freelance translator. freelance project manager, organisator. likes to build bridges.
interested in China, Chinese (digital) culture & new media art, social media, translation & more.

Open Media Lab Hangzhou

On September 27 and 28, Horst Hörtner, the director of the Ars Electronica Futurelab, and I myself were invited to visit the Open Media Lab at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, which is part of the School of Intermedia Art (SIMA). Horst gave a very well attended lecture, presenting the work of the Futurelab with its different working areas.

Ma Na, Horst Hörtner und Yao Dajuin
Ma Na (postgraduate student and translator), Horst Hörtner and Yao Dajuin

The School of Intermedia Art (SIMA) is  a merger of three former departments at the Academy: New Media Art, Mixed Media Art, and Curatorship. The executive director SIMA is  Gao Shiming, with a background in Curatorship. Gao as director hints at SIMA’s  strong emphasis on curatorial and cultural theory studies. One part of SIMA is the “Open Media Lab”, focussing on Social Media, virtual worlds (its director, SHEN Ligong, is a very well known Second Life artist and overall geek), as well as audiovisual integration. It functions outside the classical art ecosystem with its galleries and museums and “lives” inside the space created by social media in broadest sense of the word. One of the events curated by the Open Media Lab was “声纳 SONART – Media Social”. According to Yao Dajuin, “SONART stands for the integration of the ideas of “Sonar” and “art”, sending out artworks as pulses and waiting for reflected echoes” (April 2011, see the article in  LEAP Magazine: http://leapleapleap.com/2011/06/media-social-sonart-open-media-lab/).

Brainstorming area of the Open Media Lab

Part of the strategy of SIMA is  an opening to the outside and a cooperation with international institutions. Students at art academies in China are relatively poorly connected to the international scene, partly due of a lack of language skills, which is a main obstacle for being actively involved in international projects (except for bilateral events, workshops by Western artists etc).

This is one of the reasons why Yao Dajuin visited Ars Electronica 2011 in September (Shen Ligong was also supposed to come, but he did not get the Austrian visa in time – at the end of September, his passport was still at the Austrian consulate, without any notice about the issue of his visa …). Yao presented the work of SIMA and the Open Media Lab at the program “Scenes & Structures” (see http://www.aec.at/origin/en/2011/05/17/scenes-structures/). Together with the artistic director of Ars Electronica, Gerfried Stocker, the first steps of a possible cooperation were discussed: a workshop of the Futurelab in Hangzhou; introduction of “How to submit to Prix Ars Electronica” in December / January, so that students are encouraged to participate in international competitions and calls. Yao Dajuin will be part of the Prix Ars Electronica Jury 2012; and we will try to establish a small working group of local students who translate portions of the Ars Electronica website into Chinese as part of their training.

The visit at SIMA and the talks with teachers focussed on the orientation of a workshop in spring 2012.

There is a consensus that the students taking part in this workshop must be carefully selected in order to guarantee the quality of the workshop. The level of the students within SIMA and the Open Media Lab is quite diverse, which is mainly due to the Chinese university and art academy system: Students enrolling for a new media art curriculum are trained in classical art techniques during their first year which is regarded by many as a waste of time. Besides that, the motivation of students at Art Academies has changed over the years: Whereas in the 80s and 90s, art academies used to be elite universities, the study at an art academy became “fashionable”. And part of the students at art academies failed at the entrance exam at other universities and chose art academies at an “easier” way to get a university degree.

One major difficulty for a workshop is the lack of language skills on the part of the students: Only very few of the undergraduate students are so proficient in English to be able to follow a workshop without translation. A very solid long-term preparation of a clearly defined workshop is essential for its success. We have discussed different formats but not yet found an “ideal” one. And also the focus of the workshop has yet to be defined.

The next weeks will be mainly spent with discussing the framework of the cooperation so that a final decision  about the scope of the cooperation can be reached.

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