3 July, 2008

To usher in the Olympic Games in Beijing, the Chinese authorities are playing a wild card. Media art, in a spectacular exhibition at the NAMOC (National Art Museum of China) in Beijing is one of the signature cultural events leading up to the Games. It lasted three weeks and closed yesterday, on 3rd July. Synthetic Times – Media Art China 2008, included works from 30 countries – including Switzerland, the USA, Canada, Australia and just about every European country – and was designed to make a statement. More than 3’000 visitors attended daily, with numbers peaking at 5’000 on week-ends.

In a country that censors Google, the celebration of an art form based on new technologies may seem odd. But, Zhang Ga, the Artistic Director and former dissident artist, was able to put together an exhibition which is hailed by the cult on-line art magazine We make money, not art as “a brave, meaningful, edgy and inspiring art event”.

According to China Daily, Swiss media artists made quite an impression. Newsconoons, pulsating furniture by wife and husband team, Muriel Waldvogel and Jeffrey Huang (which will be shown in Lausanne at the Gallery Lucy Mackintosh in spring 2009), was considered “One of the most eye-catching items” of the event. Mission Eternity, an after-life exploration by the net art pioneers, Etoy, “hit a new cultural dimension”. The enthusiasm of the mostly Chinese visitors for interactive participation took some of the artists by surprise. The inflatable zeppelin from the popular Naked Bandits by the Swiss group Knowbotic Research had to be manoeuvred to cope with the crowds.

Synthetic Times marks the beginning of an important two year intercultural programme between Switzerland and China. Angela Wettstein, who heads the programme “Swiss Chinese Cultural Explorations” for Pro Helvetia, the Arts Council of Switzerland, pays tribute to the director of the NAMOC, Fan Di’an, who believed and fought for the project. She was impressed by the innovation and daring of the official venture, which, she believes, produces the kind of cultural impact that Pro Helvetia defends and is proud to support. If it is renewed in three years, she predicts that it will be “a very exciting platform, a market place for future artistic projects.”

In the meantime, leading up to the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, where Switzerland intends to be a star performer – with possibly TWO pavilions – Pro Helvetia is developing strong partnerships in China based on artistic collaborations and coproductions. It has appointed several “bridging” correspondents, as well as launched a website. “China, when it moves, it moves fast.” says Ms. Wettstein. It looks like Switzerland is keeping up.

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, was an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London, before moving to Switzerland and becoming an arts journalist.

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