Looking Forward with Michael Rau and Ha Na Lee

What’s on the Horizon for Digital Art?

In this second set of interviews (read the first here), we hear from Michael Rau and Ha Na Lee. Michael is the artistic director and co-founder of Wolf 359—a narrative technology company that uses theater and technology to tell stories. Artist Ha Na creates new media, installation art, and experimental films with her partner James Hughes.

Temping—an immersive installation by Wolf 359

Michael Rau

theater director, educator
michaelrau.com

What is a new opportunity in digital art you are most excited about?

I am excited about the possibilities and affordances of augmented reality technology. With the success of Pokemon Go and with the ubiquity of powerful mobile phones, I see audiences are ready and excited for these types of experiences.

There seem to be many untapped opportunities for creators to bring storytelling into the real world, and to play with the juxtaposition of stories in physical space that are augmented by handheld screens. I’m fascinated by technology that can help develop mixed reality storytelling, and to make that into a viable art-form.

What is a new challenge in digital art that we need to overcome?

We don’t have strong models for satisfying storytelling in augmented or virtual reality yet. Cinema’s earliest focus was on expanding and contracting time. AR/VR and other immersive media forms use space as the primary storytelling medium, and we need to find a way to tell stories well through space.

Furthermore, the technology has excellent tools for viewing, but imperfect tools for interaction — the handsets for Oculus or the HTC Vive, as well at the limited interactions of iPhone, only allow for touching and swiping interactions. We need better tools for interaction before we can really begin to explore new forms of storytelling.

Understanding the relationship between advances in technology and changes in storytelling is vital.

How can artists best prepare for what’s next? What skill(s) do you see as being most crucial and valuable going forward?

Many new-media tech artists do not have a well-rounded education in the history of storytelling. Most lack a basic knowledge of theater, literature, and art. I would suggest that new tech artists take the time to study theater history, and look at the evolution of storytelling from Greek to medieval to contemporary drama, since changes in format or technology in the theater prompt new structures and new stories.

Understanding the relationship between advances in technology and changes in storytelling is vital. For me, building on the work of past theater artists is crucial to my understanding of new technology.

Two Women—installation by Ha Na Lee and James Hughes

Ha Na Lee

experimental film and media artist
hanalee.me

What is a new opportunity created by new tech that you are most excited about?

One of the exciting things about the contemporary digital world is the rapidly falling cost of electronics. The electronics are faster, better, easier to work with, and cheaper. This is similar to the revolution in the early 1960s when video artists could create work with a consumer camcorder instead of film. It didn’t just make it faster/easier/cheaper, it spawned the whole category of video art.

Also, I am excited about the variety of ways to record and represent the moving image: cell phones, projection mapping, drone cinematography, augmented reality, etc.

What is a new challenge created by new tech that artists will need to overcome?

I would say a big challenge facing digital art is the issue of archiving and sustainability. I sometimes imagine what my art practice would be like without a Mac. There will be some other platforms available for sure, but it’s something I’m concerned about as a media artist who really depends on a technological medium.

For instance, Nam Jun Paik’s “T.V. Tower” series has had major issues. The old Samsung CRT TVs need to be replaced, but parts are no longer produced for it. Consequently, his piece can’t be shown with all of the TVs on, due to conservation issues.

How can artists best prepare for what’s next? What skill(s) do you see as being most crucial and valuable going forward?

There’s no central skill creatives need for the future, but I believe media artists need to get out in the world and explore new technology as much as possible. Then research the history of art and digital art to contextualize these new technologies as they become available. Often people see a new piece of technology, and it sparks an idea. Only later do they find out that another artist did something similar with similar of technology 50 years ago!

Research art history and digital art to contextualize new technologies as they become available.

Technology is changing so fast, it’s difficult to keep an eye on everything, much less master it all. The past helps contextualize the future and mitigates the rapidly changing pace.

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