Deep inside the bowels of storied Zhongshan Hall in Taipei something was stirring. A stone-faced security guard watched as colored, polygonal boxes were carted into the venue and crates containing electronic equipment were unpacked.
On the second floor, under the elegant chandeliers of the building built in 1936, strange contraptions were being brought to life. Their lights winked, screens animated, projectors beamed images and speakers started making otherworldly noises.
Obviously, this was not your usual Taiwanese opera or classical music show. There were too many young people buzzing around and some of the visiting performers and artists were dressed in hoodies rather than suits.
Taipei's first Digital Art Festival opens today at 6pm and promises to be a breath of fresh air for those of us who are tired of the same-old, uninspired productions from the art scene of our capital city.
So, expect the unexpected. Singing water, sounds that become visions, works of art made from bubbles, skeleton-like animal structures that walk using wind power, clothes that make music and improvised performances will all be on show.
These are extraordinary constructs that are intended to enlighten, entertain and challenge preconceptions about the world. Think fantastical 21st century William Heath Robinson inventions or the "pataphysical" world of Alfred Jarry brought to life. Digital art is not just about computers and Photoshop, nerds and their toys.
It makes sense for Taiwan to be hosting such an event. As Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) pointed out when he announced the event a couple of weeks ago, the country "plays a crucial role in the global development of high technology."
What: The Digital Art Festival starts today at 6pm and continues until Nov. 19. Where: It is being held at the Zhongshan Hall (中山堂), 98 Yenping S Road, Taipei (台北市延平南路98號) and the Red House Theater in Ximending (紅樓劇場), 10 Chengdu Rd, Taipei (台北市成都路10號). Further details: Available on the bilingual Web site www.dac.tw/daf06. Or call (02) 2773-6980.
Despite this and a history of local digital art that stretches back to 1985, Taiwan has been nowhere near the cutting edge and has failed to make the most of its natural advantages: clever, resourceful people and a high-tech environment.
As such one of the aims of the curatorial team that has put together the Digital Art Festival is to "cultivate a lifestyle that integrates creativity," according to its mission statement. Translated, this means we may be computer savvy and wired up, but we have failed to make the most of this by incorporating art into everyday life and producing great works.
Festival curator Alf Chang (張賜福) was involved in the Navigator event held two years ago in Taichung that tried to enliven the digital arts scene. It was a success among those who knew about it, but preaching to the converted didn't change anything for the majority.
"We have plenty of people with good computer or engineering skills and there is government and business support for this. What we don't have much of is people like these who have an art sense," said Chang, seated among piles of electronica at his temporary Zhongshan Hall office earlier this week.
"We are bringing over some of the best digital artists in the world as part of a project to inspire digital art here. This is a different kind of exhibition and could [herald] the start of a new tradition."
Paul de Marinis, artist and associate professor of studio art at Leland Stanford Junior University in California, said digital artists are "in a tradition rather than traditional" and believes if they introduce something that is different, then it has a kind of magical quality that can be inspiring.