Absorbing Future ‘Syiok’ – The Impact of Information & Communication Technology (ICT)
The novelties of information and communication technology and the emergence of new media have provided another important context for the contemporary art practice in Malaysia. Technology has provided a platform for global networking, enabling artists to form a web of non-hierarchical relationship or multi-directional link with other artists around the world. Such link has instigated cross-cultural encounters, creating a more inter-connected or inter-dependent environment for artists to steer their career. They have begun to embrace a set of new paradigm, marked by convergence, virtual presence, hybridity, interactivity and modularity. Websites, blogs, chartrooms, online videos, virtual galleries, online database, sms, and mms have provided free access to myriads of information for artists, especially those of the younger generation.
Several artists have responded by using new media technology itself to make their works. Others have responded by expressing their feelings and thoughts on the impact of new technology. Art establishments, institutions and commercial galleries have also responded by organizing exhibitions, projects, developing website, online tour and database.
Ismail Zain’s Digital Collage (1988), a solo exhibition consisted of his experimentation with computer image editing, can be taken as the early trailblazer of electronic art (e-art). It has also been acknowledged for introducing new theoretical frameworks for contemporary art practice. Other artists who had started to engage with the use of computer and media technology during the late 1980s include Kamarudzaman Md. Isa, Ray Langenbach (and his students at Universiti Sains Malaysia/USM) and Liew Kungyu.(66)
Since 1990, artists such as Wong Hoy Cheong, Hasnul J Saidon, Niranjan Rajah, Faizal Zulkifli, Masnoor Ramli Mahmud, Ahmad Fuad Osman, Noor Azizan Paiman, Nadiah Bamadhaj, Yee I-Lan, Hayati Mokhtar and Nur Hanim Khairuddin, due to their multidisciplinary stance, have also used video and digital technology in their works. Chuah Chong Yong, another contemporary artist, even employed the use of fax print for his work Pre War building for Sale: Welcome to the Era of the Biggest, the Tallest and the Longest (1999). Other artists have also responded to media technology and the emergence of cyber world. Ahmad Shukri’s Insect Diskettes series II (1997) and Long Thien Shih Bar Coded Man (2001) are two examples.
Younger artists such as Kamal Sabran, Roslisham Ismail, Emil Goh, Sharon Chin, Vincent Leong, Lau Mun Leng, Liew Teck Leong, Low Yii Chin, Hasnizam Wahid, Muhd Faizal Sidik, Rini Fauzan, Tengku Azhari Tengku Azizan and Goh Lee Kwang have also been known through their multi-dimensional works that involve the use of digital video, digital photography and printing, digital music/sound composition and MMS technology. UNIMAS graduates (Anuar Ayob, John Hii, Helena Song, Ling Siew Woei, Ting Ting Hock), Roopesh Sitharan, Fariza Idora AlHabshi, Diffan Sina, and Ily Farhana Norhayat represent a new breed of young artists who have used video and ICT-based technology in their artworks.
Video art has been quite a regular feature of many contemporary exhibitions in Malaysia since 1990. Unfortunately, there are not many writings about video art practice in Malaysia. Furthermore, other than the National Art Gallery and Universiti Sains Malaysia, other institutions or private collectors have not been known to collect video art. Despite such limitation, video art in Malaysia emerged years before her neighboring countries, through the work of Liew Kungyu, Passage through Literacy (1989).
In the past few years, video has also become an instrumental tool for art collectives, cultural activists and groups, alternative spaces as well as small scale exhibitions, private screenings and community projects, with collaborative engagements and networking that often reach beyond the national border towards regional collaboration.(67)
Amongst the significant exhibitions that focus on media and ICT-related art forms are International Video Art Festival (1990 & 1994), 1st. Electronic Art Show (1997) and Flow/Arus (2000) organised by the National Art Gallery of Malaysia, the annual Malaysian Video Awards (started in 1994) organised by the Malaysian Video Awards Council, Sony Video Art Festival (1994) organised by Sony Corporation, HYPErview (1997) a solo exhibition of electronic arts by Hasnul J Saidon, X’plorasi (1997), and Jambori Rimba (1997) organised by the Faculty of Applied & Creative Arts, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). UNIMAS had also developed and launched a web portal and online discussion forum called E-Art Asean Online in 2000 (now defunct) while its artists were invited to participate in the Screen Culture and Virtual Triennial sections of the 3rd. Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (1999), organised by the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia.
Another notable project is Kamal Sabran’s experimental performance of live acoustic with computer music composition and multiple video projections based on sounds from the outer space, held at the National Planetarium of Malaysia. The performance, called Sonic Cosmic (2006) was a result of ‘Zamalah Karyawan Tamu’ - a unique and newly-established ‘art meets science’ residency program pioneered, sponsored and organised by the Agensi Angkasa Negara (ANGKASA), Ministry of Science and Technology Malaysia.
The residency echoes similar note to another project initiated by the same agency. It was an art-science expedition and exhibition program called Alami – Science Inspires Arts co-organised by the Agency with the National Art Gallery.
Several artists such as Nur Hanim Khairuddin has produced video pieces that respond to media imperialism, hegemony and control, and lamented the impact of popular culture and rampant consumerism towards contemporary experience. Some have brought up several questions regarding Malaysia’s engagement with new media technology. How do we face the emergence of net or cyber generation? How do we engage with the future consumers of new media technology and the future prosumers of global lifestyles? How do they differ from the previous TV or mass media generations?
Despite these questions, it has to be noted that the reluctant few (institutions related to the arts) that have been sluggish in responding to the paradigm shifts brought about by ICT are at risk of being left-out or deemed as irrelevant. In fact, those that have been rather over-critical and skeptical towards new media technology have begun to accept its impact, as indicated by the recent results (and early repercussions) of the Malaysia’s General Elections.