Virus City, 2020
The latest work Virus City is a virtual reality program, I use icons as a metaphor to discuss with the audience about a serious global issue in 2020---The COVID 19 Virus.
Background: In this Corona Virus disaster, the Eastern and the Western world appeared various problems, whatever politics, economy or ideology. During the defense with COVID 19 time, it seems like a world war between human-beings and an invisible enemy, but the issue around the world is highly related to the economic and political decisions with different countries. Death, liberty, nationalism, racialism are showed on the international stage immediately. Social media as a popular space to gather these issues together.
I would like to discuss with the audience a few questions through this work.
----Who is the real killer for human beings? The Virus? The policy? The economy?The ideology? The answer should be various, I expect.
There are some icons on the ‘sculptures’ which have coronavirus- shaped in the virtual reality city. These icons are represented a different aspect of global issues I mentioned above. The audience will explore in this virtual city. When they realise they are in a full of icons world, in another word, full of issues world, they might have a good opportunity to rethink, to compare, to reflect, to change their mind about the COVID-19 crisis. Their answer is opened, they might have a new cognise, new conclusion or new concept about the world.
Inspiration and Research
The initial idea of this work comes from two aspects, one is an inspiration of the theme, the other is the continuous exploration of my research question.
"The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they're lying, they know we know they're lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them."
― Elena Gorokhova, A Mountain of Crumbs
This excerpt has become a popular quotation in China today. This is not only a question of the Chinese themselves but also a question of human beings now under the impact of the pandemic. It attracted me to think about the incident and tried to express thoughts and doubts.
Under the influence of Covid19 so far, each country's response to this public emergency is not consistent, but the same is that no country is truly open and transparent in the investigation of truth. A lot of false information and news are being promoted every day. In many cases, information is to protect the interests of politicians rather than to disclose the truth to the public objectively.
For example, in Wuhan, China, where Covid19 first broke out, Li Wenliang, the first doctor who discovered the severity of the virus, was detained and warned by the local police because he warned the virus could be a terrifying disaster on social media. After his opinion released on the Internet, the news reported that he was a rumor maker. However, the subsequent butterfly effect made the incident uncontrollable, and the power of the truth has affected everyone. Later, Chinese authorities tried to occupy the top of public opinion in various ways, delete a large number of reports, and turn many words into sensitive topics. Netizens were not able to consult or publish relevant information on the Internet.
In the United States (currently the region with the highest number of cases and the highest number of deaths), the policies and speeches of authorities have been regarded as lies many times. For example, before the epidemic began, the US government announced to the public that the virus was influenza. However, at that time, China and Europe, which were swept by the epidemic, had already declared this was a severe disaster. The authorities were supposed to have time to prevent and learn from experience, but the US authorities did not actively face it. When the virus broke out in the United States on a large scale, the Trump administration chose to blame international organizations and other countries instead of finding the solution.
I take these two countries as an example (both are large in population and most affected by the virus), trying to explore the human factors that caused the disaster. Is it all economic-led policies? Is it the deception and concealment of authorities to stabilize the regime? Or is it blaming each other due to the ideological opposition between East and West? This is a question I tried to explore with this piece of work, but also a question I want to throw to the audience.
Exploration of the research question
My research question throughout the past two years is: How does public art operate in the new digital world?
During the epidemic, people ’s lives have been changed dramatically, and everyone had to obey the regulations to reduce the spread of the virus. The Internet has become the primary tool for people to communicate, work, and entertain. Video conferencing, online concerts, and online shopping have become the mainstream of current life, and many art galleries and art schools have begun to display online artworks. This makes my research topic more meaningful at present. I try to use virtual reality technology to explore the possibility of artwork in the Internet world.
As mentioned above, I have been exploring the application of virtual reality technology for the past two years. This technology originated from my ambition for public art, but I had to choose alternatives because of the limitations of space and funds.
I went to rethink what is public space? The Internet has become my preferred medium. Its user group is expanding, viewer's age is expanding, and technology and capital are constantly invested. It is the most ideal public space, the audience can experience various scenes immersively and communicate online. Major technology companies are developing more comprehensive and cheaper equipment for this technology, so I think it is the best way to display public art.
Why build a city?
In the previous works Tower of babel and Modern History, I created small virtual public artworks. During the exhibition, I got a lot of positive feedback, but the audience hopes to have more space and freedom in the work. Therefore, I created a city for this work to provide a larger and more flexible space for the audience. Among them, I refer to the technology of Google Map VR, adding characters to the flight function, so that the audience can rely on physical limitations while providing more seeing ways.
What is the pattern on the virus?
In this virtual city, there are many virus models with different patterns, which are rolling and floating in this city. I use these patterns as metaphors to express my doubts about the epidemic.
In the city's buildings, pink viruses can be seen. This pattern is from my previous work 'Monopoly'.
In the corner of city, the world ’s major currencies can be found, including US dollars, RMB, British pounds and Euros. These currency viruses can be caught by the audience and thrown out. They are related to the Monopoly virus. I use this relationship to express the power behind capitalism.
On the top of buildings, you can see the red communist icon. I use it to imply that the Chinese government's control of public opinion before this disaster broke out. The Chinese government deleted a lot of news after Dr. Li Wenliang announced that Covid19 would be a disaster, and officially declared him to be a rumor writer. When the virus broke out, Dr. Li Wenliang died as a result, and the people spontaneously posted some articles on the Internet to mourn the hero, but it didn't take long for this article to be deleted. I think that the social atmosphere full of political declarations and unrestricted speech is also a reason for the disaster.
Above the city, there is a virus with a nuclear weapon symbol, and on top of it there is an American truck and a Chinese dragon sculpture. This is derived from the conspiracy theory of the foreign ministries of the two countries-the virus was produced by one of these two countries. At present, the Chinese government refuses to investigate the investigation of Covid19 by the investigators, and the United States also refuses any organizations and institutions to investigate. The secret behind this is currently unclear. I use these elements to express the current opposition between China and the United States and the secret behind it.
Experiment and practice
This piece is modeled with "Sketch up" and programmed with "Unity". I also tried "Blender".
The model of the entire city comes from Sketchup's warehouse. I modified it and added the environment, such as mountains, woods, and transportation. In the process of modeling, I was inspired by the movie "Blade Runner". I used similar tones and ambient light to render the atmosphere of my work. And transportation in the movie is also impressive to me, so I added some helicopters and spaceship models and sound effects to enhance the futuristic sense of this virtual city and the dystopian atmosphere.
After modeling, the most complicated part is programming. Because this work requires virtual reality technology, then I learned "Unity software". As a new technology, it does not have many tutorials to learn, so in most cases I need to try many times myself to achieve the desired effect. The most difficult part is that I need to program the controller of the VR glasses to achieve synchronous control. For example, to distinguish the sound effects when running and walking, how to control the direction of flight, and the rhythm of the model's light, all need to be completed by" C +" language. At this time, I met a Chinese software engineer through a friend. He is professional in VR technology, so this part is done together in our communication. I also learned programming skills, and now I can do some basic programming.
The ideal space for future VR works is every viewer's home. However, VR technology has not been popularized, so it is necessary to exhibit in the gallery. I want to let more audiences feel the charm of the new technology.
So I designed the exhibition plan for the South London Gallery. To display it, I need a plinth (A modified Bench), which can place a projector, a PC, and an extension lead. The size of the plinth is about 300cmX60cmX40cm. Since the video is to be played, a low light environment is required. A 3mX3m activity area needs to be set up behind the plinth, players can move freely in this area. (Of course, I can also use a wheel sensor, which is similar to a treadmill. Audiences can run freely while standing on it, which no longer needs to be moved by hand controllers. Other audiences can sit on the bench and see the VR video displayed on the wall.
The budget for this work is about 300 pounds, of which 150 pounds for a plinth and paint (the colour is changeable according to the gallery), 60 pounds for transportation, 50pounds for insurance and 40 pounds for the treadmill (if rentable)
My VR equipment and computer can be exhibited repeatedly, so it is not included in the exhibition budget.