Integrating tech with the arts for a more vibrant global arts scene
By Ming En Liew
In a space where creativity is supposedly free flowing, is there a place for robots, data, and AI? GovInsider speaks to Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Singapore’s National Art Council, Lynette Pang, and two local artists to uncover how technology can change the arts as we know it.
An example of how technology can be integrated into the arts for novel forms of arts creation, as presented during the Arts x Tech Lab showcase in February this year. Image: National Arts Council/Facebook
“Oftentimes in Singapore, we like to tout the dichotomy between the arts and sciences (and therefore arts and technology) when that is often not the case,” says Tricia Mok, a former theatre practitioner at digital creative studio SERIAL CO_.
Like the rest of the world, arts groups turned to digital means in the wake of the pandemic. “There was a lot of experimentation…in terms of how they can deliver an arts experience,” says Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Singapore’s National Art Council, Lynette Pang.
This intersection between technology and the arts is something that the National Arts Council (NAC) has been looking into for years. The ‘Our SG Arts Plan’ (2018-2022) lists the use of technology in improving art-making and outreach efforts as one of the eight priority areas they were pursuing. As part of this, NAC has also launched the Arts x Tech Lab, which aims to foster collaboration between the arts and technology sectors.
The Lab hopes to “empower creatives, artists and technologists to engage in innovative experiments and collaborations,” NAC’s website wrote.
But what exactly is the value of integrating technology into the arts? And does the increased use of technology then take away from the organic creativity that the arts are known for? GovInsider sits down with Pang and two artists to find the answer to these questions.
A new form of art creation
Tech has enabled new methods of arts creation, Pang says. AI, for instance, is being used by the Hong Kong Baptist University to compose music, choreograph, and even sing.
Visual artists are also leveraging AI to great effect. Take Tan Wyn-Lyn, a Singapore-based artist, as an example. Helming from a traditional fine art background, Tan has worked in a range of mediums including canvas, plexiglass, or even metal and wood. She views AI as an additional medium to continue her exploration of what painting is and can be.
“I see this digital art form as an extension of my physical painting practice,” she says. “As a result of my explorations in AI, I have created generative AI video works that appear like shape-shifting abstract landscapes that orbit between the painted and the digital.”
She views AI as a way to explore the intersection between the physical and the digital, creating a relationship between artist and machine, science and emotions.
“My physical abstract paintings come from an intuitive, emotive place. Likewise, as I collaborate with machine technology to train on my physical paintings from the past decade, I seek to preserve the painterly and emotional in my generative AI art.”
She does so by curating the dataset she feeds into the AI. “I am curious to discover what the machine interprets and represents, rather than having an output that is an exact replica of my paintings.”
Having worked at a digital studio, Mok has experienced first-hand how technology can play a role in arts creation. “It was amazing to see how technology can add and subtract to a performance,” she says. Specifically, she highlights how technology like projection mapping as well as 3D printing and rendering can “add to the further creation of a fictional world.”
A different look
Beyond the creation of art, Pang highlights that tech can also change how art is presented. Traditionally, most art forms have relied on physical presentations. But with the advent of technology, artists are now beginning to explore presenting their works through the metaverse or in hybrid formats.
While Pang acknowledges that nothing is quite like the visceral physical experience of consuming the arts in person, she suggests that technology can be an “added layer to help artists and arts groups develop a larger audience”.
She raises the example of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, which launched an online subscription service for digital recordings of their performances during the pandemic. This provided the Orchestra with an additional avenue for monetisation, while at the same time allowing them to bring their art to a global audience.
Another example of how technology can open up new opportunities for the arts industry can be observed in electronics corporation Samsung’s television product, The Frame.
The Frame is a television designed to resemble a picture frame when not in use. Samsung partnered with art institutions across the world to deliver a curated collection of renowned art pieces that users can purchase to display on The Frame. Singapore’s National Gallery is part of this partnership, Pang reveals.
Creating a more vibrant city
The integration of technology with the arts can elevate its role even beyond its own industry. For instance, the arts play a vital role in bringing vibrancy to a city through placemaking, Pang says, referring to the practice of managing a place to make it better. Hong Kong, for example, incorporated colourful murals and graphics in their redesign of previously desolate rooftop areas to revitalise such spaces.
And technology can add an additional layer to this. Pang suggests that integrating augmented reality into the art pieces through QR codes can “give depth to a precinct”, she says. The metaverse presents another avenue of possibilities. “Who’s to say that you can’t have another Singapore in the metaverse where it continues the journey of what’s been done in the physical space?” Pang questions.
“Technology, through our ambition as a smart city, can help us in many ways to make life more pleasurable and make life more interesting,” she adds.
An evolving industry
Beyond arts creation and presentation, Pang also encourages arts groups to consider how technology can help their organisations become more competitive and sustainable.
Tools like data analytics can help them better understand their audience, for example. “The more data you have on your consumers, the more you understand their likes and dislikes, and the more you’ll be able to craft your product to better meet their needs,” Pang says.
“Currently, a lot of arts groups base the development of their work on intuition…but if you have the data and you’re able to analyse it, you would be able to better nuance your work,” she explains.
Technology is also changing the way that art is introduced to the market, Pang told GovInsider. Traditionally, intermediaries like gallery collectors would facilitate the transaction between artist and consumer. But today, artists can approach a common platform directly. This raises new questions for artists and intermediaries alike.
Artists, for instance, will now have to consider how to manage their rights and to work on their personal branding skills to put themselves out there, she explains.
Is there space for art and tech to co-exist?
While the perks of integrating arts and tech are many, there remains concerns surrounding how tech can end up infringing on the rights and liberties of artists. In September this year, CNN reported on an AI-generated artwork that took first place in a fine arts competition in Colorado, United States, drawing the ire of many.
But Mok believes that with arts groups only having deepened their exploration of tech in the arts in the last two years of the pandemic, that the short duration is still insufficient to “truly understand and comprehend the use of technology as a tool for communication and art”.
It is with this in mind that she hopes artists will not write off the use of technology within the arts. “Singapore especially is still very new and detached from its incorporation of art and technology and it will take much longer than two years to learn how to effectively use it. We are still in the process of exploration and to write it off immediately would be a shame,” she says.
In fact, she highlights that an exploration of technology can create a new branch of interdisciplinary performances that is truly lacking in the space.
For Tan, the advent of tech in the arts represents a new medium to work with and a challenge to overcome.
Tech in art is only as good as the artist who harnesses it, she says. “I see the use of tech more as a collaborator than something that will replace the artist.” And while the tech might make it easier for anyone to create, Tan sees this as a greater challenge for artists to push themselves to discover more innovative ways to use the tech in order to set their art apart.
Editor’s Note (27.12.2022): A previous version of this article mistakenly stated a profile’s name as Tricia Ding. It has since been edited to Tricia Mok.