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Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Money

Art After Social Media Era Author: Li Zhenhua Translator: Ouyang Xiao 2013

In 2003, Michael Naimark completed his research on media art commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation. The purpose of his research was to delineate how the field of new media has been accessed and explored by international corporations and, conversely, the practices that transpire within the realm of art. Additionally, it also intended to trace out the advancements new media has made since its inception, both formally and conceptually. In this sense, his project can be viewed as a research-oriented investigation into the history of new media – a project whose pertinence derived from a long-awaited need for communication from different sides.

Our present exhibition seeks a more intimate interpretation of how different fields, cultures and media can co-exist, and how technology, science and aesthetics can better integrate—independent of the reality fabricated by the mainstream world—with concurrent social processes. Attempting to identify and locate different aesthetic senses within the sphere of culture and technology, it intends to generate public resonance through the exploration of everyday life, fashion, trends and collective consciousness.

From the founding of the New Media Department by the China Academy of Art in 2001, to the 2002 Multimedia Art Asia Pacific Festival (MAAP), the development of new media in China has been closely linked with video art. Starting with Zhang Peili’s first video works in 1988, new media has gradually expanded its horizons and incorporated elements from different fields under its purview, forming a synthetic identity that bridges video, design, architecture and performance. Reaching a distinct stage in 2005, new media art in China began to create a different cultural landscape by tapping into newly-emergent forms of communication such as the micro-blog and other internet-based mediums. These developments gave rise to a language that, by generating points of connectivity across a wider social spectrum, blurred the boundary between the real and the virtual.

Yet what constitutes new media art is still an unanswered question. For instance, the appearance of computer, internet, and art forms based on them (both software and hardware) all figur into the broader conception of new media. Other technological means linked with the genesis and renewal of new media include: the invention of radio, which expanded the realm of communication and information distribution; the Theremin and other audio equipment that can be manipulated by electricity; films, including its precursors, such as the daguerreotype, all crucial to the reproduction of images. In addition, the emergence of computer technology and practices that accompanied it, such as robot art, bio-art, social media and hacker-initiated social interventions, all fall under the umbrella of art forms that, based in the field of new media art, connect with art’s long term commitment to the transformation of culture. Here, new media attests to a specific form of integration that connects the evolution of media and medium with conceptual and social realities.

What is new media art? This is a long-term proposition that has to be constantly redefined and pursued. It does not change as new forms of media are developed, nor does it exclude older forms. Under today’s growing complexity, the horizon of media art is ever-expanding thanks to the development of media archaeology. Like contemporary art, it also needs to be incessantly questioned and explored. Consequently, artists and the development of new media art are both caught in a state of constant transformation – unstable and undecidable. Thus contemporary art and new media art both share the quality of ambiguity and multivalence, which necessitates that it achieves its cultural legitimacy through specific strategies of communication that bypass the confines of traditional modes of presentation. But this does not hinder new media art from assuming different forms such as video art, film, animation, interactive art, virtual reality, augmented reality, robotic art, bio-art, radio art, information art, internet based art, computer art, digital art, game art etc. Though these identities and forms overlap, they share a logical connection based on time and event.

The present project references the above notion of new media art in its unique relevance to public space; it is an encounter and a reason to be together. The project takes place in K11 (Shanghai), a place of high esteem in commercial culture, located in one of the busiest areas in Shanghai. This project not only points to the newly emerged public and commercial space, but also the deteriorating museum space. As society grows more community-oriented and art more closely linked with everyday life, art gradually becomes unchained from its privileged position and the conceptual systems that used to define it, so what is the future direction of art? Before this question can be answered or clearly defined, art for the time being will simply dwell in the here and now. Perhaps the time when “everyone is an artist” envisioned by Joseph Beuys will never arrive, but this does not obstruct the emergence of alternative, sometimes anonymous, modes of participation. The exchange and dialogue created therein is precisely a response to the space, it can be everywhere, or right in front you; it can be a museum, a virtual space, an elevator, or in the data fluxing through electric circuits.

Our undertaking is fundamentally different from institutional critique and resistance against the commercialization of space prevalent in the western discourse. This difference is mainly determined by one’s interpretation of alternative space. Using the emergence of contemporary Chinese art as a starting point, from the Star Group exhibition in the small garden outside of the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) in the ‘70s, the different pioneering practices of the ‘80s New Wave Movement that experimented with non-art spaces, including basements, people’s apartments and public parks – places that are not artificially constructed and isolated from the environment of daily life, to private museums and government-supported art spaces prevalent since 2000, all of these practices must address and problematize the very existence and legitimacy of the museum space. If the legitimacy of these spaces is derived from their nominal signification, then K11 is also a museum, and any public space can be a gathering place of contemporary art. But such subsumption cannot go both ways, since K11 does not fit the classical description a museum, just as many museums now try to introduce the notion of public space and the social into their space in order to move beyond its traditional limitations. A museum can be a nightclub, a place of celebration and banquets; it can be occupied and contested. As the museum endows legitimacy to these activities, the idea of the museum returns once again to daily life as a part of the public imagination. But can we call this “every life?” or perhaps a kind of everyday life guided by definite modes of conceptualization?

This project therefore intends to bring contemporary art to a wider audience, out of traditional models such as the white box, the black box, the yellow box or any other determinations proffered by the discursive systems of art.

Art has always evolved and renewed itself with the changing of the times and technological advancement. The discovery of aesthetic insight by the artist and the formation of collectivity are now moving in the same direction, if we temporarily suspend the question of how the art system influences the artist, then the most tangible way of envisaging this coming convergence is the creation of new encounters between the artist and the audience through the blurring of the constraints the art system places on space. Encounter here is not an extension of daily life or public space, but the moment in which space and time shine forth. When contemporary art is liberated from sphere or space, will not the humanity, emotion and imagination of the individual find resonance with the other in this simplicity? If its technique, medium and forms of expression can all be mobilized as interface, art only needs to find an excuse to unfetter itself from the city, the everyday, cutting-edge technology, low level income and other annoyances, thus assuming an antagonistic stance toward everything. But this antagonism cannot change anything but its own internal reality. Art is a formless form; it is a kind of anticipation and meditative silence.

One of the key propositions of this exhibition is the finitude of truth and freedom. I believe that both are open to the multiplication of divergent perspectives and tend to switch their meaning according to context, though this does not entail or presuppose a cynical or defeatist outlook. Rather, it is a way of looking at the world in which one’s critical distance is kept intact. Similarly, I do not want to make any assumptions about whether art in this case is closer to freedom or truth. As social conditions grow more complex, which kind of existence can be considered simple and pure? Raising the question in this way does not insinuate that it is fictional, since this existential status is necessitated by the very notion of existence as one of its possible modes. I prefer to describe the current state of the art world intuitively, which makes art move closer to its anticipated or perhaps imputed simplicity and purity. Truth and freedom are constantly opened up by the exploration of medium and the turning of the world. They are paradoxical sometimes; sometimes one can have both.

I like a statement by the filmmaker Hou Xiaoxian: “I still have faith in human kindness.”

I hope there will always be ways for self-reflection and self-awareness during our pursuit of independence and freedom. It does not have to take the spotlight, but simply be preserved as an underlying expectation or encouragement. This sobriety will not change with the altering of commercial or political circumstances, and independence is not a politicized stance in my opinion – just as I do not believe in a singular truth; our lives are always relational, but our natures vary.

If we approach this issue from the perspective of the artist, then is this just another festival, or something else – the festival to come? If one resorts to notions of gathering and encounter prevalent in the discourse of relational aesthetics, or simply as a celebration, then, without a question, the art here does disappoint, or that it constitutes, in a totally unexpected manner, the site where each participating artist manifests his or her individual practice. Under this light, art is not exhibited with any agenda or created to fulfill certain ideological demands; on the contrary, it is and should always be a quiet and reticent power.

If the exhibition mediated by the curator, artists and artwork only constitutes a specific system of complexity within many larger, more encompassing social systems, then why show art at all, and make it into a site or a clue that unfolds as art encounters the beholder, the masses or the public? The depth and sense of time demanded of an artist should be extended to the viewers. I have a hard time imagining people visiting this exhibition often, nor is it likely for them to dwell on a non-identified, out of the ordinary encounter. In the same way as repeatedly looking at an object or a film, the difference being the focus of the viewers throughout the exhibition will have to be scattered. They must explore, for themselves, art works that are not beholden to the simple act of being seen, but that which have to be discovered and perceived through different experiences, environments and times. Here I reject the invisible or classical museological presentation, but hope instead that this exhibition can be a process of mutual exploration and letting-happen among the curator, the artist and the public.

Perhaps I have expected too much of the project, perhaps this project is just the beginning. I can feel an inextricable force transpiring inside the project through the participation of the artists, the recognition of the project initiator Michael Naimark, the support of K11 and many cultural institutions, commercial entities and peers.

For K11, a cultural project is not as simple and straightforward as an advertising campaign, its cultural influence has to be sustainable and ongoing, perhaps the realization of its social responsibility, as self-encouragement and an impetus for future development, can be a gift to the new year of 2013.

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Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Money


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