Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

How and under what conditions can new media art present memory?

Posted in Reviews by danwang on March 14, 2010

How and under what conditions can new media art present memory?

The analysis of Hu Jieming’ art practices

A Report of Fifth Workshop- Forgery – memory – realism

There were a series of shows named Things from the gallery warehouse in 2009, and they exhibited several large –scaled installations from ShanghART’s collection. The aim of the shows were to present Chinese established artists’ early works and reveal a period of Shanghai Contemporary art history. The exhibitions can also help critics and curators to compare artists’ present coherent works. As can be seen in the second exhibition (Dec 19, 2009 – Mar 10, 2010), one piece of new media art work from Hu Jieming named The Fiction between 1999-2000 (1999) was displayed in ShanghArt H space. Artist Hu can be considered as one of the pioneering artists in Chinese new media art


The Fiction between 1999-2000 was firstly exhibited in San Franciso MoMa in 2000. As photographing a moving object, artists shall make a decision either shooting a single moment or shutter open through the whole movement (Huberman, 2005, 32). Hu’s work chose the second gesture: the art installation was constructed by the large quantities of information from the television channels and the websites, and the progress of the recording information lasted 24 hours from midnight of 31s December t 1999 to1st January 2000. The information was collected and transformed into films, which recalled a period of memory that new media was increasingly proliferated at the beginning of 21st century and fully engaged with people’s daily life. The work also revealed the prevalent saying: the distance of the world has been reduced by information our contemporary society (

Looking at this art work again in 2010, the viewers’ senses of the images have been transformed into memories and changed into different contexts. That reflected a simple possible case in Huberman’s analysis. In his book Image not available stated that, “ images’ character of obscured immediacy passes into background ……as a narrative sequence appears no longer the performance of crystal but the chronology of a story (Huberman, 2005, 13).” The familiar scenes from these images represented the fragments of viewers’ memory, which they were memory of the past and the contrast of present sensation (Ricoeur, 2004, 15). In fact, these images have not been shown on the televisions since 10 years ago and they only existed in people’s memory partially and unreliably. The artist collected the images of past in order to show that new media technology had occupied people’s life and influenced the way of receiving information at the end of 20th century. The work implied a problem that the information is so powerful that influences our navigation in the world. His work also questioned if we would choose to do independently or lose ourselves when we are controlled by the information.

Time is also considered as a significant element in this work. It is true that memory depends on time having been passed by, and people do not have the perception of time (Ricoeur, 2004, 16). The Fiction between 1999-2000 recorded available information through changing website and television channels at a specific moment, which it was a time ‘passage’ between 20th century to 21st century. These vivid images represented a period of the informative moment, and viewers can perceive that moment even they do not have experienced it.

This new media art work also can distinct two forms of memory like in Bergson’s influential book, Matter and Memory (1896). According to his theory, memory can be divided into habit memory and the memory of a particular reading (Ricoeur, 2004, 25). Firstly, the images of the art installation were captured from what people saw, exactly like assembling the information from their habit of watching TV or searching the Internet (habit memory). These vivid images were collected from people’s habit memory, and they were then reinstalled as a mix- media sculpture in a gallery-space (transformed into the memory of particular reading, just like a event) When viewers saw the work, the images turned to be a readable presentation, but as time passed, the viewers ‘memory of the images were not the same compared to the actual work; they became obscure and were unrelated to their habit memory. Consequently, the work illustrated the transformation of two forms of memory by the particular images that the artist had selected.

The new media art was directly related to the development of the technology itself. Computer-based interactive art provides a platform for viewers to participate in visualizing time. The relationship between time and memory can be interrupted into still and moving images and captured into successful movements. Towards late 20th century, these art actions named Multimedia art reflected advanced technologies in film and video (Rush, 1986, 9). This also was proved in the history of Chinese New Media Art. The term computer technology came to China in late 90s and was adopted by artist practices. In 1996, Hu bought his first computer and started to explore new media technology such as photography, video works, and digital interactive technology.

As a core new media artist, Hu’s works always attempt to present visualizing time and interact with the audiences. These artistic approaches have the advantage of new media’s features: it is dynamic and interactive. This can be directly related to Ranciere’s theory, who cited that:“ a form of material presentation that is adequate to its idea(Ranciere, 2007, 110).” The material form is secondary to ideas of the art works, and multimedia art tends to develop as a new platform to inclusiveness of new technology and ideas(Rush,1999,84). Rooted in this concept, Hu’s early digital collages the Raft of the Medusa (2002) was referenced to the historical painting the Raft of Medusa from Théodore Géricault in 1891, which was about a poetic memory of 15 survivors after a fatal shipwreck. Using similar pictorial composition of the painting, Hu described another narrative of society in sinking collapse by the digital synthesis technology. This work consisted of a reference of the past, today’s consumerism and youth gestures in self- indulgent hedonism   


Using a wide array of mix-media methodologies, sound instruments were involved into his works and its purpose was to make his ideas visible. This was explained by Ranciere in What Representation Means: “Speech makes visible. refers, summons the absent reveals the hidden ( Ranciere,2007, 113). Hu’ solo show Reverberation of the City (2005) can be an example of a dialogue of vision and sound;as a dependency of the visible on sound. The exhibition consisted of four pieces of video installations: Up and Up (2004), Something in the Water (2004), It is still there (2003), and From Architectural Immanence (2002). The sound and the explanations of urbanism were essential elements in all of these video installations. In fact, the sound did not really make artist’s ideas visible, but it evoked and affected audiences’ imagination to their response to the art work.

Over the last ten years, Hu’s artistic practices always focus on addressing the economic growth and consumers’ waste, and his works analyze the relationship between art and consumer culture, between daily life commodities and commercial advertisements. Hu has rich experiences of manipulating time, which makes his ideas embody an adjusted relationship between past and present. This is indeed what characterizes the work Dozens of days and Dozens of years (2007).The artist did not consider time as abstraction, but concrete as substance.

The work consisted of six pieces of furniture and they were installed in the glass cabinets. Due to the special chemical reagents and UV lights, a new piece of furniture was eroded day by day and gradually changed its internal structure and shape. This process was recorded during two months and showed as pictures to the audiences every day, aiming to reflect the destruction of these works. There was also an electric timer installed beside each work, counting the days after each twenty four hours. During two months ‘exhibition, the audiences could see the legible changes of the works, which had been transformed from daily objects to a pure place of memory in a concrete form. Although this multi-media installation seemed to be fictional entities, Hu tended to reveal a fact under the recognizable memory. One the one hand, it was to criticize how fast an invented commodity becomes out of date and is eliminated from the market. On the other hand, the contrast between new pieces of furniture and instant changes revealed a phenomenon: Chinese contemporary economy was dramatically increased to make previous commodity gradually disappear


New media art can be considered as a new genre of contemporary art, and it has been widely accepted in museums and among critics. Currently it tends to be frequently applied into art works rather than other forms of art. The exploration of time is one of new media artists’ central concepts. If time can be manipulated in multiple ways within various media, artists can present immediate experience of time just passed in order to have a quick response that has been significantly influenced by society. In recent Hu Jieming’work The World is Under Construction (2009), he questioned whether our planet was prepared for man’s constant construction and doubted the capacity of earth. He believed that time would affect people’s daily life and society, and the role of artists was to reveal the time engagement with both history and the present ( New media art with the advanced technologies can recombine and adjust the relationship between the memory and reality.





Zhu,H. (2009). Things from the Gallery Warehouse (accessed on 08/03/10).

Huberman, G,D. (2005), “ History of Art, Practice” in Images not available. Pennsylvania: The university State University Press.pp13.

Jacques Ranciere, Are Some things Unrepresentable in ‘The Future of the Image’ (London: Verso 2007), pp109-118.

Ricoeur, P.(2004) “Memory and Imagination"in Memory, History,Forgetting.Chicago: Chicago University Press.pp5-55.

Rush, M. (1999). “ Introduction” in New Media Art in Late 20th-century Art. UK: Thames&Hudson LTD. pp84.

Shangart Gallery. (2004), Hu JieMing (Accessed 10/03/10).

Shanghai Stock Information. (2007), Hu Jieming’s sole show Dozens of days and Dozens of years. 10/03/10).

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