Photo Essays

A Taste of Beijing’s Large New Media Art Triennial

by An Xiao on August 1, 2011

Viewers lining up at the New Media Triennial.

Viewers lining up at the New Media Triennial.

Last Tuesday, the National Art Museum of China (中国美术馆) launched Translife (延展生命), their triennial of new media art from around the world.  The exhibition follows up from the first incarnation, Synthetic Times (合成时代), which coincided with the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

I find it difficult to review or even to summarize shows of this scale, if only because the ideas presented are so diverse and the work so varied. On the one hand, there was Edwin van der Heide’s “Spark Network,” which sparked sparks and popped pops across a giant gallery space, and on the other extreme was Wang Yuyang’s “Electricity,” presented simply as a chair with a battery alongside a wire installation.

Curated by Zhang Ga (张尕), Translife is divided into four parts and three floors:  Sensorium of the Extraordinary,  Sublime of the Liminal,  Zone of the Impending and, outside, The Weather Tunnel.

The show is worth a visit, if only because it presents a broad survey of new media work both in China and overseas. Some of the works are fun and flashy, clicking, flashing and whirring their way into the audience’s attention space. But some probed into more important questions around sustainability, biohacking, cybernetics and privacy, using technology as both bridge and medium. The main disappointment is that this triennial runs only for a month, closing on August 17. Here are a few photos of works that caught my eye.

Beijing artist Chak Man Lei enjoys Lawrence Malstaf’s “Nemo Observatorium,” which shuttles styrofoam balls around the participant. The last time I saw this piece was in Pittsburgh’s Wood Street Galleries. It was a delight to see again here in Beijing.

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“E-Static Shadows” by Zane Berzina and Jackson Tan. The lights respond to viewers’ static electricity by turning on and off as you wave your hand over them.

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Wang Yuyang’s “Artificial Moon” glows bright white but stays cool thanks to fluorescent bulbs.

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Only up for demonstration during the opening, Wu Juehui’s “USB Organs” imagined a world where our senses were driven only by USB devices.

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Julius Pop’s “Bit.Flow,” in which particles represent bits of information and form difficult-to-perceive patterns.

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Marnix de Nijs’ “15 Minutes of Biometric Fame,” in which a camera zooms in on people’s faces, takes a scan and uploads the images to the Internet, where it finds potential matches for dating. The looming, hulking monster on wheels highlighted some of the discomfort many feel now that Facebook and other sites offer facial recognition.

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Visitors peer into Herwig Weiser’s “Ambiguous Cut Into Space of Conjecture,” an “electrochemical projection device,” allowing viewers to see chemical reactions in process. The reactions also produce a sound too high for visitors to hear.

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aaajiao’s “Cloud.data,” consisting of 12 screens mimicking a dark region of sky.

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Eduardo Kac’s “Edunia — Natural History of Enigma” stayed with me many days after, conceptually speaking. It features a “plantimal,” a plant injected with Kac’s DNA, which is expressed in the flower’s veins. There’s no way to know, from the placard and photos, if the plantimal really exists.

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And because flashing lights certainly dominated the show, I’ll end with those. “Knight of Infinite Resignation,” by Diane Landry: this piece features water bottles filled with sand to highlight the precious resource they lack.

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Translife: New Media Art China 2011 continues at the National Art Museum of China (1 Wusi Dajie, East District, Beijing) until August 17.

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