The works shown here are my practice from 2018 to 2020. They are highly related, from the Historical Symbols to the Monopoly. The Arc also contains failed works, but they point out the direction for my research.
My working style is 'addition first and then subtraction'. I first add all elements which I have researched or created together, and then slowly delete some as needed.
Digital print on canvas
The Monopoly is my recent experiment, I tried to use metaphors to discuss the game rules of China- United States trade war. This work is an important experiment, some elements are used in the latest work Virus City.
I also made a physical work to explore my idea, but I am not satisfied with it. Because it is a little bit far away from my research question.
This piece of work was inspired by news that Iranian General Sulaymani was assassinated by US military drones at Baghdad Airport in Iraq on 3rd Jan.2020. The reporter commented: “In this world, some first-class countries are a chess player, some secondary-class countries are chess pieces, and the third-class countries become a chessboard.” What he emphasizes here is the division of military power levels. The Middle East has been the focus of the East-West game since the Cold War. Now it is the most important area for China and the US because of the petrol.
Therefore, this news inspired me to use the chessboard as a metaphor to explore the current confrontation and impact of the China-US trade war.
Specifically, I use Chinese chess, Western chess, and Monopoly to represent China, the United States, and capitalism. On both sides of the board are Chinese chess pieces and Western chess pieces. In the case where both sides move in accordance with their own rules, the 'soldier' of Chinese chess and the 'pawn' of western chess will be opposed first. I want to use this method to metaphorize disputes in the Middle East.
Moreover, the monopoly chessboard is on the periphery of the entire work, which implies a potential factor in the game between China and the United States-capitalism.
The Tower Babel is an installation work in a virtual reality space, the audience can use VR equipment to experience it in any indoor space. This work focuses on the question 'How does the public artwork operate in the virtual space?' In this work, I tried to get rid of the limitations of physics and challenged the way of seeing.
When viewers use VR devices, they will be in the center of this tower that full of various social media icons. The background sound is composed of noisy news broadcasts. If they listen carefully, they will find that it is composed of Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. The audience can go out through a gate of this tower, and there is an infinitely wide space outside. Looking back, the tower is a cylinder with a diameter of about 10 meters and a height of about 200 meters, physically. The audience can walk around the tower (if the VR treadmill is available to use), or use VR controllers to move. However, the observation method of this work is not limited to the laws of physics. The audience can press the keys on the controller to fly, to be able to observe the work at any angle.
In terms of the content of this work, I was inspired by the major social media sites after the March 2019 Hong Kong protest. After this parade, the reports of Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Western held their own word and tried to overwhelm the other party ’s voice with mass propaganda. This incident reminded me of the story of the Tower Babel in the Old Testament of the Bible.
The Tower of Babel is from the Old Testament of the Bible. According to legend, after the ‘Flood’, a group of people who only spoke one language decided to build a tower that could cross the sky to solve life problems. When God saw this scene, he disrupted their language so that they could no longer understand each other and spread it all over the world.
In today's Internet era, social media has become mainstream mass media. Views on one thing have completely different attitudes and interpretations. These social media opposed each other, blocked each other, and tried to cover up each other's views. During the protests in Hong Kong, the Chinese media and the Western media were in opposite positions. In mainland China, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked from the Internet wall. On Youtube and Twitter, the content of Chinese media has also been deleted or restricted for viewing.
Experiment and Practice
I use the most popular social media icons in the world to build a Babel in the Internet age. In order to express the problem of communication barriers of the current era rising to ideological opposition. Is it because the internet media distorted the facts? Or is it vicious competition driven by related powers and interests? This is the question I want to ask audience through this work.
In the way of viewing this work, I added the ‘flying’ skill to explore the way of seeing in the virtual reality space, which not only broke the restriction of installation conditions in the real space but also provided a different seeing possibilities for public art.
The feedback from the audience is different. Some people believe that a large number of social media icons make this work look like a commercial. I agree with this point. This was not taken into account when I created it.
In the Emergency exhibition, some audiences like this work. They realized a new way of seeing the works. They also hope to have more flexible space in my works. So I have referred to their opinions and created ‘virus city’
Modern History is an installation in a virtual reality space. The audience needs VR equipment to experience in any indoor space. This work is one of the main projects of my research question. I am trying to explore: In the new digital world, what is ‘public’? How does art enter these spaces?
When the audience wears the device, they will be in a closed black space. In front of the audience is a set of red curved high walls, like a maze. The red high wall flashes at a regular rhythm, accompanied by a strong breathing sound (BGM). When the audience explores the path many times in the space surrounded by the high wall, he will get to the very center of the "Maze", where there is a white cylinder about three meters high. Its surface is filled with traditional Chinese characters. If the audience read it carefully, he will know that it is a few pages of the traditional Chinese family tree. Like the high wall, the white cylinder flashes at a regular rhythm, but the rhythm is opposite-when the brightness of the red wall becomes stronger, the white cylinder becomes weaker. The average time for the audience to experience this work is five minutes.
In terms of the content of the work, I was inspired by some movies and novels about modern Chinese history. Combining the current Chinese social environment, I tried to use two traditional Chinese elements, red wall and family tree to discuss: the relationship between each generation and the changes in the political environment in modern Chinese history.
Since the end of the 19th century in China, behind each generation there has been a vastly different background and political environment. From the demise of the Qing empire to the Republic of China established, the world war to the civil war, the 'Great Leap Forward' in the communist era, the 'Cultural Revolution' to the semi-capitalist period after opening to the world, these huge social changed every generation of ideology and lifestyle. And interestingly, in recent years, it has been very popular in China to use ten years as a unit to refer to people of different ages. For example, people who were born in 1952 are called post- 50s, those born in 1973 are called post- 70s, and those born in 2012 are called post-10s, which shows the difference behind this unit.
Genealogy in China is a book that records the reproduction and important deeds of a family lineage. Part of the book is the first name of each generation, which was specified in advance when building a family tree. This idea is from the previous work 'Geneology' which is showed below this project.
The red high wall is a commonly used element in Chinese architecture. Red was once exclusive to the royal family and was widely used by communists. The high wall was widely used in China, for example, every city had high walls, and sentries were set up on the high walls to limit city activities and defend against foreign enemies. (This habit has been retained in the 21st century Internet era, China's Internet 'high wall' restricts international network connectivity.) I use this element to represent central power. The white cylinder in this work is the name of people in the family tree from the late 19th century to the 21st century. I use them to represent the changes of each generation of Chinese in modern history.
The alternate flashing of red walls and columns is a metaphor in my work. I think the differences between each generation of Chinese have a great relationship with the central power. As the central power (energy) becomes greater, the individual's power (energy) becomes smaller and vice versa. I expect that audiences understand China's modern history through this work, and understand the country that has undergone the most global changes since the 20th century.
This work is a milestone for me. This is my first time using VR technology to realize my idea, and I found the research direction here.
In the previous experiment, I tried to use the rendering to show my public art concept, but the effect was not good. My goal is to create work that the audience can really immerse in it, so the work must be three-dimensional and large-scale. At this time, I thought of the VR game device that I have experienced in the mall. I guessed this technology can realize the simulation of public art. Then I bought a piece of second-hand equipment on eBay to start the experiment.
This technology was born in 2017, so far it has not been popularized. Therefore, I need to explore all the technologies and development by myself. There were very few resources available on the Internet, so I spent 4 months studying how to build and code. I learned Sketchup modeling before I met a video game engineer in China. He was very interested in VR art. So we completed the programming through 2 months. In this process, I learned the "Unity" programming to develop VR models to lay the foundation for later creation.
Image for VR devices
The Genealogy is an early experiment. I tried to create a virtual space to break the restrictions of environment and funds on public art.
This piece is composed of multiple translucent materials, similar to glass. Each piece is printed with traditional Chinese characters, which come from my family tree. From front to back: the cover of the family tree, a brief history of the family, and the names of each family member.
Genealogy is an indispensable part of Chinese traditional culture and it is also an important historical document. It carries the history and celebrity deeds of a family, for example, the family rules, family mottos. These mottos in the family tree discuss the construction of the family environment and family atmosphere from the beginning with a positive and progressive life value and attitude.
When I came to London for the first time, as a foreigner, I was often asked 'Where are you from?' In this multicultural environment, I began to think about the cultural origin of my family.
I borrowed my family tree from a relative. From compilation to circulation, this family tree already exists a century history. It tells the story of the integration and migration of my ancestors since the 16th century. I believe this book reflects the most traditional Chinese understanding of family concepts.
During the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, this book was kept secretly to avoid confusion. After China implemented the "one-child " policy in the 1980s, due to the lack of peers, genealogy began to lose its effect. So I tried to make the family tree as a monumental public artwork to show this story to the audience.
This work is a continuation of ‘Historical Symbols’. I started to think about the relationship between personal identity and history from this work. During the research, I learned more about the history and political events of modern China and took them as one of the research objects. It is also because this work made me aware of the simplex and politicization of Chinese public art, so I decided to do more personal public art as a response to it.
The Historical Symbols is my first exploration of the virtual space.
This piece of work is inspired by museum exhibits. I tried to use this work to explore the possibility of museum exhibits and the attribution of exhibits.
The figures, artworks, and machines in this work are from museums in London and New York, and they represent important periods in Western history. I tried to find the possibility of displaying museum works by merging them. And I hope that the audience can think about the ownership of these artworks because in these museums, most of the works are stolen, so I was thinking if museums need to return the works to the original? Or the physical work is no longer important? Will future museum collections only need virtual space?
I also tried to make a physical work. But soon I rejected it because I think it deviated from my research direction. However, through this physical work process, I learned woodwork skills and screen printing skills.