The way to see linear video and new media

“Scene • Area • Emotion” New Video Media Art Exhibition, curated by Wu Qiuyan, at WenJin Art Center

Out in the University District of North-West of Beijing, near the South Gate of Tsinghua University, the WenJin Art Center has just opened inside the WenJin Hotel. Yesterday it was hosting a day of video and new media work curated by Wu Qiuyan, a teacher at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

This was a great opportunity to have, if not the cream then at least a representative collection, of the last few years’ linear work on video presented. Splitting the works into the sections titled “scene,” “area,” and “emotion” presented the audience a broad range of artists, work and techniques, from the computer generated works of Miao Xiaochun and Feng Mengbo; through narrative (including a particularly subtle yet quietly sensationalist piece by Ma Qiusha, I still don’t now what I think about that…); semi/pseudo-documentary from Gao Yuan etc,; performance (for me the weakest set of works, but that’s my personal preferences). All of this was presented in a fairly tightly curated selection, which—although long—really felt like a comprehensive but concise account of the field in the time available.

Being able to devote this kind of time and attention to all this lovely material was a real luxury which I can’t often don’t give to linear video work (much less to interactive, non-linear work, but it’s usually not such a requirement of that). When I visit a gallery there is never enough time to view the whole video as I duck in and out of the screening rooms. So I really appreciate what the curator was doing here, enforcing some kind of participation, it was a real joy to experience.

Artists by section:

Scene: Miao Xiaochun 缪晓春, Feng Mengbo 冯梦波, Bo Hua 卜桦, Zhang Xiaotao 张小涛, Wu Junyong 吴俊勇, Bai Chongmin 白崇民, Ye Dan 叶丹, Wu Weihe 吴玮禾, Gu Zhenzhen 谷真真, Dai Hua 代化, Liu Qianyi 刘茜懿, Xu Ruotao 徐若涛, Chen Hailu 陈海璐.

Area: Liu Xuguang 刘旭光, Chen Zhuo + Huan Keyi 陈卓+黄可一, Tan Ji 谭奇, Wu Qiuyan 吴秋龑, Ding Xin 丁昕, Cheng Jie 盛洁, Wang Gefeng 王歌风, Ma Qiusha 马秋莎, Chen Wei 陈伟.

Emotion: Feng Jiangzhou 丰江舟, Zhang Haitao 张海涛, Chao Fang 沈朝方, Tan Tan 炭叹, Tian Miaozi 田苗子, Song Song 宋松, Wang Tingting 王婷婷, Chen Zhou 陈轴, Pei Li 裴丽, Gao Yuan 高媛, Shi Jingxin 史晶歆, Deng Li 邓黎, Chen Xi 陈曦, Zhang Minjie 张敏捷, Ren Lun 任伦.

In March, the curator Wu Qiuyan will be hosting another event of film and new media, this time at UCCA. More details when I have them.

Notes and Comments from the Uncertain Future symposium

Uncertain Future: about New Media Art & Games1
4th Edition: Practice

I revisited the new development at Fangjia Hutong, near Yonghegong Temple yesterday, for a fascinating symposium organised by curator Juliette Yuan and Tang Contemporary. Last time I went there it was a building site, but now has become an “Creative Neighbourhood,” in this case a meeting place of fashion and art entrepreneurs. I guess “neighbourhood” projects a more homely feeling than the commerce-heavy “Art Districts” that have become a feature of Beijing’s Cultural quarters over the past few years.

This was the fourth in a series of talks, organised around the subject of New Media and Games, this one focused on “Practice.” But this was not to be just about artistic practice within these fields, but broadening its scope to include curation and collecting as a “practice” of New Media, or perhaps demonstrating New Media in practice. An interesting starting point!

Three speakers were lined up, Du Zhenjun, an artist who favours interactive projections; Richard Castelli, curator and producer of New Media works; and, Sylvain Levy, a collector of works in this genre. At the last minute M. Levy had been unable to come to China, so was present via a choppy skype call which curtailed his presentation to a few sentences before dropping out completely.


The following is based on my notes from the event, I hope that I have reflected the participants views accurately (please correct me if not!), and in Du Zhenjun’s case these were taken from the translated version of his Chinese presentation.

Du Zhenjun began by saying that in general the borders between traditional and new media art are confused in China. He went on to propose a definition of “traditional” as work which was linear. For example, he said, video art is linear, therefore: traditional. For Du randomness and non-linearity is good, incorporating interactivity and the discontinuous state. He stated that in the West too much attention was paid to form for it’s own sake, divorced from meaning, but he felt that the meaning of a piece is closely linked to it’s form, which also should reflect the times we are in.

The curator Richard Castelli focused on pieces that he and his organisation had produced, including performance and dance presented accompanied by projections, or as interactive environments. Other works made use of the lights on buildings to create large-scale displays, 3D presentations, or interactivity using motion tracking.

Upon being questioned about the meaning of some of the works he showed, he was unwilling to provide any—even adamant that he shouldn’t—saying it was his role to facilitate the creation and presentation of the pieces, not to explain them.

Sylvain Levy presented the DSL Collection, which he has put together with his wife Dominique, over the past few years. Although he has been collecting art and design for some 25 years, since 2005 he has focused primarily on Chinese artists. An essential part of the Collection is it’s presence on the internet as a way to make the works accessible, thus proving the Levy’s New Media credentials.


The rest is my own take on the words of the speakers.

One very obvious point of contention which arose, was the issue of the abstraction of form versus any meaning it might have. Du Zhenjun was explicit that he felt it was a requirement for form to have meaning, saying “Form should bear meaning, and also be of its time.” He seemed to have no time for works of art which were pure form, without an inherent meaning. His own works are often laden with subtle or overt meanings which perhaps give them a strength over abstract works.

On the other hand, Richard Castelli was of the opinion that form should take whatever form it needs. As I said, he was extremely reticent over the question of the meaning in the works. Obviously he is not the artist, so cannot give a first-hand account, but you would expect at least an opinion. But Richard was almost ideologically opposed to the idea of giving his questioner satisfaction.

I felt that the examples Richard showed definitely reflected his opinion, they were very much about technical developments,2 3D, stereoscopic vision. In a way, all about augmenting the audience experience of a work, through improved interfaces, advances in interactivity and immersion techniques. So concerned was it with the form of the works, this came across as a diametrically opposing viewpoint to Du Zhenjun’s.

At first it was somewhat frustrating to hear the same old questions about “meaning” being brought up, where there was obviously such an assumption that meaning and form live such separated lives. I would like to think that people could form their own opinions about meaning, without needing to ask such a simplistic question. But Richard’s reticence actually gave me some sympathy for this view. Actually, what is the “meaning” of a building lit up with an abstract synchronised display? This is pure form, a “wow” factor, for me it’s just a pretty display.

These pieces, although they may push boundaries of technology, come across as somewhat sterile “proofs of concept.” They are not discovering anything, they are just subtly, incrementally investigating existing technologies. I felt no inspiration or leaps of creativity, just a (geeky?) joy in technology for it’s own sake. So what’s the point in that?

Although they can be heavy handed, at least Du Zhenjun’s work had some kind of message, an overt meaning which could be related and reacted to, for good or bad. This was not something he suggested, but maybe Du Zhenjun’s focus on meaning would be too simplistic for Richard Castelli. But it seems that in the subtlety of Richard’s examples a social meaning or connection has been lost that no amount of interactivity can regain.

  1. Uncertain Future: about New Media Art & Games
    4th Edition: Practice
    Tang Contemporary Art / DSL Collection / Beijing Oriental Foundation for Art
    A project presented by: 袁小潆 Juliette Yuan
    With contributions from:
    杜震君 Du Zhenjun: Media artist, France/China
    Richard Castelli: Media art producer, curator, founder of Epidemic media art production company, France
    Sylvain Levy: Chairman DSL Collection, France.
  2. In my notes I referred to these, perhaps unfairly as “tricks,” in the sense of ways to fool the spectator into a position of belief. The various 3D technologies, the tracking of eye movements, all these could be seen to be a progression of the development of ever more “realistic” modes of painting during the Renaissance (and beyond). Ultimately for me that means casting a layer over reality which only serves to conceal it more than it already is.