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  • Wonder of Fantasy:
    The Transformation of Contemporary Image-scape

    by Chih-Yung Aaron CHIU (curator)

    "The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images."
    (Guy Debord, 1983, The Society of the Spectacle.)

    The wave of "technologicalization of visual experience" has swept over the world since the nineteenth century. It not only broadened people's visual horizon, but also turned their visual experience into commodities. Such a new visual culture reshaped people's memories and experience, while the value-increase of social images changed people's daily life. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger once pointed out in his essay "The Age of the World Picture" that essentially the world picture is not merely a picture referring to the world, but a picture of the world grasped and visualized by technology.[1] Later, Guy Debord, based on his thesis "The Society of the Spectacle," claims that "…the real world becomes real images, mere images are transformed into real beings," and "[t]he whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation."[2] In other words, spectacles transformed people's material life into a static world.

  • During the 1990s, an increasing number of moving images, whether concrete or abstract, streamed into artistic performances and exhibitions with the help of popularized digital technology. These moving images mostly took the form of installations, which presupposed a literal "spatialization" of the imagery temporalities. In other words, these images were dispersed and projected over the space in multiple ways.[3] Besides, these images were released from static venues (e.g. televisions, cinemas, or museums) to dynamic and open areas. Thereafter, a screen no longer referred to a fixed frame. The frame of a screen disappeared when images were projected onto various carriers or even urban spaces. Urban buildings, the canopy, and landscapes all served as wide-open spaces for displaying images, which therefore broke away from fixed screen frames and rose as spectacles that overwhelmed consumers and urban wanderers. At the time, people appeared to be living in a boundless world that contained infinite images without definite carriers.

  • On the other hand, due to the advances in digital technology (communication technology in particular), images can wander around urban spaces only by drawing support from mobile devices. Accordingly, not only images stepped outside from fixed venues, but the carriers of images also changed over from screens to urban spaces and wide-open landscapes. Nowadays, images shuttle in the urban space with the help of the small screens of mobile devices.

  • Specifically, the image in the digital age is not simply "one" image. It implies that the image has no any real referent, namely a thing that has a material existence. Besides, the images screened on electronic devices are so chaotic that makes the essence of image beyond our comprehension. In other words, an electronic image is a time-based image, not only because it has the ability of succession, but also because it is not trapped in a specific space-time. It is in a state of continuous present becoming. Digital images may appear to be static. However, they are in fact in a state of incessant changing. To wit, the noumenal structure of a digital image is incessantly mutating or self-refreshing. In this regard, digital images challenge not only our common understanding of image, but also the way in which objects or aesthetic objects exist statically in space-time. In some respects, there is no so-called new-media "objects," while "elements" may be a more precise term. An element may take different forms according to the way it is produced or the logic used for processing them. Therefore, digital audio-visual art does not engage itself in producing objects, but tackles the variation of signals occurring with their utilization or transformation.

  • From this point, we can infer that the contemporary society is surrounded by images, symbols, and visualized language. The visualization of dynamic data enables us to browse the information conveyed in the forms of images and words as well as experience their variation. The experience of viewing is based on the communication established by physical senses as conscious subjects. This is why Maurice Merleau-Ponty argues that "[t]he sense of the gestures is not given, but understood, that is, recaptured by an act on the spectator's part."[4] With their perceptional reception and explicit actions, the viewers connect the material world with the images represented in the virtual digital world. A viewer's conscious subject is connected with the interface of a plural digital artwork when he/she concentrates on viewing the work. The media adopted by the work are therefore partially penetrated in the fantastic image-scape. However, viewers have to be aware that, in the process of viewing, they are gazing at the interface rather than see through it. This world will be visualized by digital technology if we treat the carriers of images as the gate that leads us to the virtual world. This is exactly the reason why we should not ignore the technological interface's relation to subjective corporeality and perception when we discuss the sensory experience of digital aesthetics. As a response to Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault argues that vision must be understood as a phenomenological concept because we can truly understand the significance of vision in our living space only through the interaction between our conscious subject and the world.[5] Microcosmic perception has its own significance because, on the one hand, perception is essentially shaped at the physical and sensory levels, and, on the other, the lived-body as the subject of perception and sensation is continuously creating social meanings. As a result, viewers become browsers with their diverse interactive experience, while images collectively create a more artificial intelligence-like and visualized space.

  • We could argue that, when we observe through the lens of technology, we not only see the images represented by technology, but also see them technologically. According to Vivian Sobchack, we will see what seems to be a visual impossibility from the visual features and motion of mapping images: "we are at once intentional subjects and material objects in the world, the seer and the seen."[6] It implies that cinema is an objective phenomenon. It turns the seer into a subjective actor and the digital visual images into the represented objects. Therefore, with regard to interpreting digital technology and culture, we should neither simply focus on the dimension of representation nor ignore the materiality of technology. Instead, we should further investigate how subjects perceive the world with the help of technology and how subjective and objective phenomena construct each other in the process of perception. This kind of imagery narrative corresponds to Jean Baudrillard's thesis "Simulacra and Simulation." The age of simulation implicates an era of a new wave of social development. It transcends the society of the spectacle and its disguise by declaring both the fall of modern production system and the rise of the simulated generation. For this generation, simulated objects and events replace realities. That is, electronic or digital images, symbols, and landscapes replace the real objects in real life/world. The model of simulation produces omnipresent simulacra as the substitute for realities. As a result, the real world is flooded with illusory symbols and images, which collectively open up new horizons of visual experience, that is, a "hyperreal."[7]

  • As all things in Nature are completely replaced by technology and self-referring symbols, we find that language is no longer connected with specific meanings in a world where the differences between subjects and objects are eliminated. The real world of all kinds of intentions and purposes is conquered when an independent and objective world is assimilated into and defined as artificial codes and simulation models. As Debord argues, the social life per se has become the accumulation of spectacles. Everything previously existed by itself is re-presented now. The early capitalist society transformed human experience from "existence" into "possession," while the advanced capitalist society further transformed "possession" into "exhibition." In view of this development, we provide the audience with various ways of understanding the relationship among spaces, images, and subjects by treating "Mapping" as the interdisciplinary bridge that connects digital technology with visual art. The audience will witness the projection of fantastic "spatialization of montage" in a fantastic visual jungle.[8] With this regard, this exhibition adopts "Wonder of Fantasy" as the curatorial theme. With the works created respectively by world-renowned foreign artists and promising Taiwanese artists, as well as the multiple dimensions of projection technique, image carriers, and visual modeling, we expect to demonstrate a new stage beyond "the society of the spectacle." With image installations and the enrichment of their connotation, this exhibition not only represents a visualized world of connected and discrete illusions and meanings that can be harmonized, separated, superimposed, and contended, but also enhances the experience of creating an imaginary world and imagery meanings. By doing so, we are able to demonstrate the visualized montage, and thereby provide images with a spatial dimension of existence. By highlighting the spatial dimension of images, we should no longer regard admiring images as merely an activity exists amidst images and viewers. Rather, we should also take the space of exhibition venues (e.g. specific architectural spaces, museums, etc.) into consideration when we admire images.

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    [1] Qiong, Wu. "Visuality and Visual Culture—The Genealogy of Visual Culture Studies." In The Spectacle of Visual Culture. Beijing: China Renmin University Press, 2005, pp. 12-13.

    [2] Debord, Guy. The Society of Spectacle. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Detroit: Black & Red, 1983. p.12.

    [3] Steetskamp, J. (2009). “Moving Images and Visual Art: Revisiting the Space Criterion.” Cinéma & Cie, 9(12), pp.65-70.

    [4] Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. C. Smith. London: Routledge. 1962. p.185.

    [5] Jay, Martin, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. California: Berkeley, 1993. pp. 386-387.

    [6] Sobchack, Vivian. “The Scene of the Screen: Envisioning Cinematic and Electronic Presence,” Materialities of Communication, ed. by H. U. Gumbercht & K. L. Pfeiffer, California: Stanford University Press, 1994. pp. 83-87.

    [7] cf.:Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

    [8] Kotz, Liz. "Video Projection: The Space between Screens." in Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader. Tanya Leighton eds. London: Tate, 2008. pp. 372-373.