New Media Art Showcase
I/O (Input/Output) Until Aug 5
In the middle of Input/Output’s Tai Ping Shan Street space – which is hosting its last exhibition before it moves out to concentrate on pop-up shows and commercial art projects – you run into Reactable (2003), an interactive musical instrument whose interface reminds us of table games, with its touch-screen and different modules for sound and visual generation, effect processing, sequencing and control. As in games, several users can manipulate the blocks simultaneously, thereby complementing each other in the process of improvisation.
In contrast, Naoko Tosa and Tian Xiaolei take a step back from this predominant involvement of new media art with interactivity and playfulness, mobilising the state-of-the-art digital technologies’ potential to raise new awareness of traditional Asian spiritual practices.
Naoko Tosa – who has been experimenting with a variety of media (interactive computing, sculpture, digital printing, video) to re-activate Zen, Shinto and other practices into contemporary lifestyle since the 1980s – presents her last series of digital prints, titled Torso. Each headless torso is an empty vessel ‘tattooed’ in vibrant colours with symbolic fragments (Chinese dragons, Japanese protecting demons and Korean snakes), with the changing skins of the body reflecting the multiplicity of identities, their ephemeral and culturally constructed character, and the power of pure bodily energies that emerge from the chaos of meanings and associations. It’s an intriguing attempt to redefine the values of life and death, human and inhuman, Asian and global.
Tian Xiaolei’s symbolic creatures occupying his Landscape Skits series originate from ancient myths collected in the 4BC Chinese classic Shan Hai Jing (Canon of Mountain and Seas). His dreamy black and white worlds mimic shan shui (landscape) ink painting style, which is deeply imbedded with the Taoist philosophy of harmony with nature. Meanwhile, nightmarish and surreal characters appear in these apparently serene natural topographies to convey hidden threats of natural disaster and ecological imbalance, so characteristic of the 21st century.
Tian’s video animations Emptied (2012) and Landscape 36.5 (2011) stem from the artist’s dreams and raise more personal concerns such as death, reincarnation, freedom from ego attachments, and the stillness of mind. Fragmented body images multiply and transform into each other, while hair-like miniscule tree branches grow from flesh, emphasising a belief that spirituality is always intertwined with the materialities of the body, never to be easily separated from its potential for transformation.
One can’t leave this exhibition, however, without the offbeat impression that the potential of ancient spiritual practices for real transformation of consciousness and body has slipped through these rather literal reappropriations of old symbolic narratives.