Posted: November 7th, 2023
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November 7, 2023
Shu Lea Cheang Influence on Asian Queer Community
Shu Lea Cheang is a famous Taiwanese filmmaker and new media artist renowned for her unique art. Born in 1954, Cheang has dedicated her life to fighting against stereotypes, particularly Asian and LGBTQ stereotypes. Her work is unique because of how it facilitates viewer interactions. Cheang uses various media, including film, web interfaces, and virtual technology. However, she is more famous for how she intertwines technology and social issues. Cheang’s early works brought to light the plight of transgender men in America and Asia by exploring the 1993 rape and murder of Brandon Teena. Her recent works explore how different technologies confine and control society. Even though digital art remains relatively new, Cheang has already established herself as an internet art pioneer, renown for exploring the dynamic relationship between technology, sex, gender, and surveillance.
Shu Lea Cheang’s career has spanned decades in different types of art. The artist constructs networked installations of participatory performances. The collection begins as early as 1971, with the bulk of pieces being made from 1989-to 2002. Even though Cheang’s collection includes most of her creations, prominent features include Making News Making History: Live from Tiananmen Square (1989-1990); and Color Schemes (1989). Cheang drafts science fiction narratives in her films. She also creates social interfaces with transgressive narratives that allow public participation. For instance, Cheang’s 3X3X6 art installation was the first web art ordered by the Guggenheim museum (Cundy 1). From introducing cyber art in the 90s to her current use of 3D technology, Cheang’s career will continue changing in accordance with technological advancements in digital media.
Cheang’s performative artworks seek to challenge and transform normative representations of race, sexuality, and gender. According to the artist, the socially constructed body is a site for potential control, violence, and liberation (Oishi 24). Such an ideology is evident in Cheang’s commemoration of Brandon Teena at the Guggenheim Museum. The performative artwork is a year-long web narrative on Brandon, followed by a brief description of Julian Dibbell’s A Rape in Cyberspace (Cundy 1). Cheang creates public awareness of transgender issues in cyberspace by drawing connections between the two stories. Two other broader concerns highlighted by Cheang’s work include the criminalization and medication of individuals considered sexually deviant. For instance, Cheang’s Guggenheim collection is overlaid with virtual prisoners undergoing treatments and surgeries. The illustration sheds light on how healthcare and the criminal justice system reinforce discriminative representations of race, gender and sexuality.
Cheang’s work pieces also inform on the hazards of current technologies. Cundy states that Cheang draws admiration from fellow artists through her perseverance in using many visual ideas and technologies (1). Cheang’s mastery in using technology has made her a credible voice in the criticism of modern technology. In a 2017 Art Spectacle International Asia interview, Cheang claims that technology has transformed society into the biggest panopticon (Cundy 1). Privacy is a modern illusion given the state of data collection and facial recognition. The prison portrayal mirrors China, which has over 200 million cameras with face recognition technology. Technology acts as a double-edged sword by providing opportunities for individuals to explore their identities while reinforcing conventional asymmetries of power, networked violence and censorship in everyday life. The argument is best seen in Cheang’s 3X3X6 art installation at the 58th Venice Biennale.
In 2019, Cheang debuted her 3X3X6 piece, a site-specific project in Venice conveying the plight of ten historical figures. The artwork reflects the transformation of surveillance techniques to include 3D facial recognition and internet tracking (Cundy 1). The artwork’s title is symbolic of the nine square meter dimensions of a prison cell that are constantly monitored by six cameras. The small room represents the new architectural design for industrial prisons. The project uses the theme of physical space and surveillance to instigate discussions on contemporary ideation of freedom and control in democratic societies (Cundy 1). Cheang encourages viewers of the project to envision a world without prisons, physical and epistemological. The author’s sentiments reflect her experiences in Taiwan as a homosexual female. The oppressive regime uses surveillance and law to criminalize same-sex relationships. The controversial portrayal of regimes as impediments to human freedom and liberty underpins the art project’s popularity. The project is a massive contribution to the digital avant-garde, informing on oppressive political actions in digital times.
Society needs frameworks to assess the internet as a space for gender, politics, and neoliberal capitalism. Shu Lea Cheang’s timeless film and new media projects illustrate how technology influences conventional sensitivities and power structures. Cheang’s work warns of a dystopian digital and virtual world with heightened hate, violence, and marginalization of the LGBTQ community. 3X3X6 is a powerful reminder of why society should embrace an empowering and collective vision that reinvents hegemonic norms. New media art can shape the internet from being an enabler of heteronormative capitalism to a platform of liberated diverse voices. Shu Lea Cheang’s career highlights the importance of committing to rejecting stereotypes for a more fulfilling existence. With technology making the world smaller, society will need more artworks that smash boundaries instead of politely nudging them. New generations will continue using new media art to demonstrate that this small world’s current perspective is plural.
Cundy, Antonia. “‘Living itself is Political’: Artist Shu Lea Cheang on Resisting Stereotypes.” Financial Times, 11 January 2019, www.ft.com/content/ebdd690a-1414-11e9-a581-4ff78404524e, Accessed 16 June 2022.
Oishi, E. (2007). “Collective orgasm: The eco-cyber pornography of Shu Lea Cheang.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 20-44.
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