This is Not a Game

Among the random fringe benefits of the Beijing Olympics bonanza are not only a big international platform for the protest of China-related issues like human rights, Tibetan independence, or the responsibility of big trading nations to intervene in the Darfur scenario, but also a big international platform for the presentation of contemporary art. The games have brought an influx of attention and funding for "cultural projects," and thankfully for new media artists and their followers, Beijing's prestigious National Art Museum of China has used the windfall to present "Synthetic Times," one of the most impressive and widely-anticipated exhibitions of the last decade. Spread out over 48,000 interior square feet and another 22,000 square feet of outdoor space is an exhibition huge in stature and big in scope, presenting a survey of contemporary electronic art. The selected works imagine how the plastic arts have evolved into new forms of synthesis, with the advent of programming, physical computing, interactive media, and all kinds of fancy new lights, lasers, and whirlygigs now being put to varying conceptual and beautiful uses by those in the field. Singling-out just a few works here would almost be a disservice to the others, but if you care to peruse an ambitious sampling of great works and read critical essays on their work, by rock stars in the field of media theory, you're highly advised to surf the show's content-rich site. To the credit of the show's organizers (and also their collaborators MoMA, Eyebeam, and Parsons, who put on thoughtful events in New York as a precursor to the show's opening), this is not the kind of big-budget, low-impact show that these surveys often turn out to be. In fact, if anything it picks up and runs with the ball of critically examining the state of the world in turbulent times like these. Implicit in this context is the fact that technology has complicated our lives as much as it has given us new artistic tools for addressing these complications. The show is open June 10-July 3 and with any hope the website will be up much longer. - Marisa Olson

Image: Anthony McCall, You and I, Horizontal III, 2007

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