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.

Yang Yongliang, 'Full Moon', 2012, "The Moonlight", digital print, 90 x 90 cm. Image courtesy mc2gallery.

Yang Yongliang, ‘Full Moon’, 2012, “The Moonlight”, digital print, 90 x 90cm. Image courtesy mc2gallery.

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?”

Ryoji Ikeda, 'datamatics [ver.2.0]', 2010, audiovisual installation, FIAF, New York. © Ryuichi Maruo. Image courtesy FIAF.

Ryoji Ikeda, ‘datamatics [ver.2.0]’, 2010, audiovisual installation, FIAF, New York. © Ryuichi Maruo. Image courtesy FIAF.

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.

Qiu Anxiong, 'New Classic of Mountains and Seas I', 2006, (video still) three-channel animated video with sound; 30 min. Lent by the artist. Image courtesy the artist.

Qiu Anxiong, ‘New Classic of Mountains and Seas I’, 2006, (video still) three-channel animated video with sound; 30m:00s. Lent by the artist. Image courtesy the artist.

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.
Zhang Xiaotao, 'The Adventure of Liangliang', 2013, 2D animation at China Pavillion, Venice Biennale 2013. Photo: C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia.

Zhang Xiaotao, ‘The Adventure of Liangliang’, 2013, 2D animation at China Pavillion, Venice Biennale 2013. Photo: C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia.

  • 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.
Shahzia Sikander, 'Parallax', 2013, three-channel HD animation with 5.1 surround sound. Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE. Image courtesy Studio Sikander.

Shahzia Sikander, ‘Parallax’, 2013, three-channel HD animation with 5.1 surround sound. Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE. Image courtesy Studio Sikander.

Recent exhibitions, festivals and biennales of digital art – a selection

  • Digital Art Week – Zurich and worldwide | Annual festival, the most recent edition was in 2013 in Singapore
  • Cyberfest International Media Arts Festival – St. Petersburg | Annually
Miao Xiaochun, 'The last judgement in cyberspace', 2013, projection of 3D computer generated animation at the China Pavillion, Venice Biennale 2013. Photo: C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia.

Miao Xiaochun, ‘The last judgement in cyberspace’, 2013, projection of 3D computer generated animation at the China Pavillion, Venice Biennale 2013. Photo: C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia.

 

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: new media art, electronic art, art and technology, video game art, interactive art, animation, art and the internet, definitions

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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