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Curatorial Philosophy

Augmenting the World

Cheng, Meiya

Augmented reality compresses the world and puts it into a convenient and portable digital tool box, making it possible to recreate or re-present that world at any time. “Just like being there,” which is often heard in advertising,suggests an experience of a virtual reality in a cultural context. suggests a realistic experience of a virtual (artificial) environment.

To name their project, Huyghe and Parreno détourned the title of the Japanese manga series Ghost in the Shell. The project itself involved purchasing the image rights for a character named Annlee who had been discarded by the Japanese animation industry, and then inviting eighteen artists to use Annlee as a symbol to create artwork. Aspects of Huyghe and Parreno's strategy that may generate discussions include their selection of an empty symbol deemed worthless by commercial systems as a point of creative departure; their choice of the project title—No Ghost Just a Shell—suggesting a critique of the burnout seen in cultural industries as well as the tendency in these industries toward unified value systems; and, as in the case of Annlee, the total separation of visual-image products from creativity in the animation industry which de facto appoints the commercial system as sole arbiter in the valuation of such products.

Huyghe and Parreno set up a temporary animation studio for their project, devising a completely new means of production aimed at meeting artistic goals and based on self-organizing systems, linking and activity among participating artists. This approach not only attempted to create an art-production mode independent of commercial systems, but also had artistic implications. Independent yet co-existing signifieds were produced using an empty signifier. Also, signification occurred in a dynamic networking process based on a self-organizing, micro production-system, thus creating a new communicational field as well as a new interactive exchange mode between artists and the relations of production. Furthermore, the result of artistic production—the product or artwork—was not of primary importance in this project. What was important, however, were the concepts developed in the production process, and the new real situation produced by the linking of social relations. Finally, the micro production-system devised by Huyghe and Parreno challenges current art-world mechanisms on several levels: it suggests discussions related to collection and exhibition that are difficult to manage with established concepts, due to the both individual and collective nature of authors' rights attached to the artwork and the independent, artist-exhibited dimension of the project.

Augmenting the World is the first exhibition to present the project No Ghost Just a Shell within the context of digital art. The project is most often discussed from the perspective of relational aesthetics, but its concepts are also well suited to today's Internet society and new media art, while sufficiently challenging our understanding of a typical digital art exhibition. The Internet has created new possibilities not only because of it is a new media and new tool, but also because computer networks have become a basic means of human social interaction, as well as created new kinds of social relationships and activities. New kinds of social relations, micro-systems and human interaction can creatively challenge established systems and modes of understanding. An example is Superchannel, a network of studios and suite of tools created in collaboration with the artists' group Superflex and  developed to help people with do-it-yourself media productions for Internet television. In Superchannel, one can play the role of both producer and receiver while creating new interactive possibilities and network connections.

Short-Circuited Entertainment Versus Open Participation

Works presented in the Augmenting the World exhibition include Jun Yang's Revolutions, an animation in three parts that analyzes different forms of revolutions or the shifting meanings of revolutionary symbols. Yang presents the Tiananmen Square protests as an incomplete revolution; the fall of an authoritative regime to a democratic system as a revolution resulting a shift in power systems; and symbols of a revolution that have become targets of consumerism, such as the prevalence of statues of revolutionary figures that have been placed in scenic or tourist areas. As audience members enter Yang's exhibition venue, their images are introduced into and synchronized with scenery in his video, such that they becoming members of the masses but not permitted to interact with the content of the video in real time. The artist forces the visitors into his work by using their images, suggesting that everyone is involved with the reality presented on the screen, regardless of whether it is a revolution or an art festival. The interactivity lacking in the piece could have been achieved easily, but Yang wished to deliberately short circuit the spectacle and interactive entertainment we have come to associate with electronic media in order to force viewers to redefine their roles as audience members. Artwork is already interactive as it involves a dialog between artists and audience, the suspension or completion of which depends upon the identity assumed by the audience, as both revolutions and art festivals can be the targets of consumers.

Interactivity in interactive art does not always aim to show us how a prescribed set of conditions causes audience reactions. Perhaps interactivity can also be the challenge an artwork poses to established ideas of viewing experience, and the interactive network that audience participation can initiate. In Oliver Hangl's art action blending guerrilla and situationist qualities and entitled Taipei Guerrilla Walk, the artist leads participants on an exploration of unknown territory in Taipei City. Hangl's work is like a mobile theater, where the line dividing audience and performer is unclear. While roaming around the city, the artist plays the role of a catalyst, asking participants questions, and using certain actions to continually make them aware of social contexts of given spaces by touching on hidden rules of behavior for public and private realms. Participants and bystanders roped into Hangl's semi-extemporaneous performance are provoked and urged into interacting in aggravating or friendly ways. In the process, interactive contexts and social relations repeatedly form and dissolve.

Augmenting the World

Image production technology has developed to a very high level, and while technology such as augmented reality, 3-D imagery, and virtual reality challenge human senses in the extreme, this does not necessarily mean that they have altered forms of perception. Image production technology has developed toward the creation of increasingly life-like imagery. Attempts at the reproduction or re-presentation of reality gradually created a completely new reality; a hyperreality that replaced reality. Augmented reality compresses the world and puts it into a convenient and portable digital tool box, making it possible to recreate or re-present that world at any time. “Just like being there,” which is often heard in advertising, suggests an experience of a virtual reality in a cultural context.

Technological innovation has transformed human social networking. Today we are carriers of information in the form of smart phones which have closely connected people. Leaving our cell phones on, we are situated within an invisible social network and can be switched on and interact at all times. A Machine to See With by the U.K. artist collective Blast Theory relies on cell phones to call together participants and guide them to location in the city where they will act out a bank robbery. The finished artwork could be regarded as film as it includes a fictional preamble, which invites participants to relive their everyday lives. The artists do not intend to use technology in A Machine To See With to invent virtual circumstances to impart a simulated real experience to the audience, rather they do this through a simple device—an invitation to rob a bank. They then manipulate the audience's impressions of a familiar formula seen in Hollywood movies, as well as the usual expectation of enjoyment and excitement from movie plots, by expanding these impressions and expectations into a performance carried out in public where audience members participate as actors in a real film. The projection screen, which differentiates the exciting situation in a film from the real world, disappears to make way for activist/actor/audience participation, yet must suture the gap between fiction and reality in order to create a film. Challenges encountered in this project include creating partnerships with strangers, the curiosity of onlookers and notions of legality.

A Machine to See With was created in 2008, the year the global financial crisis began, and first exhibited in 2010. Following this, some of the work's content changed, or it was presented as an alternate reality game, based on conditions in the city where it was being exhibited. The story behind the work relates to different audiences and how they have been effected by the latest form of exploitative global capitalism, neo-liberalism. To set this all-too-real story in motion, the audience is invited to carry out an actual action, thus transforming from an observing subject into an active subject. While creating an augmented world, the work is neither the reproduction of reality, nor a reality that is enjoyed due to sensory stimulation, but rather is a new reality made by blending the real with the virtual which is then completed by an action. In this process, audience members do not only interact with instructions given over the cell phone, but also with other unanticipated active subjects that join in Blast Theory's playful set up. The interactive network between the two weaves a new network of relationships.

Low-Tech Real Art

The use of new media is not necessarily the key point in an exhibition of digital art. Hito Styerl discusses the political economy of image production; the high or low quality of images reflects economic and geopolitical disparity. Styerl points out that emphasizing the technical aspects of digital art may mistakenly suggest that economics is the only driving force worth considering in art. Japanese artist Ryota Kuwakubo uses the same primitive image technology seen in fifteenth century leather shadow puppets show to make his work The Tenth Sentiment. His fifteen-minute video creates an almost immersive experience, but also exposes his technology to de-mythologize its hidden marvels.

Works exhibited in Augmenting the World fall into a variety of categories including guerrilla actions, alternate reality games, animation and video art, while using common interfaces to open realms situated between real and virtual worlds. Augmenting the World also initiates a discussion of alternate forms for a digital art exhibition, as well as the social, political and cultural implications of technology as an interface.