Posts Tagged ‘Art Radar Asia’

Let me give away my position on the matter right here at the top: Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

A post from a few days ago by Art Radar Asia focuses on works by five Asian contemporary artists who use video games, or the aesthetics or iconography of video games, in their art. They highlight Cao Fei’sRMB City,” a creation created entirely within the virtual world of Second Life, and Feng Mengbo’s “Long March: Restart,” an actually playable platform-style game (think Mario) which makes extensive use of Maoist iconography and imagery.

Above: An Art|21 segment on Cao Fei’s “RMB City.”
Below: Feng Mengbo’s “Long March: Restart.”

The article also links to something posted by Roger Ebert a few years ago, explaining Ebert’s opinion that video games are not and cannot ever be “art,” and asks the reader, Can Video Games Be Art?. Here is my response, copied from the comments section on the Art Radar Asia page:

I think the work of Cao Fei and Feng Mengbo just goes to show that video games can absolutely be art. The only things that separate their works from something like Jenova Chen’s “Flower” are (1) being previously already recognized as an “artist”, (2) the commerciality of the creations and connection to a corporation, and (3) the size and type of team involved in the creation of the work.

Video games are creative creations in their visuals, sound, and gameplay/concept. I think that most of the argument against video games being “art” focuses too much on them as “games,” i.e. with rules, goals, and puzzles/challenges, and too little on them as “experience.” Flower is a great example of a game that is visually stunning, and quite creative/innovative in concept. Playing it is not just about earning points, or completing levels – it’s about experiencing the game and having an emotional reaction. If the same exact thing had been created by Cao Fei or Feng Mengbo, would we not call it art? If it were not interactive, but were created as “video art,” or for that matter as a still photo, as digital art, and shown in a gallery or museum, would we not call it “art”?

MMOs like World of Warcraft, GuildWars, and LotR Online, along with giant-sandbox games like the Elder Scrolls Series, and visually stunning RPGs like the Final Fantasy series likewise involve exploring massive worlds filled with beautiful, really, truly stunning environments, each of which is designed by professional concept artists and digital artists with much the same training/background, i.e. as art students, as many more widely recognized as “artists.”

Admittedly, there are also many games out there which are, perhaps, not so clearly beautiful, inspirational, innovative/creative, but all were created by artists, designers, creative minds. All bear the same features as those games – e.g. Flower and WoW – which are, perhaps, more clearly artistic, creative/innovative, and/or aesthetically attractive. So, where do we draw the line? If some games are clearly artistic, or art-esque, then why would other games not be?

If the design of a car or a skyscraper can be considered “art,” if marketing posters, postcards, etc. can be considered art, if arms & armor (such as included in many of the world’s greatest art museums) can be considered art, then why not video games? If it’s the commercial element, or the corporate rather than individual creation element, that is the problem, then why cars, skyscrapers, dresses, and not video games? Those of us coming from a background in Studio Art or Art History are likely to be in favor of the conception that anything can be art. So why not video games?

Roger Ebert, of all people, if he recognizes that art is not only limited to static images (paintings), but extends to incorporate cinema as well, should be able to recognize the strong cinematic qualities of video games. Like video games, films too are the creations of not a single, inspired, genius artist, but rather of a collaboration between directors, producers, costume designers, set designers, actors, musicians/composers, and many others. Unlike paintings, they incorporate motion, narrative, and music, and yet, they are still considered by Mr. Ebert to be art. So, why not video games? Because they are interactive? Because none have yet been canonized? As a critic, Mr. Ebert should be especially aware of the haphazard and arbitrary nature of the construction of the canon – created by scholars, random tastemakers, and critics like himself – and thus, he of all people, should not be taking this to be the determining factor in what is (and is not) masterful. Who decided that George Melies was such a genius, that his creations were such great art? Is Mr. Ebert simply parroting the attitudes of cinema scholars and critics of the past?

Those who fixate on the great names, on the canon, of the inspired/genius artisté, forget that many of those we revere today as great artists were in fact quite commercial in their day. Rembrandt was a commercial painter. Hokusai and all of his ukiyo-e brethren produced emphemera, perhaps no more appreciated in their time than movie posters today. And so many we do appreciate, we appreciate only because the canon tells us so. Was George Melies truly such an artistic genius? Was his creation truly so wonderful as Ebert seems to think it was, or is he just buying into the same canonization that makes us all appreciate Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Picasso without actually considering whether or not we ourselves (as individuals) see the artistry, the beauty, in it? I, for one, see absolutely nothing in Jenova Chen’s creation – aesthetically attractive, masterfully created, innovative in concept, emotionally impactful – that should disqualify it as art.

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Mmm. River crabs.

If you’ve been following Chinese art world news at all lately, you’ve heard about Ai Weiwei. He has an exhibit up right now at the Tate Modern in London, an installation piece where he created thousands (tens of thousands? I don’t know) of sunflower seeds out of ceramic, and installed them on the floor, where visitors could walk over them; this was put to an end fairly quickly, due to fears over the amount of ceramic dust being thrown up into the air in the process. … At the same time, Ai Weiwei, who had been asked (or even paid?) by the authorities to build a new $1.1m studio in Shanghai, was now being told it was to be demolished. A huge party was planned, and held, at which river crabs, a local delicacy, were served, the word for river crab, hexie, being a homonym and pun for “harmony” (和諧), a personal and political statement about the kind of harmonious society the CCP seeks to create, where there is no dissent. Ai Weiwei was placed under house arrest for a brief time, but was able to Tweet and otherwise communicate from his home.

And that’s basically all I know about it. I must admit, I had heard of Ai Weiwei before, but didn’t know anything about his work, or his protests…

This has been big news, however, in the last week or two, and so I felt I had to share it. Here are some links to fuller coverage and analysis of the house arrest and the party, thanks to Art Radar Asia:
*Ai Weiwei’s Studio Party Canceled; Art Radar was There
*The Internet is the best gift to China, and will lead to the downfall of dictatorship, Ai Weiwei says
*TIME: China’s House Arrest of Artist Ai Weiwei

It is wonderful to see Ai Weiwei safely returned to (relative) freedom and public activity, to see that the party was able to be held with a minimum of interference from the authorities, and to see that protests and anti-government comments continue to go on. China’s desire to eliminate dissent, and the methods they have and might use, terrify me. I do believe that there is a major need for regime change there, for the benefit of the whole world. But, it is at least reassuring, I suppose, to see that at least in this one instance, if not more generally these days, they seem to be acting a lot more leniently than they have in the past.

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This is what happens when I put off writing entries… I end up with a whole bunch of articles and blog posts that I wanted to link to and discuss, and as I continue to be too busy and/or tired to do a proper full write-up, I’m just gonna do some quick bits.

(1) Art Radar Asia shares with us today the work of Malaysian artist Yee I-Lann, who combines batik textiles with photography to produce some truly amazing work.

Yee I-Lann, Orang Besar series: ‘Kain Panjang with Carnivorous Kepala‘, 2010, direct digital mimaki inkjet print with acid dye, batik canting Remazol Fast Salt dyes on 100% silk twill, edition of 3 + 2AP. Image taken from original Art Radar post. No claims to rights made; no revenue earned.

The realism of the photography, somehow transformed into an image that looks painted, drawn, or otherwise created by hand, and accompanied by more abstract and hand-painted forms, creates a really interesting aesthetic. I also quite like the balance of the people to the right and the plant image – looking like a gold-backed Japanese screen painting – to the left. Most importantly, of course, is the distinctly Asian flavor. The plants, the gold-backing, the batik borders, and of course the ethnicity (and fashion? perhaps?) of the figures give the image an extra flavor, an extra texture and punch that your standard acultural panglobal Western modern art work would lack.

(2) Cai Guo-Qiang, meanwhile, has been busy at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where his largest gunpowder drawings yet are on display. I’ve heard of Cai Guo-Qiang numerous times – he’s one of the biggest names in Chinese contemporary art here in the US – but I am not sure if I have ever seen his work. I was under the impression that he worked in gunpowder in the sense of actually creating shapes in the flames, in explosions and fireworks shows, the event itself being the art, and the photography of the art, and boring, shapeless piles of ashes and scorchmarks being merely the records and aftereffects.

But it would seem that I was quite mistaken. These gunpowder “drawings” seem to cover the full four walls of the gallery, and are gorgeous works of art that look not like the aftereffects of a performance piece, but as artworks in themselves, reminding one of traditional style sumi (ink) monochrome paintings, albeit in a most unusual medium.

(3) The big news in Japan this past week was the discovery that two swords found under the Great Buddha at Tôdaiji are now believed to be 1,250 years old, and to be the very same individual swords mentioned on an ancient list of national treasures.

The swords were found roughly 100-150 years ago (some time in the Meiji era 1868-1912), but were not until recently identified as being the “Yin Sword and Yang Sword” listed at the very top of the swords/weapons list within the Kokka Chinpô-chô (国家珍宝帳, “List of Rare Treasures of the Kingdom”), which lists treasures held at Tôdaiji, including treasures in the famous Shôsôin Imperial Storehouse.

I had had a video to share, a clip from TBS news, but like many Japanese news services, they don’t seem to have any interest in keeping content up for more than a few days.

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I have a few other posts on the back burner, one of which sadly has been there for over a month. But, in the meantime, Art Radar Asia, one of the premier blogs on goings on in the world of contemporary Asian art, reports today on an exhibition of contemporary Tibetan art at the Rubin Museum, the first such show in New York City ever.

I won’t go through the works one by one (not least of all because I feel awkward pulling too many images from a single source like that without permission)… I invite you to go look at the post on Art Radar Asia’s own page, consider the images, and read the comments by New York Times art critic Ken Johnson.

I’m certainly familiar with the name, though I have never really managed to keep track of which critics I do and don’t like, or which critics tend to say what sort of things. Reading his comments on these works, in which he basically criticizes all of them for not going far enough, I think that perhaps the main thing it comes down to is the amount of experience or exposure of the viewer. Ken Johnson has seen a lot of art in his day, and so it takes more to surprise, shock, or impress him. And that’s not his fault; one can only write from one’s own experience, one’s own impressions.

Johnson sums up by stating that it is paradoxical that the “freedoms granted by modern art and culture” do not generate much imagination in the show’s artists, who still cling onto that classic Tibetan style of art that has existed “hundreds of years prior to the 20th century.” He conveys a hope that in future Rubin shows he will discover some Tibetan artists with “adventurous minds.”

But I, and most other people viewing these works I should think, have not seen quite so much art, and are more easily impressed. I have a particular fondness for works which draw upon traditional elements, traditional motifs and styles, relating back to the artist’s culture and speaking to complex meanings and themes from her culture. Anyone can make acultural, pan-national, abstract “modern” art like, say, Mondrian or Damien Hirst. Only a Tibetan can produce these kinds of works, that explicitly refer to complex Buddhist meanings and themes, utilizing in some cases traditional mineral pigments and other traditional media, methods, and styles.

I think that, to the contrary of what Johnson has to say, these works show incredible imagination, and that all of these artists demonstrate that they have very adventurous minds. These works are not the classic Tibetan style of art that has existed for hundreds of years. What we saw in the Bhutanese art exhibit (“The Dragon’s Gift“) – that is a classic Bhutanese (extremely similar to Tibetan) style of art that has existed, more or less unchanged, for hundreds of years. Take a look at the Rubin Museum’s Collections webpage. Those are traditional mandalas in the fully classic style. Now look again at the works on the Art Radar Asia blog page. These are very modern, very experimental, imaginative, and adventurous new works making reference to or making use of those classic motifs, themes, and methods.

The exhibition at the Rubin Museum is up until October 18. I will have to be sure to see it while I am in NY in October.

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Andy Leleisi’uao is a Kiwi/Samoan artist finishing up a residency right now in Taipei, and highlighted today by Art Radar Asia.

His work caught my eye… this particular piece reminds me somehow of certain early 20th century Japanese artists, though no one name comes to mind. His other work, some of it in quite bright colors and patterns, reflects a diversity of styles (and media?).

For more, check out the Art Radar Asia post.

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Art Radar Asia shares with us today some rather captivating images of “tattooed bodies” artworks by Kim Joon, created entirely in 3D rendering software – no actual paint, tattoo needles, or bodies involved.

What is most captivating at first, of course, are the beautiful bodies; their nakedness, the beautiful pearly whiteness of their skin; the somewhat kinky or fetishistic appeal of painted-on forms and shapes interacting with the forms of their bodies.


But look closer, and the artworks really speak, in their juxtapositions of body parts of greatly differing sizes; in their use of disembodied limbs, and indeed in the fact that not only are there no faces shown in any of these images, but none of the bodies are in fact real. Does this make them less voyeuristic, less pornographic? What does this say about concepts of ideal beauty? By using artificially created bodies, is Joon saying something about the unreality of the ideal of beauty or its un-attainability? By separating these bodies from faces or heads, is he making a comment about bodies – male and female both – as sexual (or aesthetic) objects, divorced from their identities as human beings, with personalities, emotions, and individual identities?

Cheers, domo, and mahalo to Art Radar Asia for sharing this, and for their consideration in allowing me to re-share it.

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