[-empyre-] the paradox between control and losing control - isaac mao

Robin Peckham ra.peckham at gmail.com
Mon Nov 22 13:39:11 EST 2010

I absolutely agree that Isaac Mao's "sharism" idea is tending toward a
new California ideology (perhaps a Shanghai ideology?). All of the
elements are in place: social responsibility, affection for
capitalism, technological utopianism. We have to remember, of course,
that Isaac has only a tangential relationship with art and even new
media art, and the value of his activity in writing essays like this
and participating in panels that touch upon artistic practice is
primarily derived from his outsider perspective (a very valuable one,
given his expertise on venture capital, social media, and digital
activism in China). I recently interviewed him, and constantly come
back to one thing he said: "In China, many dissidents and activists
are open up their personal information. Why? Because previously they
just wanted to close it down to protect themselves without being
tracked by the government. Someone might want people to know his
position so he can do things secretly. But now many are opening up
this information because they see the social power. Once they’ve
opened up their position, home phone, and travel plans, more people in
the cloud know where they are at the same time as the authorities. He
is protected even as he is tracked." (Full interview here:

Where Chinese installation artists have not shied away from using
digital technologies in their work (indeed, like artists working in
installation the world over, but more so in China simply because
installation preceded media by a matter of only 4-5 years), as Isaac
Leung has pointed out, the idea of "new media art" is very much
socially constructed in the situation we're looking at. It seems to me
that it is almost consciously circumscribed by the field, as with the
way Li Zhenhua and Zhang Ga are taken, almost exclusively, as the
curators of new media art in China. Artists who don't fall into their
orbits, even when interested in generative processes, coding, and so
on, are often seen as contemporary artists without reference to
subgenre. To my mind, in recent years both Li and Zhang have backed a
very specific aesthetic of new media that looks very much like new
media, as with the work of Aaajiao and Isaac Mao's thinking on that
work. There are certainly many artists interested in issues of media
and working with technologies that do not fall into this category: the
range of fabrication processes available to post-studio practitioners
in China, particularly through the electronics factories in the Pearl
River Delta, is mind-blowing, and often makes for work that, while
intellectually directed at concepts of media, leaves no trace of this
interested on a physically explicit level--unlike, say, the video
games of Feng Mengbo or the devices of Aaajiao, or the installations
of Hu Jieming.

Robin Peckham
Society for Experimental Cultural Production
2/F 716 Shanghai St., Mongkok, Kowloon, H.K.
+852 5181 5156

> Below I've reproduced one essay from our guest aaajiao's recent
> "Cybernetics" exhibition catalogue  by Isaac Mao. Mao with David Sasaki
> curated the Cloud Intelligence Symposium at Ars Electronica last year. Their
> sessions on cloud computing and cloud activism were *tweeted as "one of the
> hottest sessions of the week".  Curiously their curatorial statement ended
> with the words "Welcome to the new social ecology. Welcome to our shared
> intelligence, networked anxiety, and collective future. Welcome to the
> cloud."
> This seems to me very much in the vein of Californian Ideology. Robin
> proposed the first wave of networked hype was not historically a part of
> media arts development in China.  Edward outlined how media arts development
> has been on fast forward since linkages began into 20th/21st century
> international media art activities. The expectations of media artists  of
> global positioning certainly are very different in 2010 than in 1995 when
> Feng Mengbo was fusing Chinese history and video culture in large paintings.
> best wishes
> Melinda
> Melinda Rackham
> melinda at subtle.net
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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