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Augmentation or Offsetting? The Tug-of-War between Digital and Analog
December 8th, 2015Type: Opinion
Author: Wang, Kuan-ting Editor: Rikey Tenn
Quote From: 2014 Digital Art Festival, Taipei
Note: Wang, Kuan-ting, the Chief Administrative Officer at DAC, examines the developmental context of digital art, based on the whole of Taiwan society in 2014. She elaborates the core ideas of the digital artists & their works of the year, featuring Wonder of Fantasy: 2014 International Techno Art Exhibition curated by Etat Lab and Ecosystem, the theme of 2014's DAF, Taipei, and she further introduces Baudrillard's observation on Illusion into the reflections on the images in the digital era, pointing out the internal antagonism in face of technology.
三上晴子, Desire of Codes; photo: Wonder of Fantasy (2014)

A Review on the Development of Taiwan’s Digital Art in 2014

The Sunflower Student Movement, the burgeoning maker culture, and the Taipei City’s mayor election in 2014 clearly showed us a brand new media world opened up by the Internet and digital technology. It continues expanding its boundary, increasing its vitality, and exploring new possibilities for social communication, action, and creativity. We are surprised at these new possibilities created by this world although it seems difficult for us to imagine what the digital world would be like in the future. This is why the relationship between technological objects and humanity remains the primary concern of digital or media artists. We have experienced new social and cultural practices brought by digital technology. Nevertheless, the integration of and struggle between analog and digital in artistic creation and curating remain an important dimension of reflection throughout 2014.

Wonder of Fantasy — 2014 International Techno Art Exhibition was curated by Chiu Chih-Yung and Alf Chang, and was executed by Etat Media Lab. Featuring the spectacle of images in the digital era, Wonder of Fantasy was the most comprehensive and coherent digital art exhibition in 2014 in terms of the content of exhibited works and the themes it addressed. The term “spectacle” has multiple connotations. First of all, it referred to an optical device that restructures the vision. Guy Debord applied this term in his book The Society of the Spectacle to criticize the modern symbol fetishism in the consumer society. In this exhibition, the term “spectacle” was used for tackling the relational trinity of object, image and humanity. This exhibition addressed visual perception and cultural issues concerning reality, virtuality, simulacrum, representation, and presentation. Treating Wonder of Fantasy as its title and “artwork mapping” as its object, this exhibition explored a riotous profusion of dimensions ranging from illusion and informationalization to control and feedback by stimulating the viewers’ visual perception.

The work Objekt V was an augmented sculpture created by Urbanscreen. It consisted of intertwined nodes and wood sticks installed on the wall. The viewers may notice the gradual transition from the real shadows casted by the fixed source of light to the virtual ones produced by projection, and thereby enjoy the constantly changing perceptual experience. Composed simply of light and shadow though, this work not only created a dynamic force between lightness and darkness but also altered the relationship between object and space. The projected image changed the viewers’ positional and depth perception of the object, and thereby opened up a brand new space. Then the projection controlled the extension and contraction of the object with the winking light. Finally, it created the illusion that the shadows change their positions with the movement of the illuminant, resembling the time-lapse photography of the sun’s motion along the ecliptic. In other words, this work gave the viewers a visual illusion of multiple sources of light. Similarly, the work RE: displayed in the digital art exhibition Exploring the Media Boundaries also employed projection to address the illusion issue. This work reflected the projector’s image with mirrors, making the projector a space in which the virtual and the real co-exist.

Mikami Seiko’s Desire of Codes and Manabe Daito’s 3D Scan System for “Sleeping Beauty” of Perfume Tokyo Dome Tour both addressed the informationalization of physical body. In Desire of Codes, Mikami displayed the production procedures of digital image, namely data collection, codification, operation, and representation, with formal completeness. (The process encompassed the installation of electronic devices, data/information capture and acquisition, data coding, program operation, and visual presentation). 3D Scan System for “Sleeping Beauty” of Perfume Tokyo Dome Tour produced instant 3D images on the screen with a 3D scan system. Both works made the viewers concurrently the subject and the object. In other words, the viewers are not only the autonomous physical body but also the momentary existence of fragmentary information.

鄭先喻, Afterlife ver2.0Desire of Codes

Another work that deals with artificial light and illuminant was Just a Reflector created by Vincent Morisset in collaboration with several laboratories. It was a film shot in an interactive way that combines screen with video camera. This work starkly highlighted the image of light as a visible medium. Using light beams, the viewers were allowed to control not only the illuminant and the horizons but also the sightline of the figure in the film. Interaction and feedback are two important dimensions for the experiment and exploration of digital innovation. However, the interactivity in this work happened to reveal certain technological limitations that indicate a self-referential tension of resistance in this work.

People’s anxiety over the digital life also arises from drifting amidst the rapid, instant, complex, and fragmentary streams of information. It not only severs our connections to the past but also suppresses our feelings and profound thinking. Presented in the exhibition Exploring the Media Boundaries, Bioscope was a projector that the user can control the image narrative and screening speed by turning the handle, attempting to bring family memories and sentiments back into new technological media by screening family videos recorded in the digital format. Luo He-Lin, the curator of The Return of Analog Poetry held at MOT/ARTS, also raised similar questions. Cheng Hsien-Yu’s Afterlife Ver. 2.0 was an installation consisting of a repurposed mosquito catcher and the galaxy game. The insects caught by the catcher were transformed into the health points shown on the screen of the game. Cheng wittily unraveled the interface and conversion of digital messages in the form of game. Galaxy Game is the earliest known coin-operated video game. Previously, we had to insert the coin to obtain the health points for the game. In Cheng’s work, the virtual life was built up at the expense of real life. In other words, it transformed different concrete entities into virtual numerical values. Tseng Yu-Chuan’s Delicious and Xandora Spring revolved around Google Trend analysis and reflected on this issue from the aspect of the Internet interface.

We can identify the ambiguity and struggle over this technological issue from Cheng Hsien-Yu’s Afterlife Ver. 2.0 and Hsiao Sheng-Chien’s Sunrise, Sunset, two first prize winning entries for 2014 Digital Art Awards Taipei. Afterlife Ver. 2.0 dealt with the conversion between the virtual and the real. Sunrise, Sunset was a low-tech installation consisting of kinetic devices, a bamboo sieve holding soy beans, and a bamboo tube containing pebbles. It simulated the lapping of sea waves, whistles of a steamship, and the scenes of sunrise and sunset. This work served as a temporal imagination that blends humanity with the nature, in which the artist attempted to erase the difference between new and old technologies.

SoleNoid β

The 9th Digital Art Festival Taipei adopted “Ecosystem” as its curatorial theme. It put forward a visionary orientation and trend for further development, that is, how information technology liberates people from physical space. On a more specific basis, how can information technology turn people into an organic epistemic community and make the cyberspace the fertile soil for collective action. The festival was also epic in scale, presenting a total of seven masterpieces including AutoGene, Pendulum Choir, SoleNoid β, Eunoia, Ocular Revision, Very Loud Chamber Orchestra of Endangered Species, and Gender Swap. Nevertheless, there was a gap between the ambition of the theme and the presented content of the festival.

The CEO of Digital Art Center Taipei Huang Wen-Hao and the curator Wang Po-Wei collectively stated that it is getting harder and harder to select and invite artworks for digital art exhibitions with avant-garde or trend-oriented curatorial themes. On the one hand, digital art creation is drifting towards conceptual works reflecting on the technological civilization or towards experimental explorations of the possibilities for technologies/technological objects. On the other hand, it also evolves into laboratory-based or transdisciplinary projects. Accordingly, to curate Digital Art Festival Taipei, the organizer ineluctably ran into difficulty in selecting digital artworks and presenting experimental projects.

Gender Swap

The perceptual conditions of images and the criteria for image evaluation have been varying with the evolution of imagery technologies from classical period, perspective period and mechanical reproduction period to digital period. Digital image’s accessibility, plasticity, and informational capability make it different from other forms of image. However, there are various struggles and resistances between people and objects amidst the conversion between the real and the virtual as well as between the analog and the digital.

Physical perception in the digital era refers not so much to a way of perception. In fact, there is no such a way of perception endemic to the digital era because all perceptions are analog. The perception in the digital era refers to the perceptual structure and behavioral inertia derived from the state of perception, a space underpinned by digital technology which serves as the condition for perception and action. In fact, the digital and the analog co-exist, which entails certain tensions and contradictions in between. We may claim in some aspects that digital technology offsets poetic perception such as the “power of illusion” mentioned by Jean Baudrillard. The illusion here refers to replacing real perceptual experience with imaginary perception, or simply augmenting the latter. For example, those verisimilar and dazzling special effects in films contrarily reduce the imaginary tension that the viewers can sense in other forms of play. Acute perception and rich imagination would be needless if images could be created in the most ideal and delicate way.

Artists are the very creators who can intuitively reveal all kinds of contradictions and facilitate changes through experimental exploration, detection and reflection on crucial innovation, or reflexive observation on internal conditions. Consequently, in face of the internal resistance incurred by new technologies, the power of digital artists lies in their ability to find a reflexive position for self-observation.