Digital fusion

When East and West – and art and technology – meet in the new media arena, anything can happen. Yolanda Zappaterra previews some intriguing work that’ll be on show at the grandly conceived Shanghai eArts Festival next week

When East and West – and art and technology – meet in the new media arena, anything can happen.Yolanda Zappaterra previews some intriguing work that’ll be on show at the grandly conceived Shanghai eArts Festival next week

Is there a correlation between geographical mass and a national psyche? Everything about Americans, for example – their way of thinking, seeing and acting – is big. The Soviet Union had the same scale of vision before its break-up, and China, of course, has been visualising and realising grand schemes for thousands of years. So it’s no surprise that next month’s Shanghai eArts Festival – dubbed Wisdom of Crowds – promises to be the world’s biggest digital arts festival. The festival lasts a whole month, and its line-up is impressive in both scope and content, boasting a number of highly regarded new media organisations, promoters and practitioners from both the East and the West – among them Onedotzero, Ars Electronica Futurelab, ZKM, the Annecy Animation Festival, Fabrica and the Pompidou Centre from the West, and Du Zhenjun, the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe, Kiyoshi Furukawa and B6 from the East.

But the really innovative work may well lie in the spaces between the two, in particular in the ‘@Future’ section of the festival. This comprises two exhibitions, Cross Dissolve and the New Media Students’ Exhibition, and a screening programme, Chained Animation, in which students from the New Media department of the China Academy of Art have collaborated with Western counterparts to develop art projects that push the boundaries of new media beyond the sometimes narrow confines in which we view it in the West. So instead of a plethora of screen-based work will be interactive installations, like Wini Chen’s Umbrella Dance, which integrate the real and the virtual, Shi Chuan’s mechanical projection installation Loud, and Wang Xin’s interactive installation 2007 vs 2010.

What all these share is an approach to new media that is about integrating the technology into the ideas. As Xu Qiming, curator of the New Media Students’ Exhibition, says, ‘Education encourages students to find a way to express their thoughts about life and their surroundings, in ways which may be more difficult in traditional art. It is students who drive art forwards, and bring technology and the language of art together. They have the inspiration to discover very original meanings of new media art.’ What they may lack, he admits, is what the Western students have been able to bring: the ability to visualise ‘the whole creation, especially in details such as how to finalise the whole display and combine the technology and the content itself more perfectly. Chinese students then have the chance to learn from them,’ he enthuses.

Both Xu Qiming and fellow curator Zhang Peili, who put together the Cross Dissolve show, encouraged the students to ‘not only apply and use digital technology, but to think about how to work creatively in a new and innovative way’. From the wealth of visual material at, it’s obvious they’ve done just that. And it wasn’t a one-way street; as Zhang Peili points out, ‘For artists working today, and new generations, the cultural differences between China and the West are narrowing. There can be problems with language, or with adjusting to new environments, but it is a really great opportunity for experimentation when Chinese and Western students communicate and work together. Western students can develop new ways of thinking when they learn about new media art in China, leading to the production of unexpected and original new media artwork.’

Nowhere is this more possible than in new media, he believes: ‘As new media art is a new practice, developing around the world, East and West have common ground and shared opinions.’ Festival organiser Shanghai Cultural Development Foundation plans to hold the event annually in the lead-up to 2010, when it will become part of the 2010 Shanghai Expo. Based on the scale and scope of this year’s opener, this exciting new platform for common ground and shared opinions should prove to be one of the most collaboratively interesting and innovative parts of the 2010 event.

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