19th Art Division Critiques

The Spell of “Media Art”

This is the third year that I have served on the jury for the Art Division of the Japan Media Arts Festival. I was left with a particularly strong impression that was different from previous years.
In order to select the works that will be awarded, including the Grand Prize, it is normal for the jury to engage in discussions about each of the submissions. Last year, for example, the submissions lacked the overwhelming power found in previous years, so by general consensus the jury regretfully decided not to award the Grand Prize.
This year, a few members of the jury, myself included, struggled with a variety of issues as we attempted to evaluate and discuss each of the submissions. These were fundamental concerns, such as: What is the goal of the Festival's Art Division? What exactly do the words "media" and "media art" mean? It proved to be extremely difficult to arrive at a clear definition of these terms, and we were faced with a variety of questions during the judging process.
Though the decision was unanimous to award CHUNG Waiching Bryan's work 50 . Shades of Grey the Grand Prize, this was based on the lengthy amount of time we spent discussing the meaning of "media art" and "Media Arts". I believe that the decision we reached will serve as a useful message for future jurors. To be more precise, media art, as it applies to the Art Division of this festival, refers to works that incorporate state-of-the-art technology related to computers and digital media environments. By juxtaposing technology with his own life, CHUNG's work emphasizes the fact that by virtue of being state-of-the-art, contemporary technology is inevitably fated to disappear in the blink of an eye as time changes.
Currently, submissions are limited to works of art that make use of digital technologies, and the artists are free to submit their works to one of seven categories, including interactive art, media installations, and video works.
More works were submitted to the video category than any other categories in the Art Division, and together with the video installations, they numbered over 850 works.
Needless to say, the jury was honored to be exposed to so many outstanding works, including Gill & Gill, which was awarded a New Face Award, unforgettable landscape (ROWAN TREE) by SAKAMOTO Natsumi, Valentina FERRANDES' Other Than Our Sea, and Tony HILL's Spin. While this was a great pleasure, we also began to feel that there are problems with the video and video installation categories. As we watched the works, we had the sense that they contained aspects that might have made them more appropriate for a film or video festival.
It is common knowledge that the movies that are now being shown at ordinary theaters are actually digital rather than analogue. Similarly, most of the video submissions were produced with digital technology. This was also true in the past, but among this year's submissions were works that had already been presented at international film festivals in foreign countries. While some of the submissions were long works that exceeded an hour, there was a rich variety of videos, some of which centered on a narrative element and others which displayed strong documentary aspects.
Video art is unquestionably part of media art, and I do not wish to negate the video and video installation categories. But in light of the type of works that have been submitted in recent years, I felt restricted by having to judge these works alongside the works in the other categories.
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Japan Media Arts Festival. Considering the great influence that various temporal and technological changes and advances have on artistic expressions, I would like to see the festival evolve into an event that displays an acute awareness of these developments.

Curator, National Museum of Modern Art, Osaka
Born in Kagawa Prefecture, she worked at Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art from 1993 before moving on to her current position. She is involved in exhibition planning in and outside of Japan with a main focus on contemporary art. Her major exhibitions include video art exhibitions such as What We See, as well as many exhibitions of individual artists, including Wolfgang TILLMANS, YANAGI Miwa, Pipilotti RIST, Eija-Liisa AHTILA, Marlene DUMAS, Marina ABRAMOVIC, KUSAMA Yayoi and Jan FABRE. She was the Japan commissioner for the 54th Venice Biennale (Artist: Tabaimo) and the 13th Bangladesh Biennale.