Last month I travelled to Taiwan to catch-up with friends and colleagues (spent 3 months studying Mandarin in 2009 in Taipei on a government scholarship). En route I picked up the International New York Times which included a special feature on digital technology in parallel with a conference in Doha 12-13 March 2016 Art for Tomorrow Technology, Creativity & the City . The paper highlighted a number of reports on digital technology and how it is being used by artists and museums to create greater access and awareness for audiences especially in mainland China.
This article was put aside for safekeeping on my return to Dublin. What I had not anticipated during my trip to Taiwan unfolded during visits to a number of museums, creative and cultural parks both in Taipei and Hualien as well as short hops to Shanghai and Hong Kong.
There is something really exciting happening in East and SE Asia. This is just a snapshot of what I encountered during my 3 weeks stay.
The Taiwanese government announced in 2011 plans to reform its education system and replace learning by rote with creativity and innovation. This island with a population of over 23 million is located in the Pacific Ocean east of Mainland China, south of Japan. It was once known for its mass production of cheap goods until Mainland China opened up its doors to the world. Now, Taiwan (Republic of China) needs to find its own voice. And it is really apparent in the contemporary arts scene and creative parks. The Museum of Fine Arts, (MFA) Taipei is currently featuring works by contemporary Taiwanese and international artists in an exhibition The Ways Things Go. Works featured experimental approaches including sound, light, technology and multi-media. I noticed the generous space provided for each work as well as the sense of confidence and ease with which this museum offers the chance for both artists and visitors to explore creativity and innovation. The MFA is hosting displays of contemporary British design as well as works by contemporary Taiwanese artist Yang Mao-Lin (check out his combination of manga characters with traditional Buddhist motifs) and new acquisitions from their permanent collection.
Creativity and innovation is everywhere in Taipei. A number of creative parks have sprung up including Huashan 1914 Creative Park and features a FabCafe that follows in the footsteps of international FabCafes in Barcelona, Sitges, Bangkok and Hida, Japan. FabCafe offers people the opportunity to come together and connect as well as participate in its maker space using digital fabrication tools. The space provides workshops, talks and business collaboration and offers team building opportunities for companies. Maker spaces are rapidly developing in Taipei and I had a chance meeting with James who has set up Innospace Foru for makers, entrepreneurs and creatives. His plan is to provide opportunities for people to come together, collaborate and listen to local stories of creative start-ups at a very competitive price of NT$150 (€4.07) per session.
With less than 48 hours in Shanghai, I managed to visit M50 Creative Space and Museum of Contemporary Art. M50 is a creative centre with a number of contemporary art galleries and collectives; I visited Shanghart Gallery in 2010 with a request to borrow Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest by local artist Yang Fudong for a museum education programme in conjunction with an exhibition on loan from the Shanghai Museum. This time I visited Island 6; a collective of Chinese and international painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, new media artists, software and digital imaging artists, dancers, writers and curators. They combine art and technology in depicting contemporary life in China. This is a really good example of how contemporary collectives work together harnessing traditional and new technologies.
The last leg of this trip was to Hong Kong. Art Basel just opened last week 23-25 March 2016. Tickets are expensive but I was fortunate enough to receive tickets to Art Central and Spring Conrad from a friend who works for the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture office in Hong Kong. Art Central is primarily a commercial annual event featuring contemporary Asian art in the region. Work primarily consisted of painting and sculpture with little digital or multi-media work. The fair featured a talk on art and technology and how it can prove to be difficult to collect. Spring Conrad provides commercial galleries and artists to sell their works from their hotel rooms. The commercial and arts sector sit very comfortably in Hong Kong. An excellent example is K11 , an art foundation and shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui. One of its shows is Hack Space ; a collaborative exhibition with the Serpentine Gallery Hong Kong and contemporary China-based artists. The concept of the exhibition explores mass production of cheap goods in China alongside the illegal production of mobile phones, digital goods and other products.
Cracking Open the Digital Doors
Which brings me back to the International New York Times article I squirreled away at the beginning of this trip. Cracking Open the Digital Doors article featured a number of examples of how mainland China is embracing digital technology both in art practice as well as creating access to museum collections. Beijing-based artist Cao Fei broke the traditional mold with her work Same Old, Brand New at Art Basel Hong Kong last year. She transformed four sides of the tallest building in Hong Kong (International Commerce Centre) with one of the earliest digital media games (see below).
Contemporary artist Lulu Li is a partner of Beijing-based Moujiti. Her organisation understands the importance of digital innovation for both artists and cultural organisations, especially in mainland China which has a population of over 1 billion. Moujiti has developed content for the Palace Museum Beijing accessing their vast porcelain collection. The museum features a multimedia page on its website unlocking its collections and offers tours of this vast site.
After all, in a lifetime one can only visit so many museums and historical sites physically. With the rise of digital museums and smart museums, technology like virtual reality and augmented reality can bring immersive experiences that help us access cultural content.
New media artists realise the importance of digital technology; a generation known as Post-’80. One member Xu Wenkai, otherwise known as Aaajiao combines computer technology and views it as a gateway to art:
The most important possibility offered by digital technology is a kind of education in the values of technological culture. It shatters location, ethnicity and politics, and because of that, it makes us equals
These are just some examples of what I observed, read, encountered and experienced during my time in Taiwan, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Albeit brief, it was enlightening if not exciting to be present and scratch the surface of the current art and cultural scene. I also realise the scene is constantly evolving and changing in keeping with the fast pace of digital technology. And more importantly, collaboration across the region is key to its success, i.e. as migration is a given between these countries, so too is cultural and artistic collaboration.