The Economist | Technology and society: More than just digital quilting

The Economist | Technology and society: More than just digital quilting article here

I came across this article while reading The Economist on my phone and was struck by how it is related to the interactive art course I am pursuing in LASALLE. The article talks about a new kind of creative revolution (the Maker movement, as The Economist calls it) made possible by the Internet, open source technology and a community of like-minded hobbyists and hackers. It specifically mentions Arduino, an open source platform that can be used to make robots and interface with all sorts of sensors, electronics and the computer.

Arduino is one of the core technologies taught in my school, the other one being Processing – a simplified programming language for artists. The article also mentions 3D printing which allows one to realize 3D designs on the same screen into physical form. 3D printing is also one of the technologies taught in my course.

The article predicts how the Maker movement can change the way science and technology can be taught in schools – in an exploratory and open-ended manner. It also mentions how a mass culture is being built around open source tools, as evidenced by a growing number of festivals, shows and events that showcase such works.

There are more and more schools teaching new media art as well as media art festivals that are a part of this Maker movement. So it is that I am a part of this movement.

Krzysztof Wodiczko

The Tijuana Projection, Mexico, 2000.
The Tijuana Projection, Mexico, 2000.

Wodiczko (wikipedia) is, and will always be, one of my all -time favourite new media artists. He is currently teaching in the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He is also someone whose name I always have to check up the spelling on each time I write about him, this post being no exception. Polish names are so difficult to spell! I have quoted him in most of my academic papers, showing how much reverence I have for his works. He is also well-known and highly regarded in academic circles, and whose works are being discussed and taught in media art faculties all around the world, including that in LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, where I study.

His oeuvre consists of large-scale video projections onto the facades of public buildings monuments whose themes reflect on “war, conflict, trauma, memory and communication”. He has a very sound methodology on how his art is created, which mediates public space into a space for art and social communication. In the Tijuana Projection (2000), marginalized women working in the factories bordering Mexico and America were invited to recount their stories of abuse and hardship. They wore a helmet which projected the image of their face onto the architectural dome of the Cultural Centre as the audience hears their stories. The audience is physically immersed within the intimate emotional space of the narrator via the projection. This allows for a emotional and cathartic experience for both audience and narrator as untold and unseen stories are surfaced within the community, hopefully bringing about positive social change through this new awareness. This is one example of art at its best.

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp is one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th Century who has challenged how art is perceived. He was considered avant garde during his time. One of his most iconic artworks is that of an ordinary urinal which he dubbed “Fountain” (1917). It caused an uproar during his time, but led to the concept of the ‘readymade’ or ‘found object’ (i.e. everyday objects represented as art), an art strategy closely associated with the Dada movement, but also used by many artists today.

Why I choose to write about Marcel Duchamp is because he is probably one of the first well-known artists who used the idea of interactivity in his works. Duchamp’s kinetic sculptures pioneered the use of human or environmental variables that would influence how the artwork would look. For example, the artwork ‘Rotary Glass Plates’ requires the viewer to spin the apparatus to create the optical illusion of concentric circles. ‘The Large Glass’, which depicts the erotic and humourous encounter between the bride and nine bachelors, uses chance procedures, custom rules of physics, plotted perspectives and laborious craftsmanship. This led to a new kind of interaction between artwork and viewer which makes each viewer’s experience of the artwork a unique one. Today, these kind of artworks are called ‘mobiles’.

The Large Glass
Rotary Glass Plates


“The digital revolution of the last decade has unleashed creativity and talent of people in an unprecedented way, unleashing unlimited creative opportunites. But does democratized culture mean better art, film, music and literature or is true talent instead flooded and drowned in the vast digital ocean of mass culture? Is it cultural democracy or mediocrity? This is the question addressed by PressPausePlay, a documentary film containing interviews with some of the world’s most influential creators of the digital era.”

This 80min documentary film is worth a watch, especially for any artist or creative professional. In this Information Age, one cannot avoid nor deny the effects of technology in transforming the way art is created. The film seems to suggest that instead of the glass being half-empty, artists today are more empowered than ever to create art.

With technology, the craftsmanship and the elitism that comes with it is subsumed in favour of the role of the artist as a communicator, as opposed to being a technical genius only good in one instrument or a particular craft skill. Because technology is changing so fast, art schools teach students more about the process of communicating through the craft rather than the technology itself which will become obsolete in a few years. Because of technology, it is more important for live performers to connect with the audiences in a genuine manner since their music can be downloaded or viewed online easily.

With technology, artists can take on multiple roles of visual designer, music maker, art director and animator or programmer. The model of the production houses with traditional roles of director, visual designer, modeller etc is becoming skewed in favour of a model of a cross-disciplinary collaborative effort between multi-skilled workers.

With the Internet, it is easier for artists to reach out to audiences across virtual space. While there could be a cacophony of voices out there screaming for attention, only time will separate the talented artists from the rest of the crowd, because it is their works that will have the widest reach and longest lasting impact and legacy.

Address is Approximate

This is an example of how technology can empower individuals to create their own artworks which would have been impossible, say, 20 years ago. Back then, what took many people months to do, can now be accomplished by one person using software tools and technology available today.

This short film uses simple technology – stop motion, a good DSLR and a “customised slider” (now sure what this is, but it sounds simple enough). Using just simple technology, a moving story can be told. There is a clear narrative, the film is emotionally evocative and atmospheric, and the desire to travel and see the world is clearly expressed through the character of the desk toy puppet. I love the way Google Maps was used to create the landscape on the computer screen, as if the puppet was actually travelling in real physical space. Google Maps is an amazing technology which allows the user to hyper-travel the world.

I love the visuals, music, the camera movement and whole aesthetic quality of the film. Bravo!

My first post – Walt Disney’s & Salvador Dali – Destino 2003

I have decided to start a blog, partly out of impulse and boredom, but also for other reasons. For one, I would like to keep track of my growth as an artist, and this would mean chronicling my sources of inspiration and reference material. Secondly, I would like to share my knowledge with others, since the more people know about new media art, which is what I do, the better it is for me and the new media art scene.

What is new media art you might ask. A very good question. New media art is still being defined, and hence its definition is still forgivably somewhat amorphous, but I shall attempt to give my two cents worth.

New media art is a very new kind of art, the art that is happening now rather than in the past. It is the kind of art that the Information Age has empowered and given birth to, as artists use open source software and hobbyist kits to create their own artworks, and form virtual communities online to share their knowledge and works.

New media art usually involves some kind of audience interaction, and this is what my discipline is about. In our everyday lives, we always interact with technology through some kind of interface, the most commonly known ones being the keyboard, mouse and screen. But there are many other kinds of possible interactions using sensors, electronics and other media. New media art can incorporate elements of fine arts or performance arts, and usually involve multiple skill sets and collaboration between different groups of people.

If you are still scratching your head over the definition of new media art, please refer to my essays where I give a more elaborate explanation. Okay! With that definition safely out of the way (I hope), I shall kick off this blog with a beautiful short animation.

A realization of a collaboration between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney which began 58 years ago but never completed. The short animation speaks of impossible love, a fantastical imagination and conjures endless metaphors and stories in my head. Salvador Dali’s art and sculptures often evoke the theme of time, his famous image of the melting clock coming to mind. This short film follows his art style faithfully, speaking to the innermost recesses of our subconscious mind, since the subconscious is also his source of inspiration. Simply beautiful.