The Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) announced its digital art program stream in support of born-digital and internet art commissions. Inspired by the breadth of artists’ practices within digital contexts, this stream highlights the particularities of producing artwork for the internet while connecting with local, national, and international audiences to provide access, experiences, and conversations across an expanded geography.

The first commission launched is Gary Zhexi Zhang’s (SMACT ’19) The Tourist, 2023, curated by AGYU Assistant Curator Clara Halpern. Zhang’s film tells the story of Zanzibar, China, and Ali Sultan Issa, a man at the center of an uneasy marriage between Afrofuturism and Sinofuturism. It explores a shifting geopolitical atmosphere from the cosmopolitan optimism of the “Bandung Spirit” declaration, signed at the first large-scale Afro-Asian Conference in 1955, to the uncertain alignments of today.

Issa and his comrades sparked a diplomatic romance with communist China in the 1960s and sought to build post-revolutionary Zanzibar in the image of the People’s Republic of China. Zanzibar presented itself as China’s revolutionary pupil, and a spark from which pan-African socialism would flourish. Issa was not only a leading Zanzibari socialist, but would also become its capitalist pioneer. In his “second revolution,” he opened the island’s first resort hotel, spearheading the foreign investment which would later define its fortunes as a tropical tourist paradise.

This newly commissioned film grew out of a dialogue with AGYU Assistant Curator Clara Halpern through the program …this is not made of language but energy, a 2020 series of conversations about born-digital art in which Zhang participated. AGYU also co-published with Strange Attractor Press Catastrophe Time!, an anthology of fiction, essays, and interviews about finance and time edited by Zhang.

Gary Zhexi Zhang is an artist and writer whose work draws connections between cosmology, technology, and economics. He was born in Suzhou and works in London. The opera he co-created with Waste Paper Opera, Dead Cat Bounce, premiered at Somerset House in 2022. His last solo exhibition, Cycle 25, documented events that blur the boundaries between speculative belief and the material world, like natural disasters, scam nations, and cosmic economies. Recent group shows include Katabasis, Totalab, Shanghai; Liquid Ground, UCCA Dune, Beidaihe & Para Site, Hong Kong; and The Principle of Hope, Inside Out Art Museum, Beijing. He is lecturer in Critical Studies at Goldsmiths MFA and taught previously at Parsons School of Design. In 2023, he will be an R&D fellow at Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai. His writing on art, technology and economy have appeared in FriezeArtReviewVerge Journal of Global AsiasJournal of Cultural EconomyMIT Journal of Design and Science, among others.