CHOI SAI HO, Space Within Space, 2019, video with sound: 4 min 34 sec. Funded by Arts Council England. Courtesy the artist.

Aleatoric Art In “Peer To Peer: UK/HK Online Festival”

Hong Kong United Kingdom

The UK/HK Online Festival, a digital art program encouraging Hong Kong-British cultural exchange, brought together 20 multimedia works spanning video, augmented reality, and games. Among the most thought-provoking exhibits were those that led viewers to meditate upon the beauty of the aleatoric processes that surround us in our everyday life.

Immediately capturing one’s attention in the “Existing Works” section was Choi Sai Ho’s dreamlike Space Within Space (2019), comprising visuals of pigments being dripped onto a backdrop of the universe and an ambient audio track generated by detecting electromagnetic movements of Earth and converting them into sound waves. Here, the sounds of the planet unpredictably morph from one note to another, echoing the arbitrariness of events in reality. Random but nonetheless presenting recurrent motifs, it typifies aleatoric art of a Xenakisian variety, left for nature to determine the outcome—just as patterns of probability functions can be mapped into stochastic music, the electromagnetism of Earth is here represented in music that invokes the arabesque of its movements. Similarly, the kaleidoscopic motion of the pigments recalls suminagashi, a process of paper marbling where subjective involvement is minimal. This asymptotic divergence seems, however, to arrive at a state of stability, a stochos (goal); chaos now becomes order.

ANTONIO ROBERTS, Nodes, 2020, still from video with live coded audio: 4 min 33 sec. Commissioned by “Peer to Peer: UK/HK.” Courtesy the artist.
ANTONIO ROBERTS, Nodes, 2020, still from video with live coded audio: 4 min 33 sec. Commissioned by “Peer to Peer: UK/HK.” Courtesy the artist.

Contrasting Choi’s music of the spheres was Antonio Roberts’s newly commissioned Nodes (2020), a live-coded, improvisational audiovisual piece created with software. The spontaneity involved in the programming renders the art controlled and random at the same time, drawing heavily from the artist’s subconscious and intuition. One can perceive a stochastic structure embedded in improvisation—the composition is deliberated based on a rigorous music theory, intimately bound to a statistical scheme of knowledge: distribution of pitch frequencies, progression and other auditory sequences. 

Underlying the arbitrary nature of art that is unconcerned with logical necessity is the incessant cosmology of change, which is embodied in John Wong’s interactive display RuChu AR (2020). Based on the I-Ching, which is widely used for cleromancy, RuChu visualizes the patterns of words that recur in the text. Via augmented reality, a cursor moves through each of the characters engraved on a rendered monolith. When the cursor—which moves automatically and in response to the viewer’s input—hits a frequently occurring word, all other instances in the text are highlighted and read out by a computerized voice. The result is a cacophonous symphony where the Dionysian and the Apollonian come into a synthesis. The audience is limited by the workings of the default program, yet empowered to participate in creating the art. RuChu seems to suggest that while we have little direct control over our fate, we do have a degree of agency; there is freedom within in our bounded existence amid ceaseless change.   

LAI LON HIN, Black Dream, 2019, still from single-channel video: 6 min 22 sec. Courtesy Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong.

Likewise Lai Lon Hin asks the viewer to draw meaning from randomness in his video essay Black Dream (2019), which consists of randomly ordered still and moving vignettes of quotidian objects shot in Hong Kong, recalling subconscious dream sequences. The images show ominous liminal spaces which seem to defy the comfort of the ordinary, creating in the viewer a sense of unidentifiable trepidation and disorientation. Mannequin heads hung in an array at a dimly lit store, an escalator fenced off with fluorescent orange tapes, a solitary umbrella left forgotten on a rail—all of these infringe on our need for rational explanation, our tendency to avoid randomness and uncertainty. We are reminded once again of our powerlessness in this strange, unpredictable world. Yet it is only by coming to terms with it that we start appreciating its wonder.

Altogether, the featured artworks manifested a Nietzschean undertone: of amor fati—love of one’s fate, recognizing what may sometimes seem like Dionysian fluidity and instability as necessary and, more importantly, beautiful. It is only by accepting our circumstances as more than mere chance that we begin to grant the narratives of our lives meaning.

Emika Suzuki is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

Peer to Peer: UK/HK Online Festival was online from November 11 to December 13, 2020.

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