In 1999 Hasnul Jamal Saidon and I founded the pioneering Eart ASEAN Online portal which, as the text on the homepage used to say, was an “interactive resource for electronic art in Southeast Asia. This site consists of a comprehensive Database of new media art including profiles of artists and samples of artworks, a Journal dealing with the historical development of electronic art in South East Asia, theoretical and critical issues related to the use of electronic media in the visual arts as well as reviews and analysis of electronic artworks, a Forum for online discussion as well as Links to related websites worldwide and a space for developing and hosting Webart by Southeast Asian Artists.”
The Webart section of Eart ASEAN set out a criteria for web art and a theory of how online art works might be integrated within the physical infrastructure of offline world. Integrating Peter Anders notion of cybrid space, which involves the complete coalescence of the virtual and the real, and Jochaim Blank’s problematization of the presentation of net projects in physical space, I outlined a curatorial agenda for our own ‘Cybrid Spaces.’ The call for submissions read – “CYBRID SPACES aims to promote the assimilation of the Internet into Southeast Asian art practice. More specifically CYBRID SPACES will facilitate Internet art works and projects that engage with the various institutional and physical spaces of mainstream Southeast Asian art. CYBRID SPACES will work with artists (offline and online) in the region bridging communication gaps in the arts infrastructure of the region. CYBRID SPACES invites projects proposals (send to firstname.lastname@example.org) from artist practicing in the region”.
This first presentation under this rubric was a set of web works that explored this new ontology. These were all works, that featured in the Virtual Curation exhibition at the Ipoh Arts Festival and they were linked via the curatorial essay I wrote for that event. This was the inaugural presentation of CYBRID SPACES and many of the works, particularly Ting Ting Hook’s Tortoise Zone, exemplified the proposed agenda. Sadly, there were no further presentations in this section as, having given it our all for a couple of years, both Hasnul and I moved on to other things.
It must be said, in this regard, that the Eart ASEAN Online portal was clearly ‘ahead of its time.’ This was both, the measure of its success and the cause of its ultimate failure. The project may have arrived at a time when the Malaysian electronic art scene was too well rooted in the analog realm to envisage the benefits of virtual community (this was well before the advent of social media) and dissemination. Also, it seems that the majority of those becoming involved in the new media were more in tune with industry and, although we had incorporated the the applied dimension of the arts into our programme and welcomed them, we could not induce much participation. Most significantly we had set out the geopolitical framework of ASEAN for the project and most of the states involved – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Viet Nam, Lao PDR and Myanmar and Cambodia would take some years before gaining the Internet infrastructure and capacity to participate. Nevertheless, Eart ASEAN laid out the theoretical framework and exemplified the social networking and platform development any such endeavor would have to involve, even today.