[-empyre-] departing Manifest Dynasty

Melinda Rackham melinda at subtle.net
Mon Nov 29 14:50:17 EST 2010

greetings -empyre- ..
The -empyre- thematic this month was an exploration of the factors  
which shape media art production within China - and what shapes and  
filters the art we see from China in locations outside China. Manifest  
Dynasty specifically references the notion of Manifest Destiny - a  
19th century American belief in expansionism; the divine right of the  
US to rule the North American continent; and the belief in the natural  
superiority of the English-speaking peoples. The term fell into disuse  
after the mid 1850s, athough its concepts continue to influence US  
foreign policy today.

150 years later these same notions are being played out on the Asian  
continent.The headiness in todays China is of Capitalism on Crack - a  
veritable Mad Men in Mandarin. Chinese expansion is readily apparent  
(manifest) and inexorable (destiny). Giant manufacturing industries   
are moving beyond China's borders into cheaper labour markets,  
economic policy keeps the value of the Yuan down benefiting Chinese  
exporters, Chinese painting has become a global art movement. There  
are still however many specifies which make China a unique location  
for the production of media arts beyond any notions of an east/west  

We have spoken of the co-location of the major Chinese curators of  
media arts in China, the US, Europe and Australia, and the emerging  
Shanghai ideology, an expansion on the Californian ideology of the  
1990's. Rebecca Catching spoke several times of the issues surrounding  
the Cultural Bureau's censorship of her curatorial programs at the OV  
gallery in Shanghai, and in my closing comments I want to pick up on  
the many factors which shape what we see in exhibitions and in public  

In our DreamWorlds exhibition we made the hard decision to self-censor  
to ensure that the whole exhibition went ahead. I was initially buoyed  
by the more openness to foreign work in China over the repast 10  
years, however well into development became aware of the changing  
moods in China regarding political content in foreign work. Our  
producer was having the annoying and constant passport checks, the  
venue hadn't signed its contact and we become increasingly worried the  
show wouldn't eventuate. I had initially included the very talented   
Deborah Kelly in the DreamWorlds show. Deborah was not doing a  
flagrantly political work, well it was a work on gender politics, but  
has a healthy reputation as as leading activist artist as a  
consequence of her previous collective and political artwork -  
especially the recent Tank Man Tango (http://www.forget2forget.net) -  
a global dance performance based on the guy who faced off the   
advancing tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 with two plastic shopping  
bags. My apologies to Deborah for not being brave enough to take the  
risk in public space in China this time to exhibit her work.

The venue in fact was playing their own cat and mouse games with us,  
having unbeknown to us, also rented the space in front of our  
exhibition screen to Mercedes-Benz for an event on the same night  
Dreamworlds launched.  No problem really except Mercedes erected a 3  
story high fluorescent pavilion directly in front of our 27 meter  
screen making it unviewable and effectively censoring its opening  
event. (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/iwishicoulddescribeittoyoubetter/4966681251/) 
  Luckily our opening party was being held in a private open air plaza  
on the 4th floor in the building opposite the Sanlitun Screen and we  
had an almost clear vier to the screen. Mercedes pulled down their  
pavilion the day after our opening, however it proved to be an  
interesting exploration of the ecology of random, unpredictable and  
competing markets, events and aesthetics of presenting art work in the  
public sphere.

Perhaps as a foreigner I can never hope to have the agility of  
thinking to understand the fluctuating regulations, variable  
guidelines, competing market factions and political and legal  
inconsistencies that doing business in China require . Pulling off a  
big show in China is a feat for a foreigner and Kim Machan, who has  
been a pioneer of the cultural exchange exhibitions both in and out of  
China,  now prefers to work in Libraries as a more stable environment  
than the gallery system. Chunky Move (whose work was documented in  
Dreamworlds) were so frustrated by negotiations with their theatre  
they cancelled their Beijing season of Mortal Engine. Perhaps this  
lack of agile perspective or adaptive positioning is what Li Zuhena  
was refering to when he complained the paucity and fundamental  
thinking displayed in our -empyre- dialogues.

Many ironies emerge in cultural exchanges.  Rebecca was speaking of  
the value of digital files to route around censorship on a local  
scale, and Isaac Mao spoke of the new collective consciousness of  
Cloud Computing.  Our experience of Dreamworlds was digital that  
transfer of large files is extremely difficult into, within and out of  
China - hard copies of large works are necessary.  The reproducibility  
and mobility of the digital image also resulted in our Beijing venue,  
Sanlitun Village,  showing the Dreamworlds exhibition for an  
additional month without seeking our permission, or paying the artists  
for the additional use of their content. The copies of the works  
should have been destroyed after the agreed screening period, but they  
live on. The digital makes ownership and access variable across the  

It has been a fascinating month for me personally, to gain insight  
into some aspects of the Media Arts scenes in China. While undoubtedly  
a major player in global media arts practices, there is tendency  
outside China to foreground translatable work - artists working in the  
global language of data aesthetics and digital scapes rather than in  
the specificities of culture.   Media art however, like all arts  
practice is inextricably routed in local context - whether that locale  
be Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or other centers. To think  
one can transcend ones grounding is perhaps foolish and dull, as it is  
precisely those local contexts world wide which make media and the  
emerging material digital art practices so vibrant and affective in  
context and content.

Thank you sincerely to our guests who have shared a plethora of  
information on the historical development and the current issues of  
creating, exhibiting and curating media art across the widely  
differing cultures of China's provinces. Your generosity is very much  
appreciated. Thank you especially to our co-facilitator Edward  
Sanderson for his work on the ground in Beijing. Your individual and  
collective generosity has been very much appreciated.

best wishes


Melinda Rackham
melinda at subtle.net

On 29/11/2010, at 4:19 AM, Timothy Murray wrote:

>> 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  
>> China.
> 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  
> discussion.
> Best,
> Tim
>> 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.
>> www.kunsthallekowloon.org
>> +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
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> -- 
> Timothy Murray
> Director, Society for the Humanities
> http://www.arts.cornell.edu/sochum/
> Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
> http://goldsen.library.cornell.edu
> Professor of Comparative Literature and English
> A. D. White House
> 27 East Avenue
> Cornell University
> Ithaca, New York 14853
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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