An immersive exhibition in Beijing invites visitors to reflect on how digital technology is shaping their lives. Lin Qi reports.
Since its opening two weeks ago, Today Art Museum’s ongoing exhibition, .zip Future Rhapsody, has drawn big crowds. The museum, in the heart of Beijing’s downtown, has turned three floors of its main building into a playground of lights, sounds and images, using digital technologies.
The exhibition features 27 videos, installations and sound works which create an immersive environment, and it has become a popular place for young urbanities to take pictures and post them on social networks.
The artists featured include Claude Leveque from France, Charles Lindsay from the United States, Refik Anadol from Turkey and homegrown talents such as Feng Mengbo, Lin Xin and Shi Chuan.
The exhibition has received mixed reviews with some praising it and some saying it simply follows a trend of “immersive exhibitions” where new-media works are created to fill the space and provide eye-catching experiences without any artistic depth.
“There is no need to label the exhibition as a show of ‘new media art’ or ‘a marriage of art and technology’,” says Wu Juehui, who co-curates the exhibition with Yan Yan, the deputy director of Today Art Museum.
“From the beginning, we did not intend to boast about the kinds of advanced technologies being used. At the heart of this exhibition is what the artists feel and want to express in the digital age.”
Wu, who is an artist and a teacher at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, says that while the artworks provide unreal and fascinating visual effects, they also invite viewers to reflect on the reality that people’s lives are very integrated with digital technologies and wireless networks, especially through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.
He says that is why the exhibition is titled .zip, after the archive file format which supports data compression.
The artworks contain almost all the digital formats that have become common, such as .txt (text), .jpg (image), .gif (graphics) and .mp3 (audio).
“The exhibition is like a zip file compressing all the formats into
shown at people’s lives.
.zipFutureRhapsody one package,” says Wu.
“When the viewers see the works, it is like they are ‘unzipping’ compressed data.
“They are shocked and amazed as they find it difficult to distinguish between real and unreal.”
Artist Shi Chuan says the exhi- bition keeps pace with the times and “provides an angle to reconsider the role of technology and how it has changed an artist’s approach to work.”
The centerpiece of the exhibition is the museum’s 14-meter high main hall which is transformed into a “box of black and white” — two walls and the floor are painted white, and the other two walls and the ceiling are black.
Wu says the black-and-white box is an independent piece of work and the largest one on show, rather than a place for display.
Nine video-and-audio works, including one by Wu and his UFO Media Lab, are projected in rotation on the white walls and the ground. And visitors can relax in the space: they can lean against the walls, sit and even lie on the ground, while being surrounded by the moving images, as if they are entering the minds of the works’ creators.
“Everybody now lives with certain formats, and they have reshaped how people think and act,” says Wu. “Maybe in the future, people will greet each other by asking, ‘What’s your format?’”
The exhibition is part of Today Art Museum’s project “Future of Today”, and it was launched in 2015.
Now, as people access artworks and exhibitions by virtual means, “Future of Today” aims to use diverse approaches to give art lovers experiences that are unique to a specific location.
The museum’s inaugural exhibition in 2015 showcased artworks through technologies such as computer-meditated reality, and the artists featured included Chinese sculptor Sui Jianguo, newmedia artist Miao Xiaochun and Suzanne Anker, a New York-based visual artist.
Gao Peng, the director of Today Art Museum, says: “The project is bold and risky.”
Gao says that when he took the directorship of the museum in 2013, two questions kept emerging in his mind — what will a future art museum look like and what artworks will suit such a museum.
“I haven’t come to a conclusion yet. But we will keep seeking answers.
“We are now on an extraordinary journey — to build a museum of the future.”
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Artworks explore the role of technology in