Shu Lea Cheang : Alternative Approach to CyberCulture

(Shu Lea Cheang’s I.K.U. 2000 from Carlos a. RObayo D. on Youtube)

In the past people reading books on philosophy, but today we generally get way too caught up browsing the internet. Almost everything we do professionally and privately seems to revolve around computers. We are not alone in thinking this problematic human condition. It seems like we cannot live without internet dominated lifestyle. In contemporary techno-culture, the human subject, the concept of time and space are changing. Shu Lea Cheang, originally from Taiwan, an artist, activist of cyber community and new media art. Her works examine sexual politics, cyberculture, physical and virtual sensibility through her using of internet, digital media, performance and film. By the use of the internet, Cheang progressively intervene the public and daily life. Her work is not only to explore the cyber culture, but a cultural critic of cyber space.

© Shu Lea Cheang, Baby Work, Net-based Art Installation, 2012

Shu Lea Cheang, Baby Work, Net-based Art Installation, 2012

Public participation is a key to read Cheang’s work. It can be traced back to the early 80s when her works were mostly independent films. She was a member of Paper Tiger Television since it founded in 1981, which is an open media collective dedicated to media independent from the control-over pop-cultural broadcasting. Her art is unique in allowing viewers’ interaction in her spaces, both virtual and physical reality. Knowledge is power. Hence knowing the digital technology is the power of the age of internet, moreover, it generates the strength to confront with the dominating information from political and commercial institution. By using computer programming, video, performance and networked installation, Cheang has engaged in multi-disciplinary artworks and networking since the mid-90s. Bowling Alley (1995), commissioned by the Walker Art Center, is the first cybernetic installation of Cheang. Combined with real-life with cyberspace, the city’s community bowling alley linked to the World Wide Web. Cheang presents the work in which set to challenge the idea of what is personal and public, and to articulate the similarities and differences of how people interactive with one another face-to-face and through the Internet.

Shu Lea Cheang, Brandon, 1998-1999

Shu Lea Cheang, Brandon, 1998-1999

Cheang’s another major Web-based project is Brandon(1998-1999), which examines the issues of gender fusion, physical space and cyberspace, and virtual reality intervening daily-life. Through the internet, Cheang makes it possible for viewers from different locations joining together at the same time to discuss provocative issues. Commissioned by Guggenheim museum, Brandon is a narrative project named from the trans-gender victim Brandon Teena who was murdered in 1993 after his sexuality revealed. Cheang creates an online discussion space, encourages viewers to participate and provide their ideas of sexual politics. The debating and discussing process reveals a much open attitude in cyber space and generates provoking or even inspiring conceptions. Cheang creates a series of internet works using multi-user domains to create virtual public space which is real-time communicating with physical world. Her works can be seen as net-based art installation which is not only in the internet, but also a praxis in social networking. Since 2000 Cheang creates a series of cyber installations based on fictional scenario taking on the timeline of 2030, such as I.K.U (2000), Baby Play (2001), Drive by Dining (2002), Garlic=Rich Air (2002) and Rich air 2030 (2003). 2030 marks a year that most of us will still experience, a future but not too far away. It could be a time that we can download the most private intimate sensibility through virtual interface, as describing in her sci-fi erotic film I.K.U.( ‘iku,’ a Japanese word refers to orgasm) which was showing on Sundance Film Festival in 2000. (artfuture :: Shu Lea Cheang – Baby Love from artfuture on Youtube)

Cheang’s works challenge the human feelings, life and digital intervention. It echoes to the artificial life babies born through digital tools and internet in her Locker Baby Project (2001-2012). Cheang’s later works are mostly in the consistency with her early projects and striking ideas. Baby Work (2012) and Baby Love (2005), are part of Locker Baby Project. UKI (2009-2012) is the transformation of the original I.K.U. (2000).

Shu Lea Cheang, Agliomania, 2008

Shu Lea Cheang, Agliomania, 2008

AGLIOMANIA (2008-2010) extends the concept the garlic as currency. Her garlic series works examine the money, materialistic world and the value system in between cyberspace and the real world. However, Cheang provides an alternative way of using internet. Cheang’s art is not only inside the technical structure of the internet, but also involve with social intervention. Cheang’s installations belong to the public domain, whether in virtual or physical space, or both. She actively invites the public to take in part of her works, to debate about the issue of Brandon Teena or to fantasize the I.K.U. program, or experiencing the artificial sensibility of her Baby series projects. These collective moments are the highlights of Cheang’s works. Her art is not only representing the cyberculture, but from counter culture to intervene the cybercuture with stimulating social action. By using of computer networks, as for communication or entertainment, Cheang’s art is motivating a social movement in world wide web. Residing on the internet, hence Cheang’s art is crossing the geographical boundaries and wires with groups of people with varied ideas. Cheang questions that thousands of millions of the information we got from the internet are generic, which are generated from the political and commercial. Not only does she examine the social involvement through internet movement, but further executives a cyberspace revolution. [Back to front page]

3 thoughts on “Shu Lea Cheang : Alternative Approach to CyberCulture

  1. “Cheang progressively intervene the public and daily life. Her work is not only to explore the cyber culture, but a cultural critic of cyber space.”

    This is imperative to our progress, our survival, yes? To not only accept what technological advances are presented to us, but explore with a critical consciousness. She totally feels empowered to edit and revise as she feels necessary to push/break any confines.

    “Cheang’s art is motivating a social movement in world wide web.”

    So awesome!

    • Thanks for your insight! Cheang is very self-conscious in using technology and to examine critical issues, not only her own but also the cyber culture. She is brave. I personally think her early works such as Brandon and IKU should be shown in San Francisco or the west coast more.

  2. Pingback: Shu Lea Cheang : Alternative Approach to CyberCulture | gwenart


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