Archive: Issue No. 78, February 2004

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How latitudes become forms

How latitudes become forms



World Wide Art: Extending time, space and object
by Carine Zaayman

   How latitudes become forms

One aspect of our spatial-temporal existences is that things tend to happen at a specific time and a specific place. Art, for the longest time, has also been confined to these temporal-spatial constraints, but not comfortably so. From (at least) Dada, the Situationists, Fluxus, performance, video and conceptualism - to take a patently western/modern perspective - art's relationship to time and space has become increasingly complex. Enter the World Wide Web, and things get a lot murkier.

Of course, the web does not only influence the manner in which art is produced, but also the kinds of art-spaces that become available. An example of this extended conception of art spaces can be found with the Walker Art Centre (WAC), long known for their interest in polemical and off-the-beaten-track topics. The WAC has taken the exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in the Global Age to its logical conclusion by establishing a comprehensive website showcasing works (online work as well as documentation), essays, streaming video, conferences, performances and other online projects.

For this exhibition, artists from Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States were invited by a global advisory committee representing these countries. Their ostensible concerns with the new kinds of (intangible) spaces generated by globalism is powerfully enacted by this website in a way that only the rich multi-media, globally accessible internet can do, and for far a longer period than what is possible in a physical space such as the WAC. Essentially, the Latitudes website functions as a locale for artistic, critical and curatorial practice that investigate the cultural geography of the globe.

However, before it sounds like I am proselytising the net too much (ala Howard Rheingold), it has to be mentioned that the web also brings other sets of power relations into play. Still, this exhibition attempts to investigate these relations through its extensive online programme. As the website states: "To be a more locally engaged institution, we need to become more sensitive to the increasingly interconnected world reflected in the demographics of our own community: a world in which social, political, economic, and cultural boundaries are recalculated daily by both ancient and new definitions of home, history, and hierarchy".

While the exhibition, accompanied by lectures and discussion forums, was open from February 9 to May 4, 2003, activities on the website have since been burgeoning. For the local art world, highlights include interviews with the three South African artists partaking in the Latitudes exhibition, Moshekwa Langa, Usha Seejarim, and Robin Rhode, as well as a video clip of Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe's dance piece Motswa Hole.

A panel discussion entitled Curating in the 21st Century, focusing on the curatorial motives of the exhibition, can be accessed through the 'channel' section. Of further interest is Translocations, an online exhibition of network-based art curated by Steve Dietz. See the South African contribution to Translocations from the trinity session, as well as the fascinating work of, alpha 3.8.


Latitudes may be an example of the way in which the internet is able to provide space for projects for a longer time, and in a more extended manner than conventional venues. But the website of Japan-based design company Delaware offers a different insight into the multi-faceted nature of new media. Delaware calls themselves a "supersonic group that designs rock and rocks design". Their output includes mobile art (animations for cell phones), multimedia CDs with audio and animations, live shows and exhibitions.

It would be glib to say that the group is particularly Japanese in their approach to media and design. In fact, much Japanese art and culture is concerned with a perceived 'emptiness' at the heart of their society, an emptiness they see as being the result of radical Westernisation. Take for instance Takashi Murakami's notion of the 'superflat', incidentally also showcased by the WAC at an exhibition in 2001 (

This 'emptiness' is not, however, simply lamented. Instead, many young Japanese artists embrace the flatness, or even superficiality of contemporary media culture as the mark par excellance of existence in the late twentieth and early twentieth century world. Decorativeness, playfulness, sexiness, fun, youthful abandon, all characterise output of many artists and designers from Japan. This is true particularly in the work of people who operate across fields, that is, in art, music, design, fashion, merchandise, comics, performance, television, and so on.

Intriguingly, the kind of orgasmic heterogeneous output of Japan, being so heavily informed by Western consumer culture, is often seen as particularly Japanese. So there is really a paradox here: being particularly Japanese from a Western perspective involves the erosion of a sense of essential Japanese culture. Nonetheless, the eccentricity (remarked on by Murakami himself) of the manner in which aspects of Western consumer culture are brought together remains something of a trademark for these artists.

Delaware seizes pop culture and communication technology in an inspired conjunction of form and content, in a way that is emblematic of the dynamic contemporary Japanese cultural production. Always a feast for the eye, the website sells products made in their signature style of noughts and crosses, somewhere between digital and hand woven pattern. Apart from buying, one can also browse through the 'sound', 'vision' and 'soundvision' buttons for shockwave design movies. A favourite of mine is the p0eM n0.1, an animation made for a mobile phone. Noteworthy is the fact that in many of their works, Delaware parodies the Western canon of art (e.g. Boticelli's Birth of Venus and Duchamp's Fountain) as well as classic Japanese prints (e.g. Hokusai's portrait of Sharaku).