Kung Fu Sets ArtLab in motion

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The exhibition Kung Fu Motion: The Living Archive has opened on April 28, 2018. It accompanies the integration of ArtLab into EPFL’s College of Humanities and kicks off a stimulating series of fresh programs at the intersections of art/science.

Kung Fu Motion is the story of the dynamic traditions of Southern China and Hong Kong’s martial arts, seen through the lens of advanced archival technologies. At the intersection of art, science and ritual practice, the exhibition opens up new perspectives for our embodied engagement with intangible cultural heritage.

Kung Fu Motion is part of a major research initiative between Switzerland and Hong Kong. It is an ongoing collaboration between the Laboratory for Experimental Museology (eM+) at the EPFL’s Digital Humanities Institute, the International Goushu Association, and City University of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is an extraordinary reservoir of intangible heritage. From the early to mid 20th century Hong Kong provided refuge to teeming thousands of immigrants from Mainland China, and among them were some of the most prominent martial artists in the world. With globalisation, urbanisation and dwindling number of practitioners, this living heritage made internationally so famous by Jackie Chan and Hong Kong cinema, is now in danger of becoming lost.

“Kung Fu Motion examines strategies for encoding, retrieving and re-enacting this intangible heritage in ways that allow these archives to be ‘alive’ in the present”, says Professor Sarah Kenderdine, Director of eM+ and ArtLab.

The source of the exhibition is the Hong Kong Martial Arts Living Archive, which currently contains 19 kung fu styles and 130 motion capture data sets. These are taolu, pre-arranged movement sequences used for learning, practicing and performing traditional martial arts.

«Kung Fu Motion examines strategies for encoding, retrieving and re-enacting this intangible heritage in ways that allow these archives to be ‘alive’ in the present.»

Exhibition as experiment

“The exhibition brings historical materials together with creative visualisations derived from advanced documentation processes including motion capture, high speed, drone-based and panoramic video,” says Kenderdine. “Archival materials are re-interpreted through motion-over-time analytics and 3D reconstruction and, re-performed through the mediums of augmented and virtual reality and media art. This living archive utilises new immersive and interactive display paradigms to perpetuate the performances of kung fu masters for future generations.”

Kung Fu Motion is exploring the ‘future museum’ and is designed to spark the imagination of diverse audiences: students, designers and creators of virtual reality and future cinema technologies, families and children learning martial arts, sports scientists, scholars of cultural heritage and new museology and, all those interested in the Chinese culture.

Kung Fu Motion

Intersecting digital humanities

The digital humanities bring contemporary scientific practice into a dialogue with the most pressing cultural and societal concerns, thereby providing new tools to broaden our understanding. Digital humanities renew and reconfigure access to a multiplicity of cultural data, unleashing its potential for artists, humanists and scientists. As we enter the ‘post digital’ age, the former boundaries between art and science will actually dissolve into symbiosis. EPFL’s commitment to this endeavour is unique in the world, training the next generation of scientists in the applications of new technologies to profound questions of humanity. ArtLab’s exhibitions and programs are one expression of this endeavour.

A new lab for experimental museology, a fresh vision for ArtLab

Kung Fu Motion is a project of EPFL’s new Laboratory for Experimental Museology (eM+), a new transdisciplinary initiative at the intersection of immersive visualisation technologies, visual analytics, aesthetics and cultural data. eM+ is led by Prof. Sarah Kenderdine.

In late 2017, ArtLab was integrated into EPFL’s College of Humanities, which also includes the school’s Institute of Digital Humanities. ArtLab is placed under the directorship of Prof. Kenderdine, for an initial period of three years.

For EPFL, ArtLab’s three dynamic public spaces act as a tangible interface to both access future technologies and debate their use, thereby generating a direct impact on society.

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