[-empyre-] more thoughts on the discussion of Chinese new media

Timothy Murray tcm1 at cornell.edu
Mon Nov 29 04:49:34 EST 2010

>Thanks so to everyone  who has contributed this month.  Before our 
>discussion switches to next month's topic, I might add a couple of 
>observations of the relation of new media to artistic practice in 

Perhaps one of the difficulties in "tracking" new media in China 
relates not only to the specificity of new media production in China 
but also to the fluid geographical network in which many Chinese 
artists have found themselves operating.  I'm thinking of the period 
through mid-2000s when Xu Bing and others were working in the US and 
elsewhere.  Now many of these artists work across borders, as does 
the marvelous new media artist in Paris, Du Zhenjun, or the 
multidisciplinary artist who works between Alfred, NY, Ithaca, NY and 
Beijing, Chen Xiaowen, whose artistic contributions are a blend 
between new media, printmaking, and painting.

One of the reasons that I worked so hard in 2002-03 to bring the Wen 
Pulin Archive of Avant-Garde Art to the Rose Goldsen Archive of New 
Media Art (http://goldsen.library.cornell.edu/special/wen.php) , in 
Ithaca, New York (for which we had to digitize 360 hours of tape in 
Berlin and then ship the DVDs to the States so that they could be 
secure in case any security/censorship issues would change) was 
because of how effectively they trace the rise of new media in China 
as a cross-disciplinary practice that arose as much from performance 
and installation than as a derivative of video from artists such as 
Song Dong.  Indeed, one of China's leading new media artists, Feng 
Mengbo who we've discussed before this month, preceded his work in 
new media and programming by painting portraits of himself inserted 
into the landscape of videogames.   While Li Zhenhua has done 
tremendous service to the Chinese global and new media communities 
with his major curated shows, he's no doubt been aided by the 
artistic sensibility in China that new media is but one media, called 
"new", that functions in tandem and in dialogue with the many others.

This week's  fantastically informative by posting by Ken Fields about 
the presence of electronic and sound art is a great case in point. 
It's interesting, in this context, that the Wen Pulin Archive 
includes hours of footage of the rise of Chinese rock n' roll whose 
sounds and rhythms are frequently surrounding or echo Chinese 
installation performances in the 80s and 90s.

  It's in keeping with this tradition that I found myself involved 
with co-curating  with Yang Shin-Yi (who wrote the first dissertation 
on Chinese electronic art at Cornell)  an exhibition of Chinese 
realist paintings for Shanghai World Expo in September, "Awakening," 
which helped to situate the new media contributions of Xu Bing in 
relation to the controversial history of  realist painting by artists 
whose work began to flourish while in Cultural Revolution reeducation 
in Tibet or while in political exile in the West.

Another slippage that has occurred in new media across Asia is its 
flattening condensation and interactive silencing in artistic 
animation.   This was particularly evident last year in Taiwan's Asia 
Art Biennale that featured much more digital animation than 
interactive installation.  While we could begin to appreciate this 
marking another example of the decline of new media, our fascinating 
discussion on -empyre- of animation last spring certainly would 
caution us against so separating the curating and criticism of new 
media from that of animation.

While I hope to discuss with Robin when in Hong Kong  next year the 
promise of returning new media to the white cube, I'd also like to 
make a strong shout out to the continued promise of the network.   In 
now working with Turbulence on a curating project, I've been 
reengaged with my own curating of net.art over the past decade and 
think that now could be the time to encourage continued 
experimentation with networked and mobile practices.  The question 
here returns to an issue that we began with, that the network is much 
more surveilled in China than are galleries (or perhaps it would be 
more accurate to say "more censored").

But this can be a challenge in exhibition practice as well.  Although 
a travelling exhibition of American work in China, organized by Chen 
Xiaowen, that included work by Renate for which censorship never 
seemed to have been a significant issue for her installation pieces 
with dialogue, I'm thinking of the contrasting case of MAAP 2002 in 
Beijing whose Chinese censors required, as I heard, that either 
certain works be excluded or more generally that no works  coming 
from outside of China contain overt political content.

Of great promise and interest are Melinda's references to the 
aaaijiao and Mao's thoughts about computing/cybernetics being about 
adaption rather than control-
about systems theory and connected intelligence.  These clearly are 
the kinds of cloudy issues the envelope Chinese new media and that 
beg for more 'clouding' in discussion, analysis, and performance.

Of course these kinds of issues return us, as Robin suggests, to a 
"media historical/visual studies" approach, which I think actually 
has motivated a lot of the new media work coming from inside China in 
any case.

Hope these concluding thoughts are helpful.  Many thanks to Melinda 
and her great guests for treating us to this important topic of 



>I've unfortunately reached the end of my time active on the list here
>this month as I'm now on the road, so I won't be able to answer in as
>much detail as I would have liked, but I would like to point to a few
>directions that I think our coming curatorial research into new media
>art forms in China might wish to approach.
>1. More situated research methods. At present many of our modes of
>research, as Li Zhenhua has demonstrated with the links he has been
>posting this month, involve externally-determined collections of data
>on artists: that is to say, locating artists already assumed to be
>working in new media in some way, and then asking them questions about
>their practices as if the activities of these artists constitute an a
>priori field of media art. I believe it would be constructive to take
>a more nuanced theoretical approach to the arts of new media as they
>function here, attempting to fit various curatorial models to the
>presently existing situation of artistic practice rather than allowing
>the works and ideas of a certain group of artists to overly influence
>our impressions.
>2. Return to exhibition construction. This appears to be an
>appropriate time to move curating back into the white cube, at least
>partially--with the failure of the eArts festival and, to a lesser
>degree, the Waterland Kwanyin circuit it would seem that China now
>experiences a fortunate reprieve from the circuit of media festivals.
>Curating, with regard to new media, has moved much too far away from
>exhibition practice, and many artists working with an interest in
>technologies and media forms lack potential platforms on which to
>present these ideas in the (non-spectacular) exhibition format.
>3. A media historical/ visual studies approach. As I mentioned
>previously, the "brief" historical moment of media art in China is
>often assumed to imply that such practices emerge out of a vacuum,
>which of course is absurd. Unlike the situations of Western Europe and
>the U.S., where fields of media archaeology and visual studies have
>provided a rich historical and social background to more explicit art
>histories, very little of this work has actually been carried out in
>China, particularly for the period prior to 1949. My personal research
>has been taking me increasingly toward pre-cinema modes of viewing,
>which I believe will ultimately provide a fascinating basis upon which
>to analyze our current viewing practices: relating, for example, the
>viewing "event" of the literati scroll to later forms of moving
>imagery, and eventually our digital scrolling practices on Art-Ba-Ba
>and elsewhere.
>Just a couple quick thoughts, unfortunately, but I look forward to
>seeing how others conclude these conversations over the coming days.
>All best,
>Robin Peckham
>Society for Experimental Cultural Production
>2/F 716 Shanghai St., Mongkok, Kowloon, H.K.
>+852 5181 5156
>On Tue, Nov 23, 2010 at 3:21 PM, Melinda Rackham
><melinda.rackham at rmit.edu.au> wrote:
>>  The idea of (intimate?) nuanced intellectually engaging work is
>>  alluring.. and for clarity i useually use the term "emerging practices"
>>  or "emerging artforms" to cover a wealth and breath of mediated,
>>  distributed and constructed concepts environments and objects eg the
>>  parallel conceptual and material merging of media art and diy
>>  traditional craft practices. Could you post an example of the sort of
>>  emerging practices you are speaking of?
>>  best wishes
>>  Melinda
>>  Melinda Rackham
>>  Melinda Rackham
>>  Adjunct Professor
>>  School of Media and Communications
>>  RMIT University
>>  _______________________________________________
>>  empyre forum
>>  empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>  http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>empyre forum
>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

Timothy Murray
Director, Society for the Humanities
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
A. D. White House
27 East Avenue
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853

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