who have been creating art by synthesizing new media since the 1990s. “Relocations” was exhibited in the gallery at the concourse in School of Accountancy of Singapore Management University. Locating the exhibition itself was quite a challenge as gallery is at one hidden corner of the tunnel-like walk way. I expressed my concern of visibility of the exhibition to Roopesh and we both broke into laughter when I suggested ‘Relocation’ to be relocated.
At a second thought, the joke appropriately reflects the message of “Relocations”: to transport the artists and the field of practice to a new settlement if not to establish a new ground for new media arts practice, co-locating with the current art development in Malaysia. On the other hand, “Relocations” was there to commemorate Hasnul’s and Niranjan’s constant effort to relocate their positions and roles within the art world generally succumbed to Western aesthetic values. At a very significant level, it also addresses the conception of arts that maneuvers from material to immaterial – post-object art.
“Relocations” critically places these artists within the context of (contemporary) new media where the redefining and repositioning of ideas and concepts is an ongoing and constant process. These curatorial notes stand as a necessary subjective prologue. Gathered there in the gallery were a series of fragments including video, projection works and online installation work (www.12as12.com/relocations/) that recall these two artists’ interdisciplinary spirit. These accounts and artworks, some personal, some analytical, some uncompromising and often in disagreement, have offered provisional glimpses of Malaysia’s digital art.
“Relocations” is a reflexive action due to inability of Malaysian art to encompass the artistic ventures of Hasnul and Niranjan. Digital art has yet to have a legacy interweaving our history of visual art simply because our producers and consumers are still very much obsessed with material-oriented artform. This reflects why their movement failed to manifest in the local cultural landscape. Bearing in mind this situation, it is probably no coincidence that new media curator researcher such as Roopesh, with a very distinct approach, came in as a ‘mover’ to offer a ‘relocation package’ to these artists. Quoting Andrew Clifford in his article titled Interdisciplinary Moments: A History in Glimpse: “When support might not have been present within an artist’s chosen practice but could be found in surprising new locations, new resources and expertise developed, along with new frameworks from which to think about cultural production, collaboration and authorship. This shift has often also meant moving beyond the usual modes and venues of presentation to create new spaces for new kinds of experiences.
“Relocations” is aimed to locate emerging new media practices within national art space before moving onto global platforms. It is establishing a social situation for critical dialogue or inquiry. What is Digital/ New Media art? What are the attributes of this artform? Why do artists take up the lifeless technologies and apply them for creative purposes? What relevance has the technologies to an artist’s personal existential questions? How do specific ‘local’ cultural, economic, political and technological factors exert a powerful influence on artists and cultural producers to engender personal, emotional and experiential relationships with technologies? This essential interrogative tone attempts to open up a relational field, a context to interlace with the creative works of Malaysia artists.
In this exhibition, Roopesh has offered relocation package for new media art practice in Malaysia and his local knowledge and experiences in global arena of digital art provide us with valuable insights on how the specificities of location mediate and are mediated by both old and new technologies of information, communication and experience. And he has made the ‘moving experience’ as sensorial rich yet critical as possible. Whether or not this new settlement can offer an alternative gateway for cultural production engaging technology and articulation of Asian new media art, this I think is up to the level of compatibility in between the new comers and neighborhood. But, I believe this is the curator’s and artists’ hope that “Relocations” inaugurates a conversation that will continue as digital art in Malaysia evolves.
Lim Kok Yoong