[-empyre-] China Media Art(s)

Ken Fields kfields at ucalgary.ca
Wed Nov 24 10:00:58 EST 2010

Greetings from the 2nd coldest place on the planet today, Calgary. Awaiting a flight out to sunny Santa Barbara. Given the two hour delay, I thought this might be a good time to jot down a few thoughts on Media Arts in China.

First, if we attach the 's' to the end of 'New Media Art,' we open up the discourse properly. Computer music was a major port of entry to the China MA scene when I came to Beijing in 1999 for a concert at Tsinghua University (international computer music conference). In 2000 I stayed for good and for most of the decade as a prof at the Central Conservatory of Music, China Electronic Music Center (CEMC). I brought a 1200 page book with me, the Computer Music Tutorial by Curtis Roads, MIT press, the translation of which introduced new terminology into the culture - a contentious issue, as translators disagreed on the place of even basic terms - computer music, calculator music, electronic music… new terms like granular synthesis were created. I would assume the issue would be the same for the visual media arts but I don't know which translation project could be compared to ours.

The international computer music conference was held in Hong Kong in 1996 where I first heard the strains of erhu music with electronics. I gave introductory talks on Media Arts in 2001 at the (now Tsinghua) School of Art and Design when it was still located at Guo Mao and wasn't part of the University yet; again, nice translation issues - 'discourse networks, the science of the artificial.' Then at the Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) when my translator was Shen Li. I was still drunk on my doctoral work and didn't yet read the state of the media arts as it was then in China.

After, I co-convened (with Roy Ascott) an early exhibition/conference together in 2004: the Planetary Collegium's Consciousness Reframed Conference: Qi and Compexity. This was a collaborative endeavour between CEMC, CAFA, Beida (PKU), and Normal University. The first media arts programs in China. Exhibition at the Red Gate Gallery.

Another interesting project was the Leonardo Labs Dissertation Database - the Chinese database (China Labs) - gathering the primary directors of the budding media arts graduate programs: Ma Gang, Zhang Peili, Zhang Xiaofu, Lother Spree (Shanghai), Zhu Qingsheng (Lao Zhu), and myself. This went nowhere really, as 'media arts' programs in China were in actuality animation programs. There are now thousands of Chinese graduate students with animation degrees though absent an animation industry that was predicted to compete with Japan. With the introduction of audio programming with Supercollider at CEMC, a proper text, the first Phd program in electronic music in China, an annual electronic music festival since 2004 and the establishment of the EMAC (the electronic music association of china), I feel there is much overlooked in the discourse on Chinese 'media arts' as discussed.

There are countless projects to talk about, Sounding Beijing 2003 with Yao Dajuin organizer, Yan Jun's consistent avant garde audio projects, soundscape installations at the Millennium Monument, Chaos Chen (curator), the struggle for a 'real' Media Arts program at Beijing University, the Digiarts meeting in Delhi in 2003, a Zhuhai conference on the development of media arts in academia, the establishment of the media arts association of China at Normal University, the establishment of a Siggraph China chapter. The EMS, Electroacoustic Music Studies network had its gathering in Beijing in 2006 and again in Shanghai this year, bringing out the first articulation of Chinese academic discourse in the field.

I should stop there for now… a decade of Media Arts in China has lagged slightly behind the explosive growth of the Chinese economy - but not much. It gets better, with a network music studio at the conservatory now connected to the CERNET2 - 1gig IPV6 enabled research network - China Media Arts is pushing its global media arts partners to a new level: real-time tele-media arts.

Gotta catch a plane,

Director, Syneme
Canada Research Chair in TeleMedia Arts, University of Calgary
CEMC: Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing China

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