Anthology of Metaverses: Creating a New South-East Asian Digital Art Space
Review by Farah Dianputri

A metaverse refers to a collective shared virtual space, where the virtual and physical world converge to create an environment without boundaries. It’s an aspirational vision for a future that balances on a knife-edge between utopia and dystopia. Art’s place within it is fraught with possibilities and danger.

I hopped onto a zoom call with the team behind Anthology of Metaverses, an initiative dedicated to raising the visibility and status of digital art in South-East Asia. One by one, I saw faces flash onto my screen.

Anthology Of Metaverses is creation of James Ly and Amanda Ariewan (both co-founders/ curators), Rimbawan Gerilya (a co-curator and digital artist) and Ian Yong (who is in charge of coding/web-development).

Its inaugural online exhibition, AOM 1.0, was launched on Jan 30 and will be running until April 24. The team has been collaborating remotely between Malaysia and Indonesia to curate the show. The virtual gallery created with Web GL and developed by Ian, makes for an immersive and ever-evolving 3D environment. It places viewers in an open-world simulation – a gallery without walls where you are the sole wanderer in unfamiliar terrain. The virtual gallery changes colour according to the time of day – six transitions that tap into the notion of time change and are embedded in the digital landscape.

In addition to setting up an online exhibition, the collective also seeks to uncover and catalog digital art practices in the region. It also has an upcoming online residency program in which artists are invited to explore and interrogate their digital practice.

I speak to the AOM team about perceptions of digital art in Malaysia and Indonesia, cyber friendships, how the pandemic has impacted and inspired them to set up the initiative, and what went into creating the first online exhibition.

What were your motivations for setting up AOM? What need do you see yourselves fulfilling in the digital arts and South-East Asian art community?

Rimba: I supported this project because currently digital art is mostly in the realm of video games, especially when it comes to 3D design. This is one of the avenues we can take it to another level, to the realm of arts and fine arts. I’ve been advocating for that, that’s my own motivation.

James: You don’t see as much activity in digital art here in South-East Asia. This type of art is not historically a big part in the art and art history of South-East Asia, although Internet art supposedly started with Asian artists1. I think timing was perfect, as the pandemic and the lockdown led to us getting to know each other online. Apart from me and Amanda, the rest of us had never really met each other in real life.

Amanda: Cyber-friends.

James: We first started off talking about Internet art and stuff, and that maybe we should do something for artists. So it’s really to understand it more and learn more about artists working in this medium and for fine artists that are interested to work with digital tech. It’s a way to understand screen culture which has been very much a part of our everyday lives for the last 20 years. We also wanted to address the lack of attention that the contemporary art scene pays to these types of works. It has always been dominated by painting.

Amanda: It was perfect timing because everyone’s attention was diverted to the screen. Even before that I had expressed interest in digital art. I’m not a digital artist – I work in a gallery, so I curate shows and have worked closely with a few digital artists in Bandung. They always expressed their challenges to me, of how hard it was to present their work. Most of the time they provide technical services, so there is a limit for their own expression. Probably Rimba shares that sentiment too, because he’s also a digital artist and he also does commercial work. At the same time, these artists want to create works that are just artistic, but they don’t know where to showcase this. I thought creating a platform for that would be a way to go.

James: We also started because a lot of shows were being cancelled. Even the shows we were involved in were cancelled. There were a lot of artists asking, “why aren’t there online platforms that show art?” Initially, we just thought of opening a space where artists could revive their ambitions for the year. But then the discussion went into more net-art. That’s also where we discovered a lot of artists that were not shown, and nobody knew about them. So that’s the thing, a lot of digital art in general is seen as commercial or lacks the artistic value of the more traditional media. It’s very strange because we spend so much time on the screen. It makes sense that art produced for the screen should be valued in the same way as art produced in traditional media.

The method of curation – that of open world video games – is quite different from other digital art shows which often situates a viewer in a constructed room or just places art on a 2D website. What was the impetus for this and how much of a technical challenge was it to put together?

James: There were actually some challenges, but not as many as we expected. Mainly the idea of this show was to mimic the Internet. Or, a more romanticised version of the Internet with no pay-walls, issues with portals or barriers to access. I think recently these issues have come up a lot. During the 1990s, they said the Internet could not be censored. I think that’s where the idea came from...the Internet was something that could transcend borders and barriers, but now the Internet is in danger of that as well.

Amanda: When you show or curate work in a gallery space – a white cube – there are so many limitations. That’s the whole point of having this virtual space, let’s not have any limitations. That’s why when we discussed the space, we didn’t want any walls, because why would we imitate the real-life spaces we already have?

Ian: There were some technical problems. Most of the works are videos so you can’t load a few MBs into a single page, it would be extremely slow. Everyone would just leave the page, so the curators came up with the idea of posting a thumbnail of the video and it just links to YouTube.

James: That idea was organic and practical, but it also became a way to travel through different worlds. So you can travel into another space, then you come back. Which sort of mimics how you draw through different landscapes, when you navigate through different pages on your web browser.

Marinating on the idea of cross-platform, interdimensional travel takes us back to the meaning behind the collective’s name. We seldom think of ourselves as traversing metaverses when we click onto that link we find on our feed, that takes us to another external site, into whatever rabbit hole you choose to delve deeper into. AOM invites us into a space where we can engage with the online world in a different way. By elevating the status of digital art, it encourages us to look at the digital world as we would look at art, promoting a sustained and more meaningful engagement.

You can visit the Anthology of Metaverses at anthologyofmetaverses.com or on Instagram @anthologyofmetaverses.



1 ‘How Asian Artists Are Leading The Internet Art Movement in New Directions’, Cheung, Ysebelle. Hong Kong Tatler. April 09, 2020, https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/asian-artists-internet-art

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Farah Dianputri is a writer under the CENDANA-ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

Share this article
Copyright © 2021 Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA) | Terms of Service 
Ooops!
Generic Popup