|Gunalan Nadarajan (SIN/US)|
an art theorist and curator from Singapore, is currently Professor of Art and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the College of Arts and Architecture, Penn State University. His publications include Ambulations (2000), Construction Site (edited; 2004) and Contemporary Art in Singapore (co-authored; 2007) and numerous catalogue essays and academic articles. His writings have been translated into Mandarin, Indonesian, Korean, Japanese, French, German, Italian, Serbian, Russian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. He has also lectured internationally on a wide range of topics in contemporary art, cyberculture, art and technology and architecture.
Gunalan has curated exhibitions in several countries including Ambulations (Singapore), 180KG (Jogjakarta), Negotiating Spaces (Auckland) and media_city 2002 (Seoul). He was contributing curator for Documenta XI (Kassel, Germany) and served on the jury of a number of international exhibitions, like ISEA2004 (Helsinki / Talinn), transmediale 05 (Berlin) and ISEA2006 (San Jose). He was most recently Artistic Co-Director of the Ogaki Biennale 2006, an international biennial exhibition of new media arts in Japan. He is currently serving as Co-Chair of RE:Place: The 2nd International Conference on the Histories of Media, Art, Science and Technology, 2007 in Berlin and Artistic Director of ISEA2008 (International Symposium on Electronic Art) in Singapore. Gunalan is active in the development of media arts internationally previously serving on the Board of Directors of the Inter Society for Electronic Art and currently on the Advisory Board of the Database of Virtual Art (http://www.virtualart.at/).
He is a member of several professional associations, namely, Special Interest Group in Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH), Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), College Arts Association, National Council of University Research Administrators, International Association of Aesthetics and the International Association of Philosophy and Literature. In 2004, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts (UK).
Gunalan’s current research interests include contemporary painting, art and biology, human-machine interfaces, robotic arts, nanotechnology, ambient intelligence, entertainment technologies and toys.
Cultural Specificities of Media Arts in Asia
The art world has its centres and peripheries – the centres usually generating the primary discourses and practices that determine what come to be accepted as the possible and significant while the peripheries reflect their anxiety about the centres by blindly mimicking them or vehemently rejecting them. Globalization abetted by the proliferation of communication and information technologies is often touted to have complicated the sustainability of such distinctions. The global media arts topography that seems to have developed however has merely followed the contours of existing disparities in access to these technologies. This oft-neglected disjunction between the rhetoric of globalized media and the specific ways in which media technologies are actually being interpreted and exploited is most conspicuous in the media arts developments of Asia.
The thrust towards new media arts in many of the Asian countries seem to be caught between two parallel and related trends – a) the need to develop culturally specific and located ways of engaging with and incorporating the new information, communication, experiential and biotechnologies; and b) the need to respond to the global imperatives that drive these technologies and their related artistic developments. While the media and technological developments in these countries indicate a constant juggling between these local and global imperatives, many of the media artistic developments in these countries pose interesting ways of reevaluating and significantly expanding the current discourses and practices in art, media and technology.
Much of the information, communication, experiential, imaging and bio technologies that have supported the media arts developments in Europe and the US are still rarely available in many parts of Asia. Ironically, even though several major commercial producers, researchers and creative developers of these technologies are ‘in’ Asia, only a relatively small number of people in Asia have ready access to them compared to Europe and the US. The highly differentiated economic disparities within specific Asian countries further complicate this lack of access. However, more than by issues of inadequate access and unequal distribution, the media arts developments in Asia are affected most remarkably by the specific historical, socio-cultural and aesthetic contexts within which old and new technologies are conceived and employed. These cultural specificities that mediate the creative interventions into and uses of these technologies are what constitute the distinctive elements of Asian media arts.
An important aspect of the Ogaki Biennale 2006 is the geographical and cultural focus on emerging media arts in Asian countries. The tremendous developments of media arts in the Asian region have not been shown before in a systematic way to generate discussion about its aesthetic, cultural, critical and technological peculiarities. We have tried to highlight some peculiar aspects of media arts practices in Asia in our selection for the Ogaki Biennale 2006. Firstly, there is a strong tendency in Asia for media artists to organize themselves into and function as media / artists’ collectives. This tendency to work in collectives seems to be focused on enabling participating artists with access to appropriate tools and resources as well as to expertise that might not be found in any one of them individually. For example, Raqs Media Collective which is also included in this Biennale is a significant example of a media collective that has developed around such notions of sharing and collaboration. Venzha Christ who founded and leads the media collective, ‘the house of natural fiber’ in Jogjakarta despite practicing and showing as an individual performance artist constantly works in collaboration with other members of his collective to create his works. Secondly, many Asian media artists focus on developing strategies for understanding the convergence and complications of urban culture and developments in new media technologies (e.g. the house of natural fiber in Jogjakarta, Raqs Media Collective in Delhi and Common Room in Bandung). Much of their works centre on both exploring the ways in which media technologies infuse and complicate our daily lives in urban environments as well as in trying to develop means to critically intervene into and transform the operations of the urban everyday. Third, while there is a common notion that new technologies represent radical discontinuities with those of the past and thus that they demand a very different aesthetic and socio-cultural sensibility, many of Asian media artists deliberate on the continuities between old and new media in their artistic explorations (e.g, performance art & media arts, kinetic sculptures & new technologies, rituals and virtual reality, etc.) A fourth and related peculiarity of media arts in Asia is the strong socio-culturally grounded agendas that inform their artistic practices. Nearly all the works of Asian media artists presented at this year’s Ogaki Biennale reflect their culturally located sensibilities. While the works of Kamol Phaosavasdi and Jamsen Law relate to Buddhist notions of life and death through their highly evocative video installations, the interactive installation of Seo Hyo Jung introduces novel narrative strategies to complicate classic Western fairy tales.
The Ogaki Biennale 2006 has the distinct honor of being the first media art exhibition that presents the works of so many Asian media artists together with an intent to exemplify some of these aspects. And this choice to show Asian media arts has some interesting relationships to the theme of Janken too. In a contemporary world that is technologically and culturally structured around the rigidities of binaries, the power of chance, and the importance of ‘the third’ in terms of generation, circulation and evaluation of differences, seems to be much more strongly (if not consciously) felt in non-Western cultures. And even if these notions of the third and chance operate differently in the various Asian cultures, its specificities and possibilities are presented in novel configurations.
("This text was published in the catalogue of Ogaki Biennale