Sunday, September 19, 2010

Digital art: cell phones add extra dimension

``Image Instrument'' by Lee Hwa-jin and Park Mi-ok, and below, a digital sculpture by Lee Yong-baek are on display at the Incheon International Digital Art Festival. /Korea Times photo by Ines Min

By Ines Min

The ubiquity of technology has long been an issue for controversy, with articles in the New York Times citing studies that show some use the Internet enough for it to be classified as an “addiction,” and the BBC reporting that sleek software can dull the brain. One point has been near-universally accepted, however: technology has greatly affected our lives, revolutionizing information intake and mental processes.

The Incheon International Digital Art Festival (INDAF), which is on through Sept. 30, grabs that concept and breaks into a full run, bringing an exhibition of more than 90 artists with works that engage viewers not only visually, but physically.

The location of the event in Songdo itself speaks volumes about the type of art festival. The manmade city built by the people ― as opposed to around the people ― was reclaimed from the vast mudflats which once comprised it, replacing in its stead a pristine, concrete and steel Free Economic Zone. Appropriately, INDAF itself is only in its second year, nearly as young as the location that hosts it.

Its mission is clear, however, with a six-part exhibition layout that arcs from children-friendly, mind-bending technology to full-sensory, smoke-filled rooms lit with strobe lights with a reputation for causing the weak-willed to faint ― that is, the advancements of the age lend for the production of entire new creative realms, dictated by our interaction. Confounding and addictive video games (“Kids are way better at this than adults,” one docent said) pull in the riddle-lovers, while those with a musical ear can rock out on a guitar or keyboard made of card stock and tape, intentionally crafted sloppily so as to surprise the audience with its clear, electronic sound.

“Never has the future been as unpredictable as it is today,” said festival director Roh Soh-yeong. “By becoming the central link to the world around us, mobile media defines who we are and what the world is.”

The main exhibition “Mobile Art” is the culmination of the festival’s message, and focuses on work that can only be seen through the screen of a smartphone (which are available through a rental system).

Lee Yong-baek’s sculpture of two art manikins is invisible to the naked eye, but can be viewed at 360-degree angles onscreen. To complement the digital work, a retrospective of legendary Roy Ascott’s pieces can be seen on the surrounding walls. The pioneer in telematic art and current professor of Technoetic Arts, University of Plymouth, is exhibiting his work in Korea for the first time, bringing to the show his installations “Plastic Transactions” and “La Plissure du Texte,” and paintings such as “California Suit 1.”

The Blur exhibition smears the lines of architect, designer, artist and programmer, the transcendence of categories being perhaps one of the most characteristic of the new technological age. “Differential Life Integral City” invites the audience to enter their lifestyle information to create an online city, and the exhibition period sees the formation of two metropolises in both Incheon and Venice ― where artist Tesoc Hah is currently featuring its sister work at the biennale there.

For those looking for new artwork from emerging artists, Sense Senses brings together “digital natives” from Japan, China and Korea, the youngest being only 20-years-old. One work to look out for is “Image Instrument” by artists Lee Hwa-jin and Park Mi-ok, who coordinated dance moves with the soundless instruments. A blow into the recorder sees a lanky boy shimmy into a stand, while the crashing of the cloth-lined cymbals calls for a gorilla-like move from another.

Visitors can immerse themselves into a 3D, digitally-synthesized world in “Land,” by the celebrated Ulf Langheinrich in the Waves segment, while those looking for an out-of-body, alienating experience can walk into “Zee,” Kurt Hentschlager’s smoke-filled room.

Tomorrow School opens up the possibilities for new ways to think with its child-oriented (but equally appealing for adults) exhibitions that include the beautifully animated picture book by Camille Scherrer, whose simplified sequences pop from the pages when viewed on a screen. “Windosill” by Patrick Smith encourages the beguiling of hours at an enticingly puzzlingly maze that sees a toy truck make its way through complex levels, a la video games.

Eight outdoor, mobile-art exhibitions make up Nine Scenery, which can be toured on an hour-long bicycle tour (assistance from English-speaking docents available on the weekends), thus ending the vibrant show on a note of healthy exercise, perhaps to find that balance between this brave world of technology and good-old cruisers.

INDAF is free of charge and will be open during Chuseok except on Sept. 22. From Seoul, take subway line 1 to Bupyeong Station, transfer to the Incheon line and get off at Incheon University Station, exit 4. For more information, visit

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