Thomas C. Chung: a departure from childhood innocence

Pau Waelder

Chinese-Australian artist Thomas C. Chung has embarked on a lifelong artistic research that he is developing in well-structured phases, each one characterized by an exploration of different techniques and approaches to human experience. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of New South Wales’ College of Fine Arts in 2004 and has had a noteworthy international artistic presence in recent years. Chung has been a representative for Australia in several prominent international exhibitions, such as the 2nd Land Art Biennial in Mongolia, the 4th Ghetto Biennale in Haiti, and the 9th Shiryaevo Biennale in Russia. Currently, he is exploring the realms of psychotherapy as a means to deepen his artistic inquiry. 

The artist presents on Niio three pivotal works from his ongoing second phase, in which he leaves behind a narrative focused on childhood innocence and enters the adult world with a series of more sober, meditative artworks. The landscapes that form the collection “As Far As I Could See…” introduce a deeper reflection on the human condition, not without a hint to the magic and surreal aspects of children’s imagination. 

Experience Thomas C. Chung’s dreamlike landscapes

Thomas C. Chung. “As Far As I Could See…” (I), 2023

In the following interview for Niio, Chung discusses the motivations behind his work and dives into his second-phase artworks, which have recently been exhibited at the Chinese European Art Center (Xiamen, China) in a solo show titled The Sea That Stands Before Me…

Your work has evolved over the last decades following a “lifelong narrative” determined by different phases. The first phase was characterized by crochet sculptures, installations, and an overall playful aesthetic, while the second-phase works present a very different approach. It may even be hard to recognize the work of the same artist in these two phases. How have you dealt with this transition, and what has been the response to it?

I’ll be the first to say I was nervous about the different phases I had conceived – I figured it might be too hard for others to accept, especially with the small but loyal following I had built. Over time, I understood that as long as the work was fascinating to myself & others, it didn’t matter what shape or form it took as long as the creativity was there. I clarified this by using new techniques each decade, approaching the chapters within my Art by splitting them into various methods that correlated with the story I wanted to tell. The 1st phase was all handmade, tactile, labor-intensive & filled with food motifs as avenues for expressing a child’s obsessions & dreams. This 2nd phase speaks of the departure from childhood & the realization that life has to progress beyond our comfort zones so that we can understand the totality of our world. 

I had a lot of interests as a child & wanted to grow up to be so many things, one of which was as a children’s illustrator & author. But Art chose me instead, so here I am, creating a different type of story, saving that option for later. 

Thomas C. Chung’s solo exhibition at the Chinese European Art Center extends to Sedition and Niio with the presentation of a selection of artworks.

You have expressed that, in your work, you aim to see the world through the eyes of a child. How do you convey this idea without being perceived as childlike or superficial? Which is the underlying concept that grounds these artworks?

It aligns with how I interact with people these days in a direct yet open & gentle manner without overthinking the consequences. If others don’t appreciate it, I try not to let it matter. Everyone has their view or way of life. My artwork may have previously been seen as naive, which at times bothered me. I knew as a conceptual artist, my practice would be a lifetime’s work that would encompass the narratives of my inner child. The artwork titles are a hint to what it is they see & are presented to the audience as an observation of their journeys while exploring the world. To produce this lifelong story, it was always my vision to create a giant storybook-like body of work split into chapters, set within a contemporary art context, emphasizing the importance of patience, empathy & curiosity, where human beings have the ability to control what it is they feel or see.  

Thomas C. Chung. “It Was Like Seeing A Fallen Rainbow…” Exhibition view at Galerie pompom

Your video artworks are characterized by a slow tempo that suggests a relaxed observation. In our times of limited attention span and an overflow of media content, would you say that we need to take more time to observe our surroundings? In your opinion, does art create this space for observation or is it also caught in the spirit of fast-paced consumption?

That’s quite a complex one to answer. And that is a great question. I value the time I take to see the world unfiltered from electronic devices & media. Much of that is due to my not being attached to technology as early as others may have been. For example, the very first mobile phone I got was when I was 34 years old; I remember even thinking what a selfie of myself looks like. 

Until then, I spent a significant portion of my life turning up early to meet friends or acquaintances (if they were over an hour late, I would leave), keeping promises that I had kept & looking at the sky to tell the time. 

Art has always been a good reflection of our times, like a visual newspaper that begins & starts intriguing conversations before leaving it to others to visit, fulfill, react, or enjoy. The fast-paced consumption of our current world is an accurate indication of that, with the growth of digital art increasing among the masses.

Thomas C. Chung. “As Far As I Could See…” (II), 2023

You are studying to become a psychotherapist and draw inspiration from this knowledge to create your artworks. Do you intend your artworks to visualize or reflect upon states of mind, or do you wish them to become therapeutic objects, sparking certain emotions or thoughts that might have a healing quality?

This one made me think – thank you for that. My intention as an artist is to engage with everyone, but whether or not it connects with others is something I can’t control. Delving into the mental health field as a future psychotherapist, the purpose of whatever I create – however the audience receives it – there’s no right or wrong answer, just an open story. Food & landscapes have always intrigued me in this particular way. Some people love certain aspects or locations, while others dread it. Some people love a specific type of food but not others. No one person has the same reaction to different things & that’s what is so fascinating to me, to see life through the eyes of another human being.   

When I create, I have a particular concept & narrative for it, but ultimately, if the audience would like to enjoy it without any background or story, that is also up to them. Viewing Art, like watching any movie, reading a book, or tasting a special menu, is very subjective. 

“I’ve purposefully given artworks a title that invites an audience in…much like an open door to a gathering or party.”

You have mentioned your role as storyteller. How do you guide the narrative, from the title of the artwork to its description and the story that unfolds in it?

I’ve purposefully given artworks – particularly new bodies of work – a title that invites an audience in…much like an open door to a gathering or party. I grew up in an environment where Art was rarely seen as a necessity, so I knew the task for an artist was to be as engaging as possible – if not with their personality, then at the least with their artworks. Often, the title reveals a lot to the viewer & this should always be considered. 

Once the artwork has been created & the title carefully selected (I have a list of names for potential artworks), it unfolds as an individual experience. Once invited, I leave the guests to wander around to enjoy the ambiance of it. 

Thomas C. Chung. “As Far As I Could See…” (III), 2023

You are exploring “emotional landscapes.” Coincidentally, this is a term used by the singer Björk in her song Jóga, in which she refers to being puzzled by emotions and undergoing a healing process. Is this how you understand your exploration? Or is it more of a distanced observation? 

Oh – how wonderful. Thank you for this observation. I’ve been a big fan of Björk for many years, especially when I was younger…yet I never put the terms together like you did. I love this connection. I know the words ’emotional landscapes’ popped into my artistic practice at a time when I noticed how viewing one place or space brought out differing reactions & sensations in others. A lot of this stems from my studying in psychotherapy, where no one situation is identical, although similar when answered by participants or clients. For some, this exploration could be seen as somewhat distanced yet intimate. The space in front of us isn’t necessarily a gauge for how close one feels towards something. 

“These artworks point to a departure from childhood innocence, but also to longing for the past in a way that color cannot achieve.”

The series of artworks you present on Niio address the ability to find hope during times of hardship, which is something that everyone can relate to. The aesthetics and elements in them point to a more sombre, even melancholic atmosphere. Would you say that these artworks represent a coming of age, leaving aside the innocence of childhood and confronting the hard truths of adult life?

This series with Niio is particular in its aesthetics & I chose a black-and-white palette to illustrate this story. I’ve always found the limiting of colors to be very intriguing. I love to watch vintage movies because they have a very special quality. Sometimes, it can feel melancholic, while at other times, it can feel deeply romantic. These artworks pointed to a departure from childhood innocence, that’s for sure, but it also alludes to the longing for the past in a way that color cannot achieve. I wanted to insert an intangible without stating something obvious so people could have their journey & time to think for themselves.

Fabula, tales of possible futures by Diane Drubay

Pau Waelder

In her latest series Fabula. Micro Stories from Tomorrow’s World, artist Diane Drubay continues her exploration of a narrative that raises awareness about the effects of climate change, while keeping with the clean, balanced visual composition that has become a defining element of her work. Consisting of six 1-minute videos (at the time of this writing) distributed as NFTs on the Tezos blockchain, Fabula plays with our imagination by suggesting possible futures in which the environment would be radically altered due to the effects of human activity on the planet, particularly the violent and massive pollution produced by a handful of powerful companies. 

Diane Drubay, Fabula 4 – Micro Stories From Tomorrow’s World, 2023

Each story starts with a question that the artist aptly depicts as a query in a search engine, evoking how nowadays we seek immediate answers online, when we fail to understand what is happening around us. The imagined future appears in a circle at the center of the image, initially as an anomaly, its hues sharply contrasting the real image of the sky, a desert, a lake, or the sea. Slowly, the whole image changes its color to match the tones inside the circle, which finally blends into it and disappears. The circle becomes a metaphor for the possible futures described by scientific research: while they might seem outlandish at first, they can become real, at a slow but relentless pace that makes denial so much easier. 

A selection of works from Fabula is now available as an artcast on Niio. On the occasion of its launch, I asked Diane three questions about her current practice and the NFT scene, as a follow-up on a previous interview published in Niio Editorial.

Explore a selection of works from Fabula on Niio

Diane Drubay, Fabula 6 – Micro Stories From Tomorrow’s World, 2023

After the protests in different art museums, it seems that climate change has been out of the news cycle. How do you see creating art about climate change in the current situation?

Changing the discourse and actions around climate change and the future of our planet must be done in depth. The change must be individual as well as systemic. Of course, news has its cycles, but climate change is always a hot topic. Activist groups or unions of museum professionals have been active for years, and will be for some time to come (unfortunately) considering the current state of our societies. I particularly remember 2018 / 2019 when the COP21 had raised the crowds and inspired the creation of activist communities that demand climate action. 

Just as these activists continue to gather and denounce unsustainable behaviors, the creation of art with an activist vocation for the environment must continue. It is by maintaining the same clear, coherent and strong message for years, that it can begin to be heard, understood and shared. My art calls for slowness, but above all, for sustainability. The notion of time and cycles always comes back in my works in order to position them within an infinite space of time that can easily be assimilated to that of nature. 

Just as environmental activists continue to gather and denounce unsustainable behaviors, the creation of art with an activist vocation for the environment must continue.

How was your experience at the recent NFT Paris event? How do you see the NFT scene evolving at present?

I traveled to NFT Paris to meet my friends, those people I have evolved with, and I felt shaken and fulfilled since March 2021. Artists, collectors, developers, curators, galleries, and many others have come together (almost) exactly two years after the birth of our beloved community around hic et nunc. What is enchanting about this group is their desire to focus on what makes sense, their desire to do things together and to make things happen, in a global and collective way. 

This aside, NFT Paris has become a major event of the NFT scene with 18K visitors in two days in the most iconic venue in Paris: Le Grand Palais Éphémère. In the aisles, one could feel the growing entrepreneurship of this new generation of founders and creatives.

“In the NFT scene, I see a lot of respect and exchange, knowledge being shared and collaborations being born.” 

To be honest, I’m in a bubble within this community of Tezos artists and it’s very difficult to have an objective look at the rest of the NFT scene. On our side, we see players consolidating, new platforms, curators, and galleries trying out new things while trying to understand and respect the culture already established. I see a lot of respect and exchange, knowledge being shared and collaborations being born. 

Diane Drubay, Fabula 6 – Micro Stories From Tomorrow’s World, 2023

You are donating the sales of one of the artworks from Fabula to support the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in February 2023. The NFT scene has been quite active in supporting humanitarian and environmental causes, do you think this will be a permanent aspect of this sector of the digital art market?

The act of creating and donating art for social and environmental charities is part of the DNA of the creative community using the Tezos blockchain. It started early on, back in March 2021, when DiverseNFT launched the OBJKT4OBJKT weekend to call for more diversity within the NFT art market. Then, this habit took hold and it became part of the culture: call for community support via NFT art donations and support the NGOs who need it most. 

In February 2023, the Tezos art community joined forces to support the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria under the initiative #TezQuakeAid. Since then, more than 110K xtz (around $109,000) have been raised through the donation of +720 artworks. 

“The Tezos art community has raised around $109,000 to support the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria under the initiative #TezQuakeAid.”

Find out more about Diane Drubay’s work in a longer interview published in 2022.

Daniel Belton: dance, music, and digital art

Roxanne Vardi

Daniel Belton is an artist, filmmaker, choreographer, and dancer from New Zealand. In 1997, Daniel Belton and creative producer Donnine Harrison founded Good Company Arts, an entity devoted to creating live events, exhibitions, and installations through the fusion of multiple art forms, and is internationally recognized as arts innovators that combines dance, choreography, fine arts, music, and digital cinema. Belton acts as the artistic director of Good Company Arts, and together their project based art programs are internationally recognized as innovating the arts and design sectors.

On the occasion of his solo show artcast Unification of Dance, we had a conversation with Daniel Belton about his work and artistic practice of combining different mediums and art forms into a unifying whole. Belton has choreographed a number of acclaimed dance works, created a number of experimental film dance works, and has created a number of short films. The artist holds a number of renowned rewards and honours.

Daniel Belton, Astrolabe – whakaterenga (Portals), 2020.

In your digital artworks you combine contemporary dance, music, animation, and AV technologies. Can you walk us through the different complexities combining these disparate media into a coherent whole?

In my work the role of digitally augmented dance is really determining how the narratives or story threads are shared to the viewer. As well as this, the relationship between the choreographed work and music, is a central driving force. When you watch the works in motion, for me it is the relationship between the dance and sound, that is the heart beat, the emotional arc if you like. From this centre all the other elements are derived – the couture, the motion graphics and generative atmospherics, the virtual worlding of spaces in which the human figures project themselves, traverse, journey, or inhabit. 

I’m a self taught filmmaker – I studied photography and painting before heading into an international career in dance. After a decade working in Europe for various theatre and dance luminaries, I returned home to Aotearoa NZ to begin raising a family, and this was is also a significant turning point, when we founded Good Company Arts (1998). I began working closely with film artists to initially document our live performances. 

My curiosity for film and dance as shared mediums, really grew through the next decade, and continues to this day. More recently I have focused on outputs from the digital to print, and installations.

When I edit film, it is not in a conventional way. I use FCP, After Effects, predominantly for my workflows which often have 10 or more layers of visual material in a scene. I usually start by testing out the compositional space, with various visual components. This means playing with masks, scale, proportion, colour, and tone to establish a design language for the specific work. If you see all my works in a space together, you will recognise the “eye” and aesthetic, which is my signature. I’m grateful to the small team of collaborators who I bring in to support the overall vision – these artists work with software such as Cinema4D, After Effects, Premiere, Lightwave and more. I commission and guide their contributions, and we have a long rapport of collaboration. Their work becomes part of the total vision for the design feel of my work with GCA.

Collaboration with the performing artists is key. I work closely with Donnine Harrison (my life partner and Creative Producer for GCA), to choose dance artists who are also makers in their own right. These young artists bring their choreographic voices to the work, which is carefully guided. Usually we work shop and film in a choreolab style process. The filmed material is then reflected on in post, and this is where the relationship to music, and the visual design and narrative structure is developed – the total work is usually anchored this way. Sometimes later on, and it can be years later, a work is recommissioned to be performed as a hybrid piece. Then we bring the team together again to realise a performance activation of the digital work, for example with large outdoor projection, live music and live dance bridging to the digital world and expanding on it.

It is a fluid relationship. Works arrive and carry in a specific quality or message. They have their own energy and wairua (spirit). So the relationship becomes overtime, even more attentive because it is like communicating with a child of ours, and this is reciprocal. We listen, watch and respond.

“Works arrive and carry in a specific quality or message. They have their own energy and wairua (spirit).

Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts, AD PARNASSUM – Purapurawhetū Solstice, 2022.

There is something very theatrical and cinematic about your compositions. Do you find inspiration in these two areas of artistic expression?

Yes, I come from a background as a professional dancer, choreographer and visual artist, with many years of working in theatres. It has become a deep fascination to explore how we can expand our storytelling practices out and away from traditional blackbox and proscenium theatres. This gradual shift in my own work, has developed skills with digital mediums to grow my practice for dance art-film, and 2D screens, projection mapping etc. More recently I’ve started the deep dive into XR which has migrated my projects with GCA from 2D to 3D formats with full dome and CVR.

To me, the theatre and the cinema are inherently connected. They are powerful amplifiers and channels for broadcasting our stories. Human beings are story telling beings. From the cave painters of the paleolithic, through to cutting edge VR, we have always pursued the liminal, pushed ourselves and our communities towards a greater understanding of our place in the cosmos. This search is a beautiful, ongoing quest for identity and belonging.

“Human beings are story telling beings. From the cave painters of the paleolithic, through to cutting edge VR, we have always pursued the liminal, pushed ourselves and our communities towards a greater understanding of our place in the cosmos.

Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts, soma_songs_(aarhus_festival_promo) (Original), 2022.

Your artworks have been exhibited at art galleries, museums, public spaces, and architectural facades. Can you elaborate on the differences, at least from your personal perspective, working in the public sphere as opposed to the private gallery sphere?

This is about space, the human relationship to environment, our sense of belonging, and well-being. It is about discovery and returning to something to engage with it in a new way. What do we see? Our perception of an artwork is altered greatly when we augment through scale, light, surface. The ephemeral digital nature of film, especially projected, means that it is a membrane of datum, a digital cloak of light rippling with stories.

When we can identify ourselves in these stories because they are populated by the human in motion, then our awareness also moves to new places. So my works are not didactic, they do not attempt to tell a story in the traditional sense, rather to create an invitation for the audience to connect. This is a personal experience, and each individual will have their own response to an artwork. 

I find that when filmed dance appears in unusual sites such as mapped onto building facades – people really engage with it. Perhaps part of this immediate connect is that dance is a universal language.

In this way we can bring a new kind of illumination to a site, and invigorate, catalyse. For my work Line Dances at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, this was a direct link up to Paul Klee’s lithographs inspired by the theatre such as his delicate and humorous “Realm of the Curtain” and “Equilibrist”. It was 2013 with the Genius Loci Weimar Festival, and my first go at projection mapping. Since then we have learnt much, and I have been fortunate with GCA to be invited to many cities to show our work in more unconventional ways, with mapping. 

I do love the clarity and purity of a fine gallery or museum space. Artwork can breathe, and when curated well, bodies of work offer incredible insight to public, around an artists practice and oeuvre.

Many of your artworks, including Astrolabe – whakaterenga (Portails), are rendered in black and white and display celestial, astrological compositions. Could you elaborate on the intended reception of these representations?

The monochromatic space is powerful. I find it a natural optical realm in which to create compositions, and to cultivate spatial relationships that are coherent. Integrating the human figure here is also a natural progression for me. Don’t get me wrong, I adore colour! But it must be introduced carefully and deliberately. Human beings are travellers, and our ancestors were largely nomadic. Since we can remember our species have navigated using the stars, and the natural elements which we embrace as part of the vast family of sentient life on Mother Earth. In our shared histories, Indigenous peoples from all around the globe have created maps and charts, and systems to move safely and efficiently from place to place, over land and water. Everywhere we look, there is evidence of knowledge founded in the wisdom of the stars, and the wisdom of living in rhythm with Gaia (Papatūānuku). Certain GCA projects I have directed, such as Astrolabe – Whakaterenga, are about celebrating this. Whakaterenga in te reo translates as “to launch”. In this work, there is a merger of Asian and Pacific Island wisdom, that binds such systems as astronomical charts and stick charts (used in canoes to navigate with the stars). This work as with OneOne is about honouring diversity, and acknowledging the many links that bind us. These pieces are affirmations of the human spirit, of diversity and unity. They speak of the interconnectedness of being.

Daniel Belton, NGURU, 2022.

In many of your works, including NGURU, you reference Māori arts which are an important part of Māori culture. Could you dive deeper into this compelling subject matter and how it facilitates in representing more contemporary media?

In some of my works, those that carry and promote nga taonga pūoro, I have with GCA engaged Māori artists who are practicing musicians, composers, dancers and weavers. Specifically the works are OneOne, Taiao, Astrolabe, Nguru and Ad Parnassum. Although I am not Māori, I have Maori and Samoan cousins. I greatly respect and admire Māori language, arts and culture. When GCA brings in Māori artists to collaborate, they lead in their specific field of expertise, and their mahi (work) is carefully combined into the total artwork and process. We are attentive to protocols (tikanga) and this is reciprocal. For Ad Parnassum -Purapurawhetū there is a focus visually on weaving and the horizontal. The music score created by Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead (of Ngai Terangi and Tuhoe descent), is a fusion of classical (string quartet) and taonga pūoro (traditional Maori instruments). Of the nine female dance cast, 2 are tangata whenua (which means they are Inidgenous Māori, or have a Māori bloodline). The other 7 dancers make up this multi-cultural team which combines ancestry from Japan, India, the Phillipines, Eastern and Central Europe, Scandinavia, and Fiji. Their dance is contemporary, not traditional, but I do see influences in their work that offer glimpses of each artists cultural ties.

Niio in 2022: the artworks

Niio Editorial

As we reach the end of 2022, we look back at a very busy year, and forward to an even more intense 2023. In this series of posts, we have selected some of our favorite artcasts, artists, artworks, articles, and interviews. They outline an overview of what has happened in Niio over the last months and highlight the work of artists and galleries with whom we are proud to collaborate. However, there is much more than what fits in this page! We invite you to browse our app and discover our curated art program, as well as our editorial section.

Five artworks from 2022

Screens have become the canvas of the 21st century. Artists display their creativity in digital artworks that are meant to exist on a screen, sometimes inside a web browser or even a mobile app. We believe that artworks are better experienced and appreciated in a dedicated screen, and therefore our whole system enables setting up a screen at home or anywhere that becomes a space for art. Within this space, many things can happen: the images that appear on the screen can be painstakingly created through 3D modeling, or drawn using a generative algorithm. They can also consist of video footage mixed with hyper-realistic CGI elements. They can be abstract or build a precise narrative, and they can be crafted from scratch or appropriated from an external source. It is quite impossible to describe everything that an artist can create digitally and that fits on a screen, as it is defining everything that a painting on canvas can be.

We have chosen five artworks from more than 230 moving image artworks and 185 photographs featured in our curated art program this year. Click on the artists’ names to find out more about their work.

Yoshi Sodeoka. Synthetic Liquid 8, 2022

Supported by a hybrid creative process that is both analog and digital, Sodeoka deploys an unconventional artistic approach that challenges the video medium. While questioning the major issues of visual media, its perception, and the interpretation of the world in the digital age, the work navigates narrative universes with singularly ultra-guided aesthetics. “Synthetic Liquid” depicts organic forms and blatant colors that open a portal to psychedelic and illusory world far from reality.

A multifaceted artist, Yoshi Sodeoka creates a wide range of audiovisual artistic works that include video art, animated gifs, music videos, and editorial illustrations. Influenced from an early stage in his career in noise music and glitch art, as well as avant garde movements such as Op Art, his work is characterized by breaking down the structure of the musical score and visual integrity of the image to find new forms of artistic expression.

Driessens & Verstappen. Kennemerduinen 2010, scene H, 2011

Kennemerduinen 2010, is a project for which the artists documented six locations around the Kennemer dunes (near the North Sea). Each film has a duration of almost nine minutes and covers exactly one year, from one January to the next. On a weekly basis, each scene was repeatedly photographed from the same position and at the same time of day, around noon. With custom developed software each series of shots was edited into fluid transitions. Slow transformations and changes in season, that are never directly perceptible in daily life, are perceptible on a sensory level. By systematically computerising and formalising observation, the Kennemer dunes films became studies of the spontaneous course of nature, of the emergent and entropic processes underlying it.

In the past years Driessens & Verstappen have documented three different types of Dutch landscapes: a historic landscape park (Frankendael 2001), a dike landscape (Diemerzeedijk 2007) and a dune landscape (Kennemerduinen 2010). From each landscape type several films are made.

Katie Torn. Dream Flower I, 2022

“Dream Flower I” is a 3D animation that depicts a snoozing biomorphic female arrangement made out of flowers, leaves and pipes. As the creature sleeps, a plastic like liquid flows from the pipes creating a relaxing fountain. The work is inspired by Victorian botanical illustrations.

Katie Torn’s work explores the female figure in a world shaped by digital technology and obsession with self-image boosted by social media and consumer culture. She uses 3D graphics and video to build assemblages of natural and artificial elements that question the boundaries between beauty and decay, body and prosthesis, organic and synthetic, and between a person’s own self and the image she creates of herself. 

Julian Brangold. Observation Machine (Iteration), 2022

A sculpture depicting a seating man is multiplied six times, the copies rotating in a choreographed fashion. Colored in a pink hue, the sculptures resemble consumer products, souvenirs lined up on a shelf waiting to be purchased. At the same time, the artist applies an effect that makes the sculptures come to pieces, as if an invisible hand were trying to touch them but destroyed them in the process.

Julian Brangold (Buenos Aires, 1986) is one of the leading names in the growing digital art community in Argentina. Through painting, computer programming, 3D modeling, video installations, collage, and a myriad of digital mediums, he addresses how technologies such as artificial intelligence and data processing are shaping our culture and memory, as well as our notion of self. An active participant in the cryptoart scene and NFT market in Argentina he has been exploring art on the blockchain since 2020 and is currently the Director of Programming at  Museum of Crypto Art, a web3 native cultural institution.

Julie Blackmon. New Neighbors, 2020

Courtesy the artist and Fahey-Klein gallery

Julie Blackmon (b. 1966) is an American photographer who lives and works in Missouri. As an art student at Missouri State University, Blackmon became interested in photography, especially the work of Diane Arbus and Sally Mann. Blackmon’s oeuvre also shows influences from Masters of the Dutch Renaissance such as Jan Steen.

Niio Art in collaboration with Fahey/Klein Gallery recently published an Artcast of Julie Blackmon’s photography works in digital format. The artist focuses on the complexities and contradictions of modern life, exploring, among other subjects, the overwhelming, often conflicting expectations and obligations of contemporary parenthood. Blackmon has stated that her works deal with “modern parenting, and the contradictions and expectations and the overwhelmed feeling that go with parenting today as compared to the past” furthermore the artist has stated “with the little ones it’s more metaphorical than about parenting, and speaks of the anxieties of everyday modern life”.

Niio in 2022: the artcasts

Niio Editorial

As we reach the end of 2022, we look back at a very busy year, and forward to an even more intense 2023. In this series of posts, we have selected some of our favorite artcasts, artists, artworks, articles, and interviews. They outline an overview of what has happened in Niio over the last months and highlight the work of artists and galleries with whom we are proud to collaborate. However, there is much more than what fits in this page! We invite you to browse our app and discover our curated art program, as well as our editorial section.

Five artcasts from 2022

Our curated virtual exhibitions are characterized by their flexibility to bring art in a digital format to any screen, at the homes of collectors and art fans, as well as in the framework of international exhibitions. This year, we have featured commissioned artworks by outstanding artists, participated in the ISEA2022 Barcelona International Symposium of Electronic Arts among other events, and introduced photography artcasts with celebrated photographers in collaboration with Fahey-Klein gallery.

We have chosen five artcasts from almost 60 launched since March this year, featuring the work of more than 80 artists. Click on the titles to explore each selection.

Snow Yunxue Fu, Karst, 2019

Possibles

Niio joined the exhibitions of the ISEA2022 Barcelona 27th International Symposium on Electronic Art with a selection of artworks addressing the main themes of the symposium. The screen-based works address the notion of possibles in different ways, from the dynamics of microscopic particulate matter to the global effects of climate change, from new worlds we could inhabit to those that are fading away, and from our individual perception of the world to the realization that even machines can forget. Participating artists: Frederik de Wilde, Diane Drubay, Jeppe Lange, Sabrina Ratté, Antoine Schmitt, and Snow Yunxue Fu.

Frederik de Wilde, Hunter and Dog_Octree #1, 2021

Chiseled in Code: II

Artists create with the weight of art history on their shoulders. The canons from Antiquity, the Renaissance, the Baroque and Neoclassical periods, as well as Modernity have shaped the perception of the Fine Arts and the objects that an artist is supposed to create. Artists nowadays have the possibility, through digital technologies, to incorporate, remix, and reshape the art from the past in order to create new artworks that question the need for a static piece of marble or a canvas, and instead present an ongoing process. Participating artists: Quayola, Daniel Canogar, Frederik de Wilde, and Julian Brangold.

Steve Schapiro. Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and Entourage, New York, 1965

Steve Schapiro

A selection of photographs by Steve Schapiro (1934-2022), one of the most prominent figures of documentary photography in the United States, initiated our series of photography artcasts curated by Nicholas Fahey, owner of Fahey-Klein gallery in Los Angeles. Devoted to photojournalism from a young age, he worked as a freelance photographer for Life and other magazines such as Time, Newsweek, the Saturday Evening Post and Paris Match. An exceptional witness of the civil rights movement, his camera captured key moments in American history with a sharp eye and caring attention to the subjects of his portraits. 

Carla Gannis, Flowering City, 2022

Carla Gannis: Theories of Everything

In this series of works, artist Carla Gannis and her avatar C.A.R.L.A.G.A.N. travel around different parts of the world, in the city, and the countryside scanning and recording their experiences. The artist references historical philosophers, thinkers, and artists considering developments and similarities between the past and the future, between the pre-digital and the post-digital ages. The artworks represented derive from a series of 3D LiDAR scans taken from the artist’s iPhone, which are then recreated into fragmentary sceneries through a multimedia process that includes post-photography, 3D animation, digital painting, and AI generated imagery.

Yuge Zhou, Interlinked I, 2022

Yuge Zhou: Interlinked

The pace at which city dwellers move is faster the bigger the city is. This was already proven by Marc and Helen Bornstein in their often quoted essay The Pace of Life from 1979, and has become much more clear nowadays, when our physical movements in the city are paired with a relentless digital activity. Yuge Zhou revisits her exploration of urban environments and the flows of commuters in these two commissioned artworks creating video collages of passersby in different U.S. cities, walking on sidewalks or rushing through subway stations. The collage technique allows her to create repetitions and create a sense of rhythm in these observations of daily life. “Interlinked I” and “Interlinked II” are part of the Niio Commissions Vol. 3

Testimonies: video art at the Berlin Biennale

Pau Waelder

The Berlin Biennale is celebrating its 12th edition with a program of exhibitions and events that take place in six venues around the city, until September 18th. The four main exhibitions are hosted by the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, the Hamburger Bahnhof, and the spaces of the Akademie der Künste at Hanseatenweg and Pariser Platz with a total of nearly 90 artworks by more than a hundred artists. Titled Still Present!, this year’s Biennale is curated by artist Kader Attia, with the support of an artistic team composed by Ana Teixeira Pinto, Đỗ Tường Linh, Marie Helene Pereira, Noam Segal, and Rasha Salti.

View of the exhibition at Akademie der Künste (Hanseatenweg)

The main theme addressed by the current edition of the Biennale is the effect of colonization, in land and history as well as in bodies, people’s lives, identities, and mindsets. This subject touches cultural institutions too, by pointing out the presence of looted artifacts and forms of presenting colonized cultures that only contribute to open the wounds of a history of colonial abuse. In a text written for the catalogue, Kader Attia denounces the hatred of others (whether foreigners, people from nomadic cultures, those experiencing marginalization and anyone not submitting to heteronormative patriarchy) and the invisibility of the wounds that inequality and exploitation have caused:

“Invisibility is discourse’s preferred weapon of control: always in denial of the crime, the enunciator claims victory while disavowing all responsibility.”

Kader Attia, Still Present! Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (Kunst-Werke Berlin, 2022), p.24

The concepts of wound and reparation are key to Attia’s work, and he finds in the processes of decolonization and the way in which Western societies have sought to build an image of a perfectly homogeneous modernity, in itself blind to the wounds it has created, an ideal framework in which to suggest forms of reparation through art. Art, he claims, can resist political and religious obscurantism precisely because it is unpredictable and constantly aims to reclaim people’s attention. He also states that artists seek to capture the present at a time when algorithmic governance collects data from our past actions in order to predict our future behavior. Trapped in this calculation of probabilities, the present no longer belongs to us, stresses Attia, and for this reason it must be recovered by means of the experience of art:

“Standing before a work of art, the spectator is plunged into another temporality, radically different from that of their environment, inaccessible to the insatiable appetite of algorithmic governance. […] art deconstructs so that it may repair and evolve, generating new forms of interpreting the present.”

Kader Attia, Still Present!, p.34,40
Center for Spatial Technologies & Forensic Architecture, Russian Strike on the Kyiv TV Tower (2022)

Being present

The artworks exhibited at the Berlin Biennale show that artists increasingly use video, 3D animation and data visualization in their portrayal of the present. Reality is captured through live footage, digital images, and all sorts of visual documentation. The exhibition spaces are filled with screens and projectors, sometimes extending their presence in the room with objects and imposing installations. The rooms at the Akademie der Künste, the Hamburger Bahnhof, and the KW Institute are dimly lit and labyrinthine, with displays creating areas of attention, that lend each artwork a space of its own, secluded in itself and rarely enabling a dialogue with nearby pieces. The documentary nature of most artworks also forces viewers to read the descriptions on the wall labels and concentrate on the story that each artist is telling. In this sense, as Kader Attia suggests, the artworks succeed in plunging viewers into a different temporality and making them fully present.

Artists increasingly use video, 3D animation and data visualization in their portrayal of the present

This temporality is both created and controlled by the artwork: as philosopher Boris Groys points out, video and time-based arts determine the time of contemplation. Through moving image and sound, notably the voice of a narrator, the artworks capture the viewer’s attention and force her to remain attentive while the story unfolds. This creates a particular pace for the visitor that demands more time and less distractions: these are not instagrammable exhibitions, in which to portray oneself in front of a tremendously huge object or a fiercely immersive installation, but rather spaces of discussion filled with the voices of the unheard. The enormous amount of footage to watch, the complexity of the narratives and the information one is required to process may seem overwhelming to a regular visitor. However, it is worth taking the time to patiently examine the artists’ exhibits, both in the sense of their public presentation and in the sense of producing evidence in a fictional court. 

View of the exhibition at Akademie der Künste (Hanseatenweg)

Visual records, both images and videos, have been considered irrefutable evidence of a fact until digital technologies and fake news finally put every image into question. Obviously, the depiction of historical events has always been subject to the interpretation of the victors, with visual artists being complicit in the creation of a narrative dictated by those in power. Today, artists addressing social, environmental and political issues are well aware of how images and messages are constantly manipulated, and therefore tend to avoid a position of authority, providing instead bare data, appropriated or filmed footage, witness recollections, and the stories told by those who ask to be heard. In this manner, the artist acquires an aura of neutrality, an actor who exposes facts with fair intentions in the form of a cultural product that, as the space that hosts it, is far removed from the complexities of real life. While this may seem to neutralize the political involvement of the artists and the educational (or indoctrinating) power of the artworks, it is actually the contrary. Art exhibitions enable a space where politics and society can be observed with detachment, as though one was reading a fictional story, and this allows one to confront other voices, other mindsets and realities that would otherwise be quickly ignored or dismissed. Being present thus also means being receptive, and willing to, at least, accept the existence of realities other than those we have created for ourselves.

Fragments of a reality

Fragmentation is a salient feature in many artworks, which rely on a variety of elements such as photos, maps, written documents and found objects. In 24°3′55″N 5°3′23″E (2012/2017/2022), Ammar Bouras addresses the consequences of the so-called Béryl incident, an explosion that occurred on May 1, 1962 while the French carried out underground nuclear tests near In Ekker in the Algerian desert. He creates a photographic montage and a video piece that explore both the geological layers of the area and the long-term consequences for the land through the testimonies of its inhabitants. The multiplicity of perspectives described both by the photographs and the video footage question the official history, which buried this event, and the possibility of an objective truth. 

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, OH SHINING STAR TESTIFY (2019/22)

Using CCTV footage of an Israeli military surveillance camera, Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme tell in OH SHINING STAR TESTIFY (2019/22) the story of 14-year-old Yusef Al-Shawamreh, who on March 19, 2014 crossed the Israeli separation wall to pick akkoub (an edible plant important in Palestinian cuisine) and was shot dead by Israeli forces. This footage, which circulated online and was later removed, is projected onto a series of wooden panels that capture, distort and hide the projected image in their shadows, as other filmed and appropriated sequences enrich the context of the grainy scene and its crude depiction of the facts. Fragmentation in this case conveys the multiple layers of this event, framing it in a wider social and political context while avoiding the obscene spectacle of death that media outlets have made of drone footage since the Gulf War.  

Poison Soluble. Scènes de l’occupation américaine à Bagdad (2013) by Jean-Jacques Lebel, dives into this morbid spectacle by collecting and enlarging the snapshots taken by US military personnel while torturing and humiliating prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. With these magnified pictures, the artist builds a labyrinthine installation in which the visitor gets lost, surrounded by horrifyingly graphic depictions of violence and sadism, and the no less upsetting portraits of the proud torturers, smiling at the camera. The artist sought to force an involvement of the viewers, but the harshness of these massively distributed images also calls into question whether Lebel has not created yet another spectacle, this time for an art audience. Such criticism was raised by Iraqi curator Rijin Sahakian shortly after the opening of the Biennale and has finally led artists Layth Kareem, Raed Mutar, and Sajad Abbas to withdraw their work from the exhibition in protest. 

CCTV and drone footage have been used by the media in sensationalist reporting, to a point where their value as evidence is replaced by their effect on the audience

This controversy illustrates the power of the photographic image as both evidence and raw material subject to manipulation. This is particularly true for digital photography. The low resolution snapshots from Abu Ghraib, with their pixelated, badly compressed textures, can be immediately identified as a private record of an event, not meant to be seen outside a closed circle. CCTV and drone footage also belong to this category of images that have been continuously used by the media in sensationalist reporting, to a point where their value as evidence is replaced by their effect on the audience. 

Data speaks for itself

In contrast to the first-hand, visual testimony found in grainy digital footage from CCTV, drone, and smartphone cameras, data analysis and visualization provides a much more detached and abstract, but equally telling, presentation of evidence. Photographs and video clips remain important, but generally as a complement of graphs, simulations, and diagrams mapping the collected data in a meaningful way. 

David Chavalarias, Shifting Collectives (2022)

David ChavalariasShifting Collectives (2022) exemplifies this turn towards data visualization in a detailed observation of the French political landscape. A researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris, Chavalarias explores the degradation of democratic values and the trivialization of xenophobia and ethnic nationalism through a timeline extending the long of a wall accompanied by a series of graphs, images, video and sound. The display of information aims to disentangle the complex interplay between political candidates, ideologists, social and workers groups, and the media, in order to provide quantifiable evidence of the rise of populism and right-wing extremism. Again there is here a collage of fragmented documentation, although it is presented under a unifying graph and the authoritative voice of science: the orderly display of facts, names, and numbers builds the narrative by itself.

Forensic Architecture, Cloud Studies (2021)

The collective Forensic Architecture is well known for their detailed research of cases of state violence through the analysis of architectural spaces and materials, using simulation techniques and information collected from witnesses. In Cloud Studies (2021) they address a type of aggression that, unlike bullet holes and broken glass, leaves no visible trace but causes permanent damage: the toxic clouds created by tear gas, airborne chemicals and petrochemical emissions. Fused in a single video, the collected documentation including video footage, 3D animations, fluid dynamics simulations, and countless photographs analyzed using machine learning techniques, is presented in a linear narrative in the form of a lecture that nevertheless includes certain dramatization. As in Chavalarias’ work, the display of information speaks for itself although here it is more scripted and lends itself to aesthetic concerns that confer the video its own identity as an artwork. 

In both artworks the presence of video and computer generated images denote the central role that this kind of imagery has adopted in the depiction of events by news outlets, at a time when the dominating perspective of a satellite or drone view and the tidy simplicity of a computer simulation can provide a much clearer and seemingly indisputable perspective than any number of witnesses’ accounts.

Thuy-Han Nguyen-Chi, THIS UNDREAMT OF SAIL IS WATERED BY THE WHITE WIND OF THE ABYSS, 2022

Eyewitnesses

The voices of those who were there, the victims, the passersby, also the perpetrators, the plotters and the followers, tell stories that contain their own truths and commonly share the authenticity of a firsthand account. Every person describes their experiences with a mixture of truth and fiction, as a result of their interpretation of reality mediated by their beliefs. Thus, in every witness account there is a margin of doubt, an uncertainty that artists can explore in the depiction of their stories.

Omer Fast’s A Place Which Is Ripe (2020) presents the testimonies of two former London police officers who explain the ubiquitous presence of surveillance cameras in Great Britain in connection with the murders of two-year-old James Bulger in 1993 and fourteen-year-old Alice Gross in 2014, two notorious crimes that were solved thanks to CCTV footage. The footage showing Bulger taking the hand of one of his murderers was in turn widely distributed by the media and contributed to popularize the notion of the surveillance camera as a reliable witness. Fast films the officers from behind, to protect their identities, and combines their interviews with Google image searches based on their words, all displayed in three smartphones placed inside a drawer. The Google searches illustrate the officer’s accounts with a detachment that echoes the monotone sound of their voices and produces an eerie effect of repetition and normalization. The automated selection of the images also points to the development of surveillance cameras managed no longer by people, but by artificial intelligence programs. The terrible images that have transitioned from unquestionable evidence to morbid spectacle now become simple indexers of events for a computer to identify them.

In every witness account there is a margin of doubt, an uncertainty that artists can explore in the depiction of their stories.

View of the exhibition at KW Institute for Contemporary Art

A different form of indexing can be found in Elske Rosenfeld’s AN ARCHIVE OF GESTURES (2012–22), an exploration of the revolutions and revolts of 1989/90 surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of Germany. Through the notion of “gestures,” she proposes a blueprint for understanding how these uprisings lead to collective action and how the events are recorded and told. Again, the witness is a camera. The gesture of “interrupting” is analyzed by editing a video recording of the first session of the Central Round Table of the GDR, in which members of the new political groups and citizens movements and of the established parties came together to discuss the role of the Round Table in aiding the democratic transformation of the country. Rosenfeld focuses on a moment in which the meeting was interrupted by the voices of protesters out in the street. Going back and forth through the footage, she divides the scene in two, repeats certain gestures of the participants, captures their reactions and hesitation upon being told what is happening outside. As with Fast’s film, editing is a key element in building the narrative. Both artists, as interpreters of the witnesses’ accounts, make the story their own.

Beyond fiction

Our perception of the present is clearly mediated by the eye of a camera, but not only a photographic or surveillance camera. The virtual camera of a simulated environment in a video game or a 3D animation also creates a reality of its own, that can be experienced as intensely as our physical surroundings. Video game worlds, with their endless possibilities, can also hold a hyperbolical mirror to our reality, making visible those aspects that are hidden or ignored.

Maithu Bùi, Mathuật – MMRBX (2022)

Maithu Bùi’s Mathuật – MMRBX (2022) is a video installation based on a virtual reality game that addresses the Vietnamese diaspora through mythology and magic rituals for communicating with the dead. The virtual space here allows for a suspension of disbelief and the assimilation of a set of cultural codes that belong to the artist’s personal memory and the country’s collective history. The video installation occupies the room in a way that invites to perceive the projected images as a real space and immerse oneself in the narrative that the artist has created.

Zach Blas, PROFUNDIOR (LACHRYPHAGIC TRANSMUTATION DEUS-MOTUS-DATA NETWORK) (2022)

Zach Blas goes one step further in this direction by creating a theatrical setup in PROFUNDIOR (LACHRYPHAGIC TRANSMUTATION DEUS-MOTUS-DATA NETWORK) (2022). An ambitious installation composed of eight screens and two projections, the piece presents a fictional AI god that feeds on the emotional tears of simulated humans. The tears are transformed into text, images, and sound, in what is seemingly an autopoietic system that seeks to compute human emotion. Continuing his exploration of the politics and imaginaries surrounding facial recognition and predictive policing based on artificial intelligence algorithms, Blas creates a dystopian world in which humans have been replaced by their avatars and emotions have become data. While this overtly fictional story seems to be far removed from the reality depicted by Bouras, Abbas and Abou-Rahme, or Lebel, it is nevertheless deeply rooted in our present. Blas’ subject matter requires a different form of expression, which is more effective as an extravagant fiction than it would be as a collection of documents and people’s accounts.

Media art has often been described as the “art of the future,” but as these works show, it is an art of the radical present.

This selective vision of the artworks on display at the Berlin Biennale aims to point out how artists address the present through moving images, appropriated footage that was leaked online, witnesses’ accounts recorded on smartphones, simulated environments and 3D-rendered fictions. These contents, and the way they are presented, allow in turn to create a different temporality, as stressed by Kader Attia, that leads the viewer to a state of presence. If, as the artist and curator suggests, we must be “still present,” this can only be achieved through art that does not claim to be atemporal, but that is time-based. Media art has often been described as the “art of the future,” but as these works show, it is an art of the radical present.