Originally published at Nusantara - The Southeast Asian Art File

Art & Technology

Why is the link so weak in Singapore? Singapore's rush to make itself a "global city for the arts" is matched only by its blindspot there seems to be towards "art" as a category of exploration of technology. At the same time millions are spent on Singapore One, and entirely new and pioneering highspeed network that will connect all of Singapore. But don't let artists into that!

Art in Singapore is painting, maybe sculpture. It prizes the object, the unique, the mythical artist as creator.

Does that matter?

In a city where so much is displaced, temporary, where the fabric of society has never really existed, much less been displaced and mediated out of existence only recently, perhaps we should revive the cult of the art object. We should revel in particularity, in luxury.

For example, this, an email sent out to a group of friends in Singapore who have mentioned having some interest in this question

This is a little email update on efforts to stimulate the convergence of art & technology in Singapore over the last couple of months. Many of you were involved in discussions about outfitting the Substation with a Digital Art Lab a couple of months back. Others of you may have participated in recent discussions on the National Digital Art Competition organized by NCB. I hope that email messages like this can help to keep a conversation going, no matter how interrupted or tenuous, on the subject of art and technology in Singapore. If you would rather not receive messages like this in the future, please drop me a note and I will take you off the list. If there is enough interest I will set us up on a majordomo so we can have a proper automated mailing list. Until then use your control-R to reply to everyone if you have questions, comments, something to contribute, whatever.

Three developments recently:

National Digital Art Competition

The NCB has organized a National Digital Art Competition. It has been organized by the IT Culture Promotion division of the NCB, aimed at achieving the following stated goals :

To stimulate awareness of digital art.
To promote the use of computers as a digital art medium for artistic and creative expressions.

Its main thrust is popular rather than at the professional or "serious" artist. There are sections for children and students, and themes to follow. The adult one is "Singapore in the Next Millenium". Digital art is rather narrowly defined to mean 2-D images created on the computer, and there are pretty restrictive rules on the use of photographs, video images or scanned input.

It is a wonderful first step of course, but I think it is quite revealing that even this contest purveys a very limited definition of art, "protecting it" from the possibilities afforded by technology. The judges are drawn from the educational institutions, with Lin Hsin Hsin as the artist represented. There *is* an awareness among the organizers that to be meaningful a digital art contest would need to include multimedia art. Hopefully next year we will see movement in that direction. As a first step along the road to synaesthesia contestants are encouraged to add a midi file to the disk with their digital painting.

I gave a talk as part of the series they have organized. It was sparsely attended, but there were plenty of questions, including, how much can digital art sell for?

Video Sculpture from Germany

Singapore Art Museum and Goethe Institut are organizing Art and Electronics: Video Sculptures in Germany since 1963. The exhibition will run from 20 June 97 to 13 July 1997. This should be a good chance to stimulate discussion on art and technology in Singapore, and it promises to be an excellent show. I'll pass round more info soon!

Unfortunately, one of the most interesting artists, Ingo Gunther, who participated in the recent Mediascapes show at the Guggenheim Soho, will not be able to participate (as things currently stand) because of the space limitations of the Art Museum. He needs a room 6 x 8 meters, with a 5 meter ceiling, which can be blacked out. Such a space is difficult to find in Singapore! The Goethe Institut will also require someone to sponsor the Sharp single gun video projectors. There are a couple of possibilities which we are working on, but if anyone has any suggestions please let us know. The artist is keen to come to Singapore, and will happily give seminars and workshops.

Gilles Massot's "Les Anges Qui Passent" @ Cafe Operetta on Keong Saik Rd

Sorry, the show is officially over ( I think). Gilles is an artist and photographer who has been working in Southeast Asia for 16 years. This is his first exhibition of computer-manipulated imagery. He began with photographs, manipulated them, laser printed them, then used a transfer process to print them onto archival paper. The images take as their subject the street life of Keong Saik Rd, one of the last of the old-fashioned red light districts of Singapore. The digital manipulation is used sparingly and judiciously, to bring out the evanescent quality of this particular street, already under seige from gentrification (a process that the Cafe Operetta itself represents). I like it because it stands in for the evanescence of almost *any* street atmosphere in Singapore, the temporary city.


For an interesting article on a very strong Japanese multimedia artist, check out the June issue of WIRED.The article is by Azby Brown, an artist and critic based in Japan, who has been through Singapore a few times.

Who was the first artist in Southeast Asia to use a computer to manipulate images? My money is on the wonderful and now sadly departed Malaysian artist Ismail Zain, whose Digital Collage series was produced between 1984 and 1988.