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LIFESTYLE -- Art & Fashion

Setting Art Free

As art turns digital and forays into borderless cyberspace, JAMIE KHOO wonders about things like value and uniqueness.

Sunday July 23, 2006

AS the world gets smaller and communities become closer, art forms, too, are beginning to shift in the way they’re communicated. Digital art, both made in and shared through digital spaces, can challenge the way art has traditionally been seen, appreciated and valued.

Bouquet, by Chang Yoong Chia

DiGi Telecommunication Sdn Bhd’s arts initiative, galleryW/Owalls (Gallery Without Walls), certainly does that. A “wall-less” gallery that functions on a mobile Internet platform to showcase digital artwork by Malaysian artists definitely challenges the usual way in which art is valued.

Network subscribers all have access to the digital art pieces and can download them (from /wap/) for free and circulate them to friends through MMS (multimedia messaging service).

The pressing question is whether art that is so easily shared and “owned” by just about anyone can be valued with the same exclusivity and uniqueness that has, traditionally, made the usual forms of art so special.

“Gallery” curator Carmen Nge is quick to jump in with a defence of digital art: “If you’re talking about art being valued for its uniqueness, we don’t believe that’s true any more now. There is now so much ‘fake art’, reproductions, art on screen savers, etc.

“We believe that people don’t really care if they have the original Mona Lisa any more, just as long as they some form of it.”

However, Nge is firm about ensuring that the processes of selecting digital art work is exactly the same as those used in selecting works for your usual exhibition of paintings, sculpture, etc.

The only difference between an exhibition at a brick-and-mortar gallery and the current exhibition at galleryW/O walls is the lack of an actual physical space for the latter.

“We make sure that the work is created digitally only; that it cannot exist in any other medium, that it isn’t just scanned work,” she explains.

“And, of course, it should still work as traditional art does in terms of relating to its audience and touching on issues that are relevant to the community and times.”

In its very nature, this medium of art can never be unique, but on the flipside, it does provide more people with access to good art, and introduces a younger generation to an area that was previously enjoyed only by those with money and years behind them.

The Amazing Newspaper by Vincent Leong and Jiji Ishak.

Because the “mobile generation” comprises a much younger age bracket, galleryW/Owalls touches a much younger, up-and-coming viewer. It’s a great way of promoting a widespread interest in the arts among the youth.

“This show targets a younger audience that wants to participate in a community-oriented arena where there can be discussions about art,” reflects Nge. Malaysians, thanks in part to Western influences, have become “consumption heavy” – we consume culture, the arts, entertainment, everything, passively rather than engaging interactively to create what we consume.

“It’s important to be able to foster a younger generation that can become o be part of a ceative community that can to cipate, not just consume,” says Nge.

The interaction works both ways. Nge explains that this new medium and space may encourage people who might not have thought of themselves as artists at all to create, or who never dreamed of exhibiting anything to put up an artwork.

Nature by Su-Ann Wong

Digital artist Vincent Leong, who has his work showcased in galleryW/Owalls, adds that, “Everyone can do digital art” because the tools are so accessible available nowadays. (Other artists involved in the project include Su-Ann Wong, Jiji Ishak and Chang Yoong Chia.)

Which brings us to the question about whether artists might fear the loss of authenticity and uniqueness within their creations.

The artist’s unique and personal imprint on a work is what makes it so precious; does the current dissemination of their work within an almost limitless space that they have no control over stir fears of copyright infringement?

The main criterion for works in galleryW/O walls is that they must be composed by digital means. However, as digital mediums are so versatile, this is the very aspect that leaves the work vulnerable to alteration and easy manipulation.

Leong, however, is happily nonchalant about his work travelling through networks.

“Why not? We’ve all forgotten what’s really original, who the original owner is of a lot of things. It’s almost already become a part of our culture. I created my piece knowing it’s not a single precious thing.”

GalleryW/Owalls (Gallery Without Walls) a service from telecommunications group DiGi in partnership with local arts magazine, Off The Edge, that showcases digital art through DiGi’s WAP portal.

Original artwork can be downloaded free and used as screensavers, wallpapers or as part of multimedia messages (MMS) to be sent to other mobile phone users. To download these images, DiGi users need to go to DiGi’s WAP homepage at, select the Entertainment icon followed by the Off the Edge icon to access and download these art pieces. For more information, visit