Friday, September 14, 2012

Biennale finds art and digital media

“Six Points” (2010) by Jung Yeon-doo.

Eclectic is the key word to describe the 7th Seoul International Media Art Biennale. This year’s event, titled “Mediacity Seoul 2012,” is ambitious, taking place on all three floors of the Seoul Museum of Art as well as the DMC Gallery in downtown Seoul. A total of 49 artists and groups from 20 countries have contributed to a wide range of installations, videos and interactive media.

What encompasses media art is defined quite broadly by the biennale’s organizers. Outside of classic visual art forms like painting and sculpture, pretty much anything goes.

Most of the works utilize digital and computerized equipment to varying degrees of sophistication and success. Some are incredibly intricate, while others are simple mechanical components roughly melded to more organic ideas.

With every passing biennale, however, the hyper-mediated society described by the participating artists seems to feel more familiar. The language of video art, for example, has become such an accepted part of our lives that it is hard to appreciate it as a separate aesthetic form.

The ubiquity of the digital screen breeds both an intimacy and a level of passivity. We are so used to the lightning-quick analysis and dissection of information that it can feel banal when experienced within the context of a museum.

When Dominic Gagnon of Canada mines Internet videos censored by YouTube, or veteran American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer projects enigmatic texts onto the sides of buildings, there is little surprise left in the strategies. They’ve become art that comfortably coexists with real-time Internet searches and billboard ads.

On the other hand, this year’s event also shows that there is still potential for the poetic left in the digital medium. Jung Yeon-doo of Korea utilizes stop-motion montage techniques seen so many times in feature films to virtually construct poignant street scenes from New York City.

Till Nowak of Germany and Ryota Kuwakubo of Japan take childhood artifacts like amusement park rides and train sets, respectively, and imagine beautiful, mesmerizing worlds.

The majority of the works at the biennale are noisy and flashy and they compete for our visual and aural attention. The sounds and projections from one installation seep into another, often to the detriment of both works.

On the other hand, numerous pieces are given enough space for contemplation. Belgian artist David Claerbout’s video dissection of a black-and-white photograph from Algiers or Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari’s filmic intersection of an Internet chat and an old typewriter are examples of pieces that take time to absorb and process. It may require some effort to see the human components underneath the digital bells and whistles but they are definitely there.

“Mediacity Seoul 2012” will run until Nov. 4 at the Seoul Museum of Art and the DMC Gallery. Admission is free.
For more information, go to or call 070-4473-8858.

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