All the way from Media Art to Immersive Spinning
Authors: Helen So, Researcher for Arts Innovation and Caroline Ngan, Assistant Researcher for Arts Innovation at Our Hong Kong Foundation.
It seems a long time ago now, since I last returned to office for a normal, unmasked, day of work. Granted, the sudden onset of coronavirus has plunged Hong Kong and its community into a state of panic. Since the outbreak, the greeting ‘Wish you Good Health!’ means much more than it used to.
Under the threat of the virus, everyone is affected. And with the advancement of technology, video conference tools are commonplace to those working from home – also allowing students to be able to attend class in front of screens at home. Speaking of these virtual meetings and virtual classes, and also aligning with the current top priority on public health and exercising, I am reminded of an exercise craze, which took form as an immersive spinning class inside of a gym , not so long ago.
Photo Source：LesMills's official website https://www.lesmills.com/
As we understand it, this immersive spinning class would take place in a cinema-like classroom, where participants mount on their exercise bicycles and paddle away to the rhythm of the pulsing music while keeping their eyes peeled on the scenic views of glaciers and canyons displayed on the panoramic, wide screen in front of them. The Virtual Reality experience plays a clever trick on the eye and the mind, and apparently can render experiences realistic enough that you think you’re on an actual biking trip in the great outdoors – whether that’s true or not, at least it’s enough for gym fanatics to keep returning to the classes.
Interestingly, the gratifying experience that comes out of this highly sought-after exercise calls to mind a multi-media artwork created by the renowned Hong Kong-based Australian media artist Jeffrey Shaw way back in the eighties. Since joining the School of Creative Media of the City University of Hong Kong in 2010, Professor Shaw served as the Endowed Chair Professor of Media Art, as well as the Director of the CityU Center for Applied Computing and Interactive Media (ACIM); in his time in academia he also laid the groundwork for the future of media art in Hong Kong, having taught and mentored many generations of media artists – in fact many active local media artists in Hong Kong today are students of Shaw’s. Known pretty unanimously by the media art community as one of the Godfathers of Media Art in Hong Kong, Professor Shaw continues to reinvent the practice of this art genre throughout his artistic career of over five decades; and in this iterative process, he has been pushing the boundaries of contemporary art onto other levels.
The Legible City (1989), Jeffrey Shaw
Photo Source：Jeffrey Shaw's official website https://www.jeffreyshawcompendium.com
Exhibited for the first time in 1989, Professor Shaw’s pioneering interactive art installation The Legible City (the Manhattan version) takes visitors on a journey through a virtual simulation of a cityscape on screen while paddling on a stationary bicycle. Instead of showing virtual scenes of glaciers and canyons like one does in the spinning class, Shaw’s work shows a simulated representation of a city comprising of computer-generated, three-dimensional letters which form blocks of words and sentences in replacement of buildings in Manhattan. The seemingly scattered and unmeaningful texts are actually separate fictional storylines comprising of monologues by eight individuals, including the renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, current US President Donald Trump, former Mayor of New York City Edward I. Koch, as well as anonymous characters such as a tour guide, a taxi driver and a trickster. As the viewer takes hold of the handlebars and pedals of the bicycle, they are in control of their own physical pace and journey in the virtual city. In a fascinating hybrid of arts and technology, Professor Shaw’s installation brings forth an unprecedented sensual feast for viewers to enjoy.
In the ever-changing era of rapid technological advancement, artists and curators are constantly facing new challenges and demands on how to make use of the latest technology in artistic creation and curation. On this note, the newly re-opened Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMoA) seems to have responded confidently to this challenge through the multi-media exhibition ‘The Breath of Landscape’. Curated by the renowned local architect Billy Tam, this exhibition features interactive artworks by five local artists in response to the theme of nature and landscape. The artworks themselves invite participation from viewers, which in turn encourages them to step into the shoes of the artists in the process of creation. As one of the most influential cultural institutions in Hong Kong, HKMoA’s blatant attempt marks a welcoming convergence of arts and tech in a museum setting while establishing a precedent for other institutions to follow. Looking forward, we hope to see more artists and institutions making their foray into the realm of arts tech and in doing so, bringing forth a more diverse range of cultural content for the public.
*WYSIWYG- Jeffrey Shaw solo exhibition (Osage Gallery HK). Gallery address: 4/F, Union Hing Yip Factory Building, 20 Hing Yip Street, Kwun Tong. Exhibition from 13 November 2019 to 25 April 2020. http://osagegallery.com.
*’The Breath of Landscape’ exhibition: The Wing (Lower) and Art Corridor, Hong Kong Museum of Art and outdoor gallery. Address: 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Exhibition period: from now until 30 September 2020, https://hk.art.museum/zh_TW/web/ma/exhibitions-and-events/the-breath-of-landscape.html.