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MAAP in Singapore 2004 - Gravity: Introduction

Keith Gallasch

MAAP04 was an engrossing event, informative, rich in networking and, in its choice of works for exhibition, revealing about the state of new media arts in the region and the curatorial impulse for the event. The exhibitions were spread around the island state of Singapore, making for a sense of inclusion and integrating educational institutions and their galleries into the new media arts picture. Many Singaporeans told me that MAAP's main exhibition, GRAVITY, had played an important role in introducing the Singapore Art Museum to the installation of new media work and achieving it at a high standard. The regional reach of MAAP04 included China, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, Korea, Japan and Australia. The presence of Hong Kong's impressive Asia Art Archive with librarian Angela Seng in-residence at Singapore's contemporary artspace, The Substation (see "Archiving history face to face"), indicated a commitment to documenting contemporary art as it happens right across Asia, and including Australian engagements with Asian culture. The new media art in MAAP comprised video, installation, CD-ROM, sound art and a small number of interactive works, accompanied by a conference, a symposium, a party (with video creations by local artists and a live link to QUT) and a end-of-event twilight cruise on a junk on Singapore harbour, lo-tech but high bonding. What became clear across the week were the many different meanings that new media has for artists, curators, educators and activists. For some it is a socio-political tool for change, if a problematic one because it is relatively expensive and inaccessible in parts of Asia. For these people it is just one tool among others. As Fatima Lasay from Manila, who has been teaching CD-ROM and web design in Myanmar, argues, you make art from the technology that is available (see" The body between: an interview/review"). Some artists see themselves as conduits: using new media to allow the public to express themselves (see "Every available space"). Yukiko Shikata's inspiring account of works shown in Japan suggested the possibility of co-developing personal artistic endeavour and sizeable public works. A problematic issue, as Gail Priest argues in "Conceptual leaps", is the way in which new media art can sometimes be reduced to a category of the visual arts. In a discussion with the RealTime editors, MAAP director Kim Machan eloquently declared that the art-science field, bio-art and other wings of new media had staked their claims and secured their niches but that new media art needed to claim its rightful position in the history of art and in the gallery. It's not surprising then that Yves Klein is the spiritual mentor of MAAP 2004. The desire to anchor new media art to an artist, a movement, a tradition (whether in the histories of technology, art, film, literature, media) escalates by the year with multitudinous prefigurings. These serve the academy well and make investment in new media art more institutionally justifiable. What they have to say about the art is another matter. Given the uneven and early stages of development of new media arts across much of the region, it is not surprising that there are few people writing about it, and those who do tend to come from a visual arts background. These include Ho Tzu Nyen and Michael Lee Hong Hwee ("The Inevitable Body") whom we welcome to our pages for our MAAP coverage, while writers from Manila and Bangkok will be found in future editions. There's a willingness to write about video, but not new media art. Beyond a small group of committed writers the situation is not that much better in Australia, hence the RealTime-BEAP New Media Arts Writing Workshop last September. A comparison of MAAP with BEAP (Biennial of Electronic Arts Perth) is inevitable, especially given these are the 2 key Australian new media arts event alongside ACMI's ongoing program, Electrofringe, SOOB (Straight Out of Brisbane) and events presented by dLux media arts and ANAT. BEAP, with its UK and American connections, its core support from the university sector and its explorations in 2004 of the frontiers of bio-art, distribution, perception and interactivity make it substantially different from MAAP with its expanding Asia Pacific network, its promotion of work by Asian and Australia artists and its visual arts rationale. There is of course an overlap of interests (including the socio-political), of artists and exhibiting issues (BEAP04 involved some 7 gallery spaces), not to mention a shared sense of experiment and exploration. Both festivals excel at the collaborative and incorporative model, drawing in participation and support from diverse sources. Both are international in scope and offer Australian artists (though few figured in either event in 2004) opportunities to link to networks and to promote their works in new markets. Congratulations to the mercurial and indefatigable MAAP director Kim Machan, her tiny team and her generous and very able young Singaporean volunteers for a memorable event. Thanks too to the New Media Arts Board of the Australia Council for making possible our trip to Singapore, it certainly has expanded RealTime's horizons enabling us to reach a wider audience and initiate what we hope will be a long-term exchange of writing and ideas. KG

RealTime issue #64 Dec-Jan 2004 pg.

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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