ISEA2008 juried exhibition

Sci-fi meets art

A while has past since the grand  International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore drew to a close, pitching some of the best collaborations between science and art around the world. The exhibition accompanies the various conferences and artists in residence programme, supported by the National University of Singapore. My personal favourites include The Global Bridge Symphony, and The Water Book (An Encyclopedia of Water). The formal exudes the surreal mental image of suspension bridges as the string instruments of the wind, while the latter an interactive water ‘touch’/sensor that reminds me of Hollywood blockbuster Minority Report.

I find it a need to highlight Singapore’s contributions, local artist Jason Wee’s So Close the Desert Isle, and Syntfarm: Andreas Schlegel (Germany/Singapore) & Vladimir Todorovic (Serbia/Singapore) SYNBOUTIQUE.

Jason Wee’s So Close the Desert Isle, draws attention to the Petra Branca isles, recently awarded claims to Singapore over Malaysia. “The artist booked time on a satellite, and had it flown over the contested territory. The satellite is capable of identifying ships by their wake. He then chartered a boat to enter the contested waters, thus crossing paths with the satellite. The satellite capture is shown in the gallery, while the island and its surrounding waters is re-mapped in the form of a 3D CG model so that virtual images are placed alongside the real ones. This artwork is a critical exploration of borders and territories, both actual and imagined.” (artist’s text, from the ISEA2008 website)

While the work is politically charged (visit Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs special website), because the fate of the isles determine the sea boundaries, and subsequently national boundaries and precious air space, it strikes little visual chord with the viewer, with its confusing 4 channel projection: the focus seems to be lost, and little artistry is spent on considering the beautiful metaphors of the isles.Of of the turn-offs would be the light-house ‘animation’ that does little to stir any mood. Instead, a set of straight forward projections are cast, expecting the viewer to make their own sense and artistic sensibilities. The imagery is too direct,and flat. A more authentic, heart-moving, effective work that deals with Singapore sea boundaries, without the need to implicate (new) technologies, would be the sea stories series by Singapore artist Charles Lim.

Andreas Schlegel (Germany/Singapore) & Vladimir Todorovic (Serbia/Singapore) SYNBOUTIQUE features incongruent two channel video projections of the desert, and pseudo-jewellery. Syntfarm states:”Syntfarm focuses on bringing you a glimpse of an alternative lifestyle.SYNTBOUTIQUE is a specialized showroom that collects recipes, methods, myths and platforms for sustainable lifestyles that we are not used to. In SYNTBOUTIQUE, you will be able to interact with fantastical allegories through videos and rapidly prototyped replicas of objects, tools and landscapes that are found and used by people who don’t have access to information technologies, electricity and mass media, and are still living in a mutually beneficial relationship with their surroundings. The historical, anthropological, functional, and aesthetical values of these found objects, along with their alive-ness and complexity, are reduced to a series of pure singular expressions. This occurs as they are fabricated into the raw synthetic forms of rapid prototypes. The singular structures and layers of the transformed artifacts can help us to see and get closer to experiencing the use of human-appropriated objects from nature.”

The relationship between the video projections and the artefacts are baffling, and fail to get anyone, anywhere closer to nature, or any idea closer to what they are actually interested in expressing. The prototypes, are at best, objects synthesized between man-made objects and animal skeletons. Devoid of colour, and probably 3D laser plotted, they fail to tap into any consumer consciousness, or create any urge to want to own them. But then again, perhaps I am mistaken, and the work requires archaeology, sociology, psychology, digital imaging and artistic direction to comprehend and appreciate it.

Perhaps the comments here are harsh, bearing in mind that the artists had to collaborate with institutions and organisations that may not  like dealing with the whims and fancies of artists, within the allocated time and budget. Perhaps inclusion in the juried exhibition is better than none at all, it seems.

The process of engaging new technologies is more tricky than making a new team. Bruck Tuckman suggests that a new team undergoes four stages: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. If the above mentioned works are anything to go by to judge the state of digital arts in Singapore, we are at best in the Forming stage.

One of the other pities of the exhibition is the relative low profile, and short exhibition span. For those that managed to catch it, would agree that new technologies and interactive digital media proves to be engaging, tricky and unfathomable: perhaps another sign that we are loosing grip with what we can understand and comprehend in this increasingly digitized, and synthesized age.

July 26 – August 3, 2008

NMS, basement and atelier

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