Culture and Technology Forum 2017

By Yu-Xiang Ou

As technology advances, it grows ever closer to culture: not only is there more cross-over collaboration, the boundary  itself is becoming blurred. On July 24, the Ministry of Culture held a “Culture and Technology Forum”, with Cheng Li-Chiun and Liang-Gee Chen, Ministers of Culture and Science & Technology, holding a formal discussion on how the paths of technology and culture will cross in the future.

A pre-talk robot “performance” made a great impression on the audience. Even though most people know this as the “digital age”, robotic arms are still only seen as mechanical replacements for humans in manufacture, and not as dancers or artistic performers. The robot dance was a fine example of the merging of culture and technology, and suggestive of an alternative future for the arts.

Makers must be very impressed by a dancer that perfectly combines technology and art—Huang Yi

In the Red Brick Warehouse at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park, I listened to speakers talking about their hopes and expectations for collaboration between technology and culture, covering topics such as arts education and innovation. The speakers elaborated on the connection between culture and technology and outlined what they themselves, as the highest government officials in related fields, think of technology and culture.

In Taiwan, the university entrance exam is separated into arts and science, covering different subjects and judged by different standards, and so high school students have to specialise by choosing their main area of study. Most people appear to believe that culture and technology are two completely different worlds. Culture Minister Cheng Cheng Li-Chiun, however, gave examples such as the printing press, gramophone and cinema to explain that technological advancement also leads to progress in culture and civilization. When people want a civilized society and arts—in other words, a better standard of living—“for human beings, the cultivation of culture and the cultivation of technology are both part of the imagination of life”.

Minister of Culture Cheng Li-Chiun and Minister of Science and Technology Chen Liang-Gee agree to closer collaboration in the digital age.

“Culture and technology are two sides of the same coin,” Cheng continued. “Technology helps civilization to develop, and culture becomes an aesthetics of technology.” The aim is not merely to combine the two fields through collaboration but to consider a diverse range of questions, such as how to combine technology, tourism and local culture together in order to create a new kind of tourism.

Nowadays, there are more and more examples of technology helping us to express ideas and emotions. Taiwan is the best innovative arena because it is diverse, open and liberal.

“Technology is musical instruments, and culture is the music they produce,” said Chen. In the past, tech talents in Taiwan were constrained by their technical training, but now “culture can help us to see the bigger picture”. The imaging technology used in the HBO Asia presentation of “The Teenage Psychic” and Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk” are two great recent examples of how the two fields can work together.

“Technology is continuous innovation, but to bring it to the world we need the key of cultural sensibility,” said Chen, also remarking that, in addition to the foolishness of innovation, passion was also an important motivator, and that it is important to create new values in the collaboration between technology and culture. In the future, the two ministries will collaborate further on a “Culture and Technology Act” to revitalise culture in Taiwan and integrate it with our technological expertise.

Digital artist, choreographer and dancer Huang Yi speaking on the creative environment, arts policy and current conditions for artists.

After the political debate, next to the stage was Huang Yi, creator of work “Huang Yi & Kuka” and a fine example of how technology and art can work in harmony.

Dancer Huang Yi  spoke about his difficult childhood and the origin of the work, in which a robot dances with human dancers. “It was because I wanted to create something I, myself, would want to keep seeing for the rest of my life.” Huang set up a studio for professional dancers which he also uses as a rehearsal “laboratory” for the robot Kuka. The robot dancer needs a different rehearsal space because the choreography occasionally meets with glitches—burnt-out components and oxidation—that can create uncertainty and difficulty for the human dancers.

Huang Yi: “I wanted to create something I, myself, would want to keep seeing for the rest of my life.”

The production has been a success, but Huang Yi’s studio has still run into many problems and the upkeep has been very difficult, which prompted him to think about the creative environment and rights and interests: for instance, apparatus subsidies for digital artists, providing a safe rehearsal space, more accessible fund-raising procedures, the concept of “equal rights for culture” and so on. Huang’s experience taught him that in addition to the difficulties faced by traditional artists, digital artists are under more pressure because they have to buy expensive equipment and deal with unforeseeable eventualities.

“Cultural technology” and “digital art” are still hot topics, and it is worth thinking about how to bring new ideas to bear on old problems, how to put the latest technology to work advancing culture, and how to use technology in culture. Even more pressing are such questions as how to train digital artists to use better creative processes and production techniques and how to create great artworks to show the world.

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