Transcultural Tendencies|Transmedial Transactions: The Social Properties of Media Arts in an Open Source Era [Shanghai]
The Social Properties of Media Arts in an Open Source Era
Speech on Transcultural Tendencies | Transmedial Transactions International Conference for Media Arts Research, August 26-27, 2011, Shanghai, China
The current speech is published in Transcultural Tendencies | Transmedial Transactions, Special Issue in Technoetic Arts Journal [Volume 10 Issue 2 & 3], Dec., 2012, Intellect Ltd. UK
“Six Degrees of Separation” is analogous to what we have come to know as the origins of the “Social Network” (Social Network Service, Social Network Software of SNS). In our time, the application of the “Social Network” become a common mode of living shared ubiquitously by different societies, cultures, and communities. With a population of open source technology, the creation of social networks is no longer the exclusive domain of professional computer programmers. In China, Social Networking also became the new focus of new media artists that are extremely sensitive to materials and creative media. The current analysis is based on the collaboration between American artist Max Kazemzadeh and Beijing Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation, in the exhibition of Max’ interactive work, “Wishing Well” in China. It tries to showcase the intriguing interaction between the Social Network Service, the human being and Chinese society, invite the readers to re-exam the role and duties of the artist in our time.
The Social Properties of Media Arts in an Open Source Era
In one of his short stories written in 1929, Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy first mentioned the concept of “Chains”, which referred to the idea of through a chain of social relationship, each one of us is on average approximately six steps away from any of another person on Earth. Then Harvard Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) established the concept of “Six Degrees of Separation” in 1967 and created a systemic framework for this theory by empirically measuring the connectedness and garnered many detractors from the scientific community. A study by Microsoft in 2008 proved the “Sic Degrees” theory even though the results were slightly differing that of Milgram’s findings: Everyone is on average 6.6 degrees away from any of another person on Earth.
Today, “Six Degrees of Separation” is analogous to what we have come to know as the origins of the “Social Network” (Social Network Service, Social Network Software of SNS). In our time, the application of the “Social Network” isn’t solely represented by the Internet or in medical fields. It has already become a common mode of living shared ubiquitously by different societies, cultures, and communities. Through various platforms, we continually expand our social circles and acquire information. With a population of open source technology, the creation of social networks is no longer the exclusive domain of professional computer programmers. Through self-study, nearly everyone can learn and utilize with relative ease open source coding to create their own community on kaixin.com, weibo.com, Face Book, or other personal social networks.
In China as in any of another country on this planet, supported by Open Source Technology, the development of Social Networking has reached its peak, which became the new focus of Chinese new media artists that are extremely sensitive to materials and creative media. Along with the continuous advance of research and exploration, new media art based on SNS have altered its original identity and properties, and transformed into certain social element inhabiting the cross-cutting areas of art and technology. It has a direct impact on the development of human society, such as Max Kazemzadeh’s interactive installation, “Wishing Well”.
Wishing Well is originally a web server created by the artist with the support of open source software to collect people’s wishes. The artist first based his installation on FaceBook. When we exhibited this work in China, in the meanwhile we remained the artist’s original API, we “plugged it in” the largest local SNS, Weibo.com so that the Chinese visitors could also submit their wishes to the Wishes Archive via personal computer or their mobile SMS. At the first contact, you might think that this work is nothing more than a fun application that allows you to send your wishes to anyone, from anywhere, at any time, as long as your computer is connected to an Intel computer terminal whether at home, at the office, or at any online computer. However, in actuality, the connotations of this work, its impact on technological interactivity as well as social connectivity, is far more profound than it appears. The Face Book API helped the artist to explore a cross-section of human consciousness and behavior and its interactivity between a virtual space and real life. In particular, the individual through this interaction, offers what seems to be on the surface, control human consciousness and behavior in a social network of anti-control and change. The artist behind Wishing Well is not only concerned with the relationship between man and machine, but more importantly, how this delicate relationship exists in virtual space through the social network system, how it influences the collective consciousness and behavior, and thus the evolution of human society.
A few weeks before Max flew to Beijing to produce a work on site, a meeting between me, some friends and the Beijing Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation inspired me to curate Max’ solo show in another way. Jackie Chan’s foundation aims to support the victim children suffering from the constant natural disasters in South of China, while talking to them I got the idea to make Max’ work the main carrier for information transmission between the foundation and the people they support.
The concept was to invite visitors to submit wishes either on site at the exhibition or remotely, through the artist’s self-designed API, the Chinese Social network system, Weibo.com and the mobile phone SMS system at the same time. The wishes should be responding to the aim of Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation, supporting the victims suffering from the decease in China. After the show, the wishes are collected by the Foundation in order to be transferred to the victims in the specific documentation as souvenir.
Through “Wishing Well” we hope to affirm the social attributes of this artwork by giving it a specific social purpose. The Beijing Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation provided us with an opportunity to support its mission and simultaneously test the theory of the artist’s work: that the open source system supporting social network is a major channel to voice the concerns of the individual to a world audience.
The “voice of the individual” here includes a person’s thoughts, words, behavior, and their interaction within the community and its influence on each other. In “Wishing Well”, individual voices can be channeled through the social network and affect the direction of collective consciousness, thereby affecting the broader development of social groups. The interactions that the artwork facilitates work on many levels: the work has transformed itself from art to an element of everyday life – a living organism and positive force for its contribution to the entire community. Therefore, the properties of “Wishing Well” are vastly different compared to newest media artworks interactivity on many layers with differing elements of social interaction and subsequent phenomena in its wake. In other words, the artist is not limited by mere discussion on the issue of aesthetics but more eager to understand the transformation of his work and the social impact on its environment.
Art cannot be divorced from society – it does not exist in a vacuum. Art is inspired by its community and is only one of its many elements, expressed through metaphor and in the abstract. “Wishing Well” is inspired by the idea of community and how communities shape society. As for being a reflection of society, it is only one artwork, one metaphor out of many that defines that we are as a people. While it is our most sincere hope that the function of art can truly change society, the truth is that much of an art is directed at a very small sector of society and the power of art is very weak. With the proliferation of open source technology and the popularity of social network, human society has already stepped forth into an era of resource sharing, rendering “noble ideas” propped up by patrons of the arts – a long-precarious and now arcane practice. We advocate for universal arts education and artists to reach beyond and transcend the limitations that confines us to the ivory tower.
The message of “Wishing Well’s” China exhibition is much more than offering a platform for Chinese people to show their love and goodwill to the survivors of the chain of natural disasters. Its purpose is to convey that we already are in the midst of a new era, an era where professional’s proficient in both art and technology can work towards an altruistic social mission.
In this day and age, art cannot stubbornly cling to aesthetic research and interpretation. A sign of the times beckons us make a closer examination of the way in which science and technology can be bridged by art, to think about how art can steer technology in a world where technological innovations have structured much of today’s society. It also allows us to understand how the identity of art can change, the forms it takes, the kinds of information it can convey, ad its existence and future in the progress of humankind.
Unknown author, Six Degrees of Separation. Published on http://wwwlwhatis.techtarget.com Date unknown.
Small world experiment. Published on http://:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_word_experiment