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Opening doors: MAAP in Beijing

Di Ball

Di Ball is a new media artist working on a doctorate in visual arts at Queensland College of Arts.

Gong Xin Wang, Red Gate Gong Xin Wang, Red Gate
'In Autumn, the ripe season, the Multi-Media Digital Art Museum of China Millenium Monument opens its door for the first time for the ‘multi-media art’, this immature friend. Perhaps, its charm just lies in juvenility. Innovation, brave exploration, and undiminished passion are eternally the attitude and existing style of this newly emerging force. As the undertaker of this exhibition, we warmly welcome the new friend here and will support its development.'

Wang Jiangi, Director, Art Museum, China Millennium Monument, MAAP 2002 catalogue.

I feel that I should state my position up front. I turned 50 last October and (if you don’t count fleeting visits to New Zealand and New Guinea in the 70s) had never been overseas. I also come from Brisvegas and have been actively involved in the Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific (MAAP) Festival over the years as a board member, volunteer, contributor and advisor. So, as I stepped onto the plane in Sydney after a long night at the Primavera artists’ party at the MCA, I was, in the words of Big Kev, EXCITED...VERY EXCITED! I was heading to China for MAAP Beijing; I was a young new media artist trapped in an old woman’s body; and I would soon be the only blonde in Tiananmen Square.

In her catalogue introduction, MAAP Director Kim Machan outlines the importance of MAAP in “showcasing the work of the region’s major new media practitioners, creating new networks, introducing the artists and their work to audiences, and increasing cultural contact and understanding through the experience of new media arts.” Although always built on a strong commitment to new media art in the Asia Pacific, MAAP No. 5 was the first foray out of Australia and into the region, enabling collaborative partnerships between itself and organisations such as The Central Academy of Fine Arts, The Art Museum of China Millennium Monument, The China International Exhibitions Agency and the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

MAAP Beijing featured a wide range of artworks from the Asia Pacific region. Perhaps more significantly, it provided an opportunity for Chinese artists to exhibit their works locally, some for the first time. The accompanying forums, which included presentations by Alex Galloway from Rhizome (US), Julianne Pierce from Australia Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and Pi Li from Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts, provided new regional networks for Chinese artists, academics and students. The importance of this event was highlighted with the coverage on CCTV, the official Chinese television station. How refreshing it was to be sitting in the foyer of our hotel sipping local beer while interviews with new media artists were screened on the large television monitors.

The thematic title, Moist, resulted in a plethora of interpretations. The Art Museum of China Millennium Monument is a grand structure and in the bowels of this enormous sundial is a circular corridor with gallery space on both sides: The China Art Museum. Here MAAP was divided into 3 components: individual installations by artists from Australia, China, Japan, India and Korea; curated screening programs by the Australian Centre for Moving Image, dLux Media Arts, Experimenta Media Arts and Johan Pinappal’s Contemporay Indian Video. There was also a CD-ROM and net art program by MAAP, ANAT and Art Center Nabi. The configuration of the museum allowed separate spaces for many installations and provided areas for banks of computers to view the online component. The pièce de résistance technically speaking was a lecture theatre with a giant, curved 31-metre video wall of 56 programmable monitors. This wall was hotly sought after by artists wishing to see their work writ huge, but the format suited some better than others.

Web of life (2002)—a collaboration between Australian artist Jeffrey Shaw and ZKM in Germany—was visually impressive on such a scale. Viewers placed their hands onto a sculptural component which mapped their lifelines and sent the information through a network to 5 other locations, the resulting image changing according to the person’s ‘vibe.’ The resulting images were sometimes formulaic and my travelmate IMA’s David Broker, was horrified to find that his handprint generated a new age dolphin scenario. Another successful creation for the large screen was Zhang Peili’s Broadcasting at the same time (2002) in which each of the 56 monitors broadcast news readers from different countries announcing, “Good morning, this is the news.” This work perfectly illustrated the homogeneity of the world and its presentation of ‘media humanity.’ While Justine Cooper’s Moist (2002) was created for this wall screen, I thought it did not have the same impact. A video created from bodily fluids magnified many times, it attempted a massive scale shift which resulted in a blotchy, grainy, abstracted image lost in the translation.

Some Australian works were familiar to me—Patricia Piccinini’s Swell (2000), David Haines and Joyce Hinterding’s The Levitation Grounds (2000-2002), John Tonkin’s Personal Eugenics (2001) and Craig Walsh’s, Perspective (2002). They looked great in this setting and were well received, as were installations by Ian Haig (Excelsior 3000, 2001) and Iain Mott (Close, 2001). Gong Xin Wang is a MAAP favourite, and his new work was a highlight. Titled Red Gate, it consisted of 4 screens positioned to form a room with openings to enter the space. On each screen was the projection of a large door which opened to reveal glimpses of old and new China before the door slammed shut. The uncanny sound of this constant slamming could be heard while experiencing other works, reminding you where you were and what you hadn’t seen.

The screening program comprised old favourites from artists like Peter Callas, Justine Cooper, Vikki Wilson and Jon McCormack interspersed with more recent works presented to a new and appreciative audience. The CD-ROM and net art component was also extremely varied, with old and new works available for consumption. MAAP’s excursion into Beijing highlighted its importance in the region. It will travel to Singapore before returning to Brisbane in 2005.

MAAP, Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific Festival, The Art Museum of China Millenium Monument, Beijing, Oct 20-Nov 3.

Di Ball is a new media artist working on a doctorate in visual arts at Queensland College of Arts.

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 27

© Di Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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