Does creating art that is Instagrammable make it a mere spectacle? On the contrary, constructing “Instagram-worthy” installations is a criterion of participation in Immersio 2.0, a new media audiovisual exhibition on for the second time at the Urbanscapes creative arts festival.
To call Immersio an exhibition is rather inadequate, considering it is all about interacting and participating, characteristics the artists say define new media art. Comprising six installations by practitioners and collectives — four within Urbanscapes House on Jalan Hang Kasturi and two outdoors at Medan Pasar and a nearby stretch of Klang River, one can expect a journey of light, technology and sound.
New media is an established genre in other parts of the world, but not Malaysia. The groups behind Immersio hope their work will shed more light on the possibilities and potential behind its various forms.
“Many understand new media differently. It used to be just digital art forms, like TV, graphics and videos, but that was before virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. Projection mapping is another new media form as well, along with motion graphics,” shares Abdul Shakir, one of the three founders of Filamen, the collective behind the curation of Immersio 2.0.
Shakir and his partners in their ad agency, Fariz Hanapiah and Nadhir Zuhair Nozi, work commercially with clients in the entertainment and advertising industry. The desire to do more artistic work using the tools of their trade led them to start Filamen.
Having been invited by Urbanscapes to be part of the inaugural Immersio last year, they are instrumental in expanding the current exhibition.
“We have a more streamlined focus this year, based on the idea of ‘immerse’ and ‘io’, which means input and output. We want to bring people in and immerse them in technology. The theme given by Urbanscapes is Reimagine KL. Basically, that’s what our installations are based on,” says Shakir.
One of the five other artists they have invited to join them this year is EEE Lab (Triple E), a creative agency that also specialises in new media forms. The duo behind it — Fihir Omar and Liyana Jamili — aim to invite their audience to travel through time with their installation, on a bicycle no less.
“It starts with the early days of KL, from 1884 to the 1930s, for which we compiled images of that time in a digital clip. From there, we jump into present-day KL, seen from a first-person point of view,” Fihir explains. “At the end of that, the user will enter a future room,” adds Liyana.
The “travelling” is controlled by the viewer, who will ride a stationary bicycle in order to move the digital artwork.
The duo points out that at the heart of new media is freedom to create art beyond the standard canvas. Shakir chips in: “New media works with space, transforming it, bringing new energy or life to it. It interacts with the space.” Liyana nods, “It’s not passive. It requires a two-way response, not just pausing to take a photo or Instagramming it. That response is also not introspective.”
Visual artist Sofia Haron, who is collaborating with Filamen on their installation, says that is why she wanted to be part of Immersio 2.0, despite some comments that she may be “diluting” her art.
“As a painter, I’ve spent eight years in the gallery scene. Normally, I wait for collectors to come to the gallery to appreciate my art, but that’s not really engaging with people. I think in Malaysia, only 5% of the overall population does or appreciates art. Fine art is also more introspective and very serious. I want to reach out to more people who don’t know anything about art, to stir their curiosity and interest.”
Their rare crossover collaboration is something Sofia and Filamen hope to inspire more of. “It’s not a competition [between new media and fine art]. I think it’s another way to enter art appreciation, a breaking of boundaries, where you can touch the artwork, wear it and even dance in it,” says Sofia of their installation, Disco Ball.
Creating a space where the visitor becomes the disco ball, she sculpted reflective masks inspired by Malaysian animals, along with costumes that visitors can put on as local music from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s plays. It is a trippy experience, Sofia admits, but the idea is to invite others to let loose and have fun.
Shakir notes: “The idea reflects how we would imagine KL in the disco days, when going dancing was a part of life. It wasn’t taboo then. On a deeper level, it is a philosophical and political statement, but you can also just come and enjoy the experience.” “And with the mask, people cannot judge you, everyone is the same,” Sofia adds.
Immersio 2.0 comes at a time when new media is increasingly becoming a part of marketing strategies and brand activation, with industries recognising the value of interactive communication. The group concedes that in Malaysia, the lines between commercial and pure artistry in their craft are still blur.
“The appreciation level for new media art is much higher overseas, so artists can cari makan just by doing it purely for arts’ sake,” says Fihir. “That’s why Filamen exists,” interjects Shakir, adding, “We don’t want to keep this collective just for the three of us. It’s a flexible platform, where any artist who wants to explore more creative work outside of the commercial can join us or use the name.”
It is also why the group envisions Immersio as a long-term project. “We want it to be like a gallery for new media art — a platform for young and experienced artists to showcase their works. They can also be artists from different disciplines and backgrounds, like Sofia, or those skilled in electronics. Bringing them together takes art to a different level,” shares Shakir.
He adds that Filamen aspires to eventually create its own light festival and rejuvenate the heart of KL city, “like what you see in Vivid Sydney or White Nights in Melbourne”. For now, visitors can look forward to a glimpse of what can be in the basement of Urbanscapes House.
Immersio 2.0 is showing until Nov 18 at 2 Jalan Hang Kasturi, KL from 10am to 10pm. See more here. This article first appeared on Oct 29 in The Edge Malaysia.