by Manu SharmaAug 09, 2023
Jason Ting pursues a code-driven new media art practice that blends geometric forms with more abstract, ephemeral bodies of swirling, roiling colour inspired by natural forces and celestial bodies. Many of the artist’s works evoke the distinctly ethereal sensibility that NASA photographs of cosmological phenomena such as black holes, dwarf stars and nebulae hold. Understandably, such imagery will not appeal to every viewer who comes across it and may feel rather generic to many who have been jaded by the endless stream of digital art that populates the internet. However, it is equally likely that Ting’s work will tap into a nostalgic, even aspirational feeling for some, transporting them back to a time when skies were clearer and telescopes were regular participants in evenings well spent. And it may be argued, the artist’s works carry a rather melancholic quality as well; a sadness at the abrupt realisation that, for most of us across the world, light and air pollution have effectively put an end to stories of the cosmos, as told by starry-eyed children. For his part, Ting acknowledges the essence of his craft, telling STIR “My practice is currently focused on investigating phenomena found in the natural world, like gravitation forces, fluid dynamics and light. I have been fascinated with outer space since I was a kid, so it’s not surprising that the aesthetics of some of my work evoke the celestial.”
The digital artist hails from Malaysia and currently lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut in the United States. In the past, he pursued the Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts program at the University of California, San Diego, and began creative coding in earnest in early 2020. “I started learning about creative coding and generative art through the work and teachings of Matt DesLauriers and Zach Lieberman. Since then, I have maintained a practice of creating and sharing a digital “sketch” every day,” he mentions to STIR. Such a commitment is a rigorous undertaking, not the least bit because the artist is simultaneously engaged in other creative endeavours—some of which are on a larger scale.
In 2022, Ting coded and presented Soft Encounters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is a visual work that transforms infinitely over time. The piece was on display in the Dark Gallery Room in The Disruptive Gallery, wherein it emanates a distinctly human warmth that captivates visitors. Ting’s piece is an example of the growing push towards a more emotional and introspective future for digital arts practices. Taken at face value, Soft Encounters resembles a close-up of hazy clouds that shift colour before the viewer’s gaze. The work is calming and uplifting and sparks a moment of pause and reflection within viewers. What is happening underneath the surface, however, will likely be of greater interest to other practitioners within the coding arts ambit that Ting falls under: the artist uses an algorithm to take a one-pixel-wide slice from a texture, and then stretches it vertically in order to produce a spectrum of colour. After this, he applies a second algorithm, so as to give his work the glow that brings about its ethereal quality.
Ting explains that his practice seeks to “experiment with form, light, colour and motion, in order to inspire wonder, reveal the mysterious, evoke delight, and bring about healing.” Soft Encounters, along with other works by him certainly succeed in the sense that they are meditative pieces and feel as though one may stare at them for hours. Returning to the developing tryst between digital art and spiritualism, the desire to engender spaces and moments of healing through a medium that at its very core is essentially mechanical seems to be a preoccupation shared by a growing number of artists working with code. It is interesting to wonder where this might lead, but one imagines that work by Ting and his fellow practitioners may see its application in a therapeutic capacity.
The artist cites the immersive installation work of teamLAB as a point of inspiration, along with the kinetic art of DRIFT and the particular blend of light art and architecture that American artist James Turrell has achieved great acclaim all over the world for. Comparisons between Ting and Turrell may be interesting to make if admittedly a little shaky—after all, Ting has been confined to the screen thus far, and Turrell’s work exists on an often-monumental scale in real space. However, there is a profound sense of peace that many of the light and space master’s works seem to instil within their audiences; pilgrims who travel to Turrell’s permanent installations in search of the magic nary a light artist has been able to create. Ting himself could conceivably produce such a response within his viewers, as some of the underlying qualities within his craft echo Turrell. However, he would need to break away from two-dimensional work in a meaningful way. This is equally true for many others who create within the same vein; coded art deployed on scale is beginning to play a major role in immersive experience design, but too often falls into a position that is subordinate to architecture; too often merely a projection-mapped veil of sorts. Code-based practices must move past their predominant usage as representative artifices, and become artefacts in and of themselves if they are to achieve the same emotional response that large-scale architectural works such as Turrell’s are capable of generating.
Ting seems to have set upon a comparable path, and says, “I would love to experiment more with light and other mediums through physical installations.” This creative journey may very well birth fascinating spaces that act as sites of inward exploration and emotional release. Furthermore, the collaboration between him and others, across mediums, is sure to spark valuable artistic output. It remains to be seen how Ting’s craft will evolve, and the direction his new media oeuvre shall move in, but his commitment to regular production, along with his desire to produce large, physical works is highly promising and suggests big things may come from the new media artist in the near future.