As part of our “What is…?” series, Art Radar introduces the basics of digital art.
Art Radar attempts to bring together the basics of digital art, with a brief history of the medium, its various manifestations, a selection of key digital artists in Asia, and seminal exhibitions, festivals and biennales of digital art in Asia and worldwide.
What is Digital art?
Digital art is an artistic practice that uses digital (or computer) technology as an essential part of the creative and presentation process. Born around the 1960s when the first computers were created, digital art has also been defined as computer art and multimedia art. It falls under the broader category of new media art (which includes, for example, video art, sound art, robotic art, glitch art, among others). Digital art is so vast that it is difficult to really pinpoint it in its every single form as computers nowadays aid the majority of artists worldwide at some stage of their creative process.
As digital artist JD Jarvis writes in an essay for MOCA (Museum of Computer Art, a virtual museum of digital art), the right question would be: “What isn’t digital art?”
Digital art: a history
Bruce Wands, Chair of the MFA Computer Art Department at the School of Visual Arts in New York and Director of the New York Digital Salon, published a seminal illustrated book on digital art called Art of the Digital Age (Thames & Hudson, 2006). In this book, he traces the history of digital art from its tentative beginnings in the 1960s to the present through the work of important digital artists worldwide. Wands mentions Jeffrey Shaw’s The Legible City (1989) as one of the first works of art to explore movement through a three-dimensional space that existed solely within the computer. Shaw created an interactive environment in which viewers would use a stationary bicycle to navigate around a virtual city, whose ‘buildings’ were made up of three-dimensional typography.
Earlier in the same decade, when the Commodore Amiga was launched in 1985 in New York, Pop artist Andy Warhol created a famous digital artwork: an image of Debbie Harry that was captured in monochrome with a video camera and then digitised through a computer graphics programme, ProPaint, and manipulated by adding colours as flood fills. Following this, Warhol acquired several Amigas, and he created many pioneering digital artworks.
According to prominent digital art curator and historian Christiane Paul, digital art really started to make a meaningful appearance during the 1990s, with the advent and widespread use of the Internet. In her book Digital Art (2009), she surveys the history of the art form and looks at the most prominent art practitioners of the medium.
With the turn of the millennium, several museum exhibitions started to bring more attention to digital art as Bruce Wands mentions in the first chapter of his book. In 2001, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art held “010101: Art in Technological Times”, which included both digital and traditional artworks and was conceived as an investigation into the effects of technology on our lives. In the same year, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York held “BitStreams” and “Data Dynamics”, both significant American museum shows of digital art.
With the technological advancements of the new millennium and the ubiquitous presence of new and more advanced software, digital art continues to flourish and evolve. Artists are now able to create digital artworks that take on a range of different, innovative forms.
Types of digital art
Digital art is normally considered to comprise of 2D and 3D visual artworks made with the aid of computer software. These artworks could be:
- graphic illustrations
- photo manipulation
- digital painting and drawing
- virtual reality
- 2D and 3D still imagery and animation
- fractal art
- vector graphics
- digital installations
- interactive and participatory installations
- video game art
Prominent digital artists from Asia – a selection
Digital art is very widespread, and an ever-increasing number of artists are using it as their principal medium. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify some key figures around the world who have been pioneers of digital art – those who have brought in innovation and have pushed the boundaries of digital creativity. Here we mention some of the most prominent and active digital artists in Asia today.
- Miao Xiaochun (b. 1964, Beijing) – originally a photographer and now one of the most prominent and innovative digital artists in China, Miao has recently created large-scale digital installations that transform classical paintings from the canon of Western art history into faceless computer-generated models.
- Qiu Anxiong (b. 1972, Chengdu – Shanghai-based) – Qiu is a multimedia artist, and he is particularly well-known for his digital animations, which combines traditional Chinese ink art with contemporary issues and the digital medium.
- Feng Mengbo (b. 1966, Beijing) – Feng has engaged with digital technology throughout his career. His practice incorporates his experience as a child during the Cultural Revolution with contemporary technology and the language of video games.
- Zhang Xiaotao (b. 1970, Hechuan – Beijing-based) – Zhang’s digital animations range from the spiritual to the historical and personal, from virtual reality to the cartoonish. They often include festering decay, human waste, abandoned structures and animals associated with danger and contamination.
- Yang Yongliang (b. 1980, Shanghai) – Yang’s digital photographs depict classical Chinese landscapes that incorporate digital manipulations, creating dark urbanscapes with never-ending construction sites.
- Ryoji Ikeda (b. 1966, Gifu, Japan – Paris-based) – known primarily as a sound artist, Ikeda creates digital installations that incorporate real-time computer data-originated graphics with sound.
- Shazia Sikander (b. 1969, Lahore) – Sikander is one of the most popular Neo Miniaturists from Pakistan, who works in a variety of media, including digital animation installations that incorporate miniature art with computer-manipulated content.
- Island6 (Liu Dao) Collective (2006, Hong Kong – Shanghai) – Liu Dao Collective is a group of multimedia art practitioners composed of performance, sound, photography and video artists collaborating with engineers to create electronic art that investigates themes of sensory engagement, voyeurism, urban development, tradition versus modernity and technology, and Chinese cultural history.
- Alan Kwan (b. 1990, Hong Kong) – Kwan works at the intersection of cinema and new media. He has recently created installations that mix film with video game and various emerging technologies, including life-logging devices and brainwave sensors.
- Lee Nam Lee (1969, Seoul) – Lee bridges contemporary technology with classical art and traditional culture, and creates digitalised animated paintings that incorporate old Western masters and classical Asian works of art with contemporary imagery.
Recent exhibitions, festivals and biennales of digital art – a selection
- EZTV | Hacking the Timeline v3.0: Digilantism and the LA Digital Art Movement (1985-2005) – 18th Street Arts Center, Los Angeles | 14 April – 27 June 2014
- The Metamorphosis of the Virtual 5 + 5 – K11 Art Foundation, Shanghai | 5 July – 31 August 2014
- Asia Digital Art Award – Fukuoka | Annually in November
- An Exhibition of Contemporary Digital Art in China – Today Art Museum, Beijing | 9 January – 6 March 2014
- Digital Art Week – Zurich and worldwide | Annual festival, the most recent edition was in 2013 in Singapore
- BIAN – International Digital Art Biennale – Montreal, Canada | Biennial event, this year 1 May – 19 June 2014
- Schizophrenia Taiwan 2.0 – Taiwan | Touring France and UK in autumn 2014, other countries in 2015
- Cyberfest International Media Arts Festival – St. Petersburg | Annually
- transmediale/art&digitalculture – Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin | Annually, 2015 edition 20 January – 1 February 2015
- Ars Electronica – Linz | Annually, 2014 edition 4 – 8 September
- ArtOnYourScreen (AYOS) – ZKM Centre for Art and Media Technology, Karlsruhe | From 13 May 2014
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
- Taiwan’s ‘Schizophrenia’ goes global – in pictures – March 2014 – Taiwanese new media art exhibition “Schizophrenia Taiwan 2.0” takes the works of young and emerging artists on a global tour into 2015
- Science, technology and visual art: Artists in a hybrid world – November 2013 – “TEA/Super Connect–2013 International Techno Art Exhibition” brought together international artists working with biology, medicine, computer science and robotics to create their works
- Sounds like art: Japanese audiovisual artist Ryoji Ikeda in Sydney – picture feast – June 2013 – Ryoji Ikeda’s pattern [no. 5] goes on show at the ISEA 2013, proof that the future is here and that sound art has established itself in the mainstream
- Tearing down the past to build the future: Yang Yongliang, Chinese artist interview – April 2013 – Art Radar interviews artist Yang Yongliang, whose digital works comment on how the ancient past is in the process of being erased by the machinery of urbanisation
- Miao Xiaochun pushes limits of digital art – an Art Radar interview – December 2010 – Digital artist and photographer Miao Xiaochun talks about his latest works, his artistic process and his view of the art market
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