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A Leap into the Unknown

Johanna Lou, Lann Ya 2017-04-10 10:03

    Science fiction, astrology, and human destiny

Human beings have been exploring the universe in their imaginations for thousands of years, whether in recent science fictions, films, or art creations. They drive discussions of astronomy into our daily life, pulling distant theorems into close proximity. Meanwhile, pseudo - science topics like astrology have been accepted into main - stream culture as a guide map of our behavior. Whether it is astronomy or astrology, algebra or quantum physics, they all represent a different way of understanding the world around us. In artist Yin-Ju Chen’s mind, the realms of science and pseudoscience, belief and knowledge - they are all interde - pendent. So the occult and science coexist in her works; they are intertwined to challenge the audience to discard their beliefs. She says: “the fastest way to understand the intention of the universe is through your heart.”


Chen is a multimedia artist from Taiwan, China. After graduating from Taipei National University of the Arts, she obtained a Master’s degree from the Behavior and Video Art Institute at San Francisco Art Institute. From video and painting to photography, Chen’s unique narrative style and themes has earned her global attention. Last year, the artist held an exhibition at the Center for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester; the work Extrastellar Evaluations II: A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems will be displayed on the group exhibition ‘Line of Times’ at Mill6 Foundation in Hong Kong.

Her lined natal charts draw from the foundations of astrology and planetary motion; her artistic charts can be compared to motions of stellar objects, whose invisible gravity affects human behaviors in the galaxy. They are often depicted as a circular path to symbolize time in nonlinear flow, encouraging viewers to rethink the unpredictability of human destiny.

Extr astellar Evaluations II

Extrastellar Evaluations II is a large-scale audio and video installation art, inspired by the historical debate on geocentric theory and heliocentric theory. Prominent within the project is a double-screen animation illustrating the contrasting views (geocentric theory vs heliocentric theory) of our cosmos with dual channel sound dialogue adapted from Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, adding Chinese philosophy from Tuan Zhuan, Xi Ci, Wen Yan of Zhou Yi in English. Out of its importance, the exhibition prepared Chinese text to help understanding.


As Chen says, the so-called ‘line’ in her works is a line without beginning or end. Just as in the recent Hollywood hit movie Arrival, its time concept is nonlinear, Buddhists believe that human beings belong to such cycle as well. Aristotle once said there is no linear motion in an orderly universe, because everything will not move to somewhere out of its reach; therefore, only stationary and circular motion match universal order. So, whether it is geocentric theory, heliocentric theory or Buddhist reincarnation, artists believe that time is cyclical, a person’s life is merely a simple cure of a vast circle, where exists its own time cycle, as the concept of Deferent and Epicycle put forward by Ptolemy. Although the image applies physical formulae of the two main systems, it also attempts to express time as a cycle in stacked layers.


Chen is fascinated by the notion of an invisible driver of fate; the influence of the planets on humans. The most obvious extraterrestrial influencer is the sun; our mood is proven to be linked to the weather. The artist believes that in the solar system, those spherical objects composed of various substances have strong influences on the earth. Such invisible drive has come a long way in human civilization, and it also has played an important role in her recent works. That is ‘astrology’.


Chen once said in an interview that alchemy, astrology, and medicine were once interlinked. In her astrology study process, she found that each textbook mentioned a huge knowledge system of occult science including alchemy, synchronicity, myths and so forth. In further study, she was surprised at such broad and profound knowledge system with thousands of years of history and logic, like a bottomless pit. It also drove Chen to believe that ‘everything in the world is closely related’. 

In the practice of language use, the artist expects the audience to understand the concept of a small universe and a huge one through the whole installation, even if the meanings of symbols in occult science are far beyond the audience. As the famous saying from German philosopher Schopenhauer goes, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills”. In the face of the game between astronomy and astrology, reason and perception, Chen admits that she is never a rational person; on the contrary, she is very emotional, impulsive, and even irrational. Perhaps we cannot figure it out simply from her works, or even the expression, but she agrees wholeheartedly with Aristotle, “Experience rather than rationality”. In her creation, she is always dealing with deep ‘feelings’ inside. Through amplification of personal perception patterns, coupled with layers of filters, so that real feelings escapes the audience.

Hypnosis, Subconscious, and Mechanism


Wang Xin speaks softly with a sweet voice. We may be deceived by the pink elements in her works and jump to conclusions about the creator being a girly-girl, but the young multimedia artist is an enigma - having received GPST international hypnotist certification and completing a year of training for the second level national psychological counselors. Meanwhile, she also works on the future of science and technology. Have a look at her personal website, those mysterious lines and grid points may confuse you whether she is a tech geek or an extraor - dinary creator. Briefly, you may feel that your past cognitive system is ‘hacked’. 

Wang Xin graduated from New Media Department of China Academy of Art in 2007, later receiving a Master's degree in art film, video, new media and animation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her works are mainly in the form of installations and videos, and psychology, subconscious and artistic ecosystems are the main subjects. As a qualified hypnotist, Wang's works have the fascinating power to evoke a strong emotional response. On one hand, with the help of hypnosis and psychology, she explores forms of artistic creation under subconscious in nonphysical ways. On the other hand, she challenges the status of contemporary artists and the operation of the art market via her exaggerated slogans and distinctive language devices.


About hypnosis

For Wang Xin, the most fascinating subject is exploring the possibilities of the subconscious under hypnosis, includ - ing the potential for artistic creation. “A few years ago, some artists told me that a great senior artist was good at hypnosis, which sounded like a wizard capable of interpreting crystal balls.” Wang recalls, “Out of curiosity, I came to ‘8 Hertz laboratory’ at her imagination lab in Hangzhou and tried hypnosis for the first time. The first hypnosis ended in failure, but then the second time, with her patient guidance, I really reached the hypnosis state and felt like when the doctor in Doctor Strange first observed himself as a soul outside the body. It was incredible.”

Wang said she began to think about the spiritual level, especially dreaming, during her undergraduate study. In 2008,she tried self-hyposis for the first time, which resulted in one of the few times she succeeded. She said she didn't really want to be under hypnosis, but just to get into dreams and have a fun. When describing the state of hypnosis, she lights up: “I was floating, it really felt like floating and I was outside the window, where came the dream.” In Wang's view, hypnosis is indeed a very focused state as another kind of sober. It is to close our external eyes and open our inner eyes instead.


Through hypnosis, she tries to examine various possibilities of inner artistic expressions under hypnosis. Her test subjects could be real artists; some of them even launch another unconstrained creation under hypnosis, and begin to describe the amazing scene in English. Of course, the effect of hypnosis varies from person to person and it doesn’t always work. She usually judges whether subjects reach the state by observing their breath, expression, and coordination. When asked whether it’s difficult to learn hypnosis, she replies it's not a hard nut to crack but it does need good teachers and lots of practice. Interested readers could click on her official website to learn about the 8 Hertz lab and sign up as volunteers.

About pink

Those who have read Wang Xin's works must be impressed by her (almost entirely) rich neon pink element. The pink series is her reflection on contemporary artistic ecology. We can say Wang looks inside with 40% energy to explore our inner self through hypnosis, dreams, and psychology, then another 40% of her energy must be exploring the contemporary art ecological system, creating a moving and changeable pink ‘gallery’. As an offbeat exhibition space, a framework, and a platform, it allows any interested person to participate in. There are no ‘artists’ with professional background or market value, nor sales, or trades. Such utopia-like operation is ‘pink’,because Wang thinks pink is a kind of sexy color to simulate the artistic ecology, similar to ‘red light district’. Besides the ‘gallery’, recently Wang has also created pink slogans and related interactive performance art. These slogans are ‘ambiguous’ and direct reveals of the art industry. With neon lights on a small cart marked "This is an important artwork", the ‘actors’ push the cart in an art fair to scatter such absurd but thought-provoking slogan. "Let's play in the name of art” seems like a joke pointed to various phenomena in contemporary art ecology. "We love as we bubble bath". Well, it seems there’s nothing wrong with it, right?


As mentioned, 40% of Wang’s energy goes into hypnosis, 40% into artistic ecology, then the remaining 20% into study and research on science, mechanism, future and artificial intelligence. Although Wang labels herself as only “1/4 geek”, she is obsessed with mechanics. Standing at the intersection between perception and reason, she absorbs energy from both sides and integrates different perspectives, presenting art with rich layers of creation and expression, and in the end, observes humanity’s state of existence.

Secrets of network image and Emoji

Xinyi Zhang’s recent "Icon" series roused heated discussion in the art industry, attracting various collectors from home and abroad. Her works are also highly recognizable, such as the well-known Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Manet's Olympic can be easily figured out. The most eye-catching point is how Zhang works out the series. She selects famous paintings as subjects, uses computer drawing tools and basic lines to modify and remove delicate brush - work, colour and light, and eventually, she leaves simplified significant lines and saturated colour. That’s where those flat famous paintings come from. The depth of emotion and space stressed by the light in oil paintings is layered out; instead, visual emotion is enlarged through simple and intuitive graphics. When people project themselves into the painting, they are fascinated by such nonverbal visual expression.


Zhang, who was born in 1987, was brought up in the company of classical paintings. She could clearly recall when she was young, her father would cut out famous paintings from old calendars to frame them and hang in the narrow room, works such as Avignon Girl, Guernica, and The Unknown Girl and Annunciation. Zhang said, “It was my father’s most cost-effective education investment.”

Though under artistic influence, Zhang majored in stage painting at The Central Academy Of Drama, which was far from ‘art history’. At the same time, without much advertising and communication education background, she still worked on some advertising and creative design. The talented girl worked on designs and planning with ease, and therefore stayed in the advertising industry after graduation. Given the passively chosen career, Zhang still held a dream for art. "Were it not for now, I would regret later." In 2014, she enrolled in the graduate of Central Academy of Fine Arts and began working on the "Icon" series. 


In fact, before the "Icon" series, her "the Classic of Moun - tains and Rivers" Emoji went viral on the Internet. Zhang learnt about the Classic of Mountains and Rivers when she was young and was attracted by the weird images. Emoji was her topic in graduate school, she found the two subjects have something in common, the Classic of Mountains and Rivers is people’s imagination of unknown mysteries in ancient times, while Emoji is icon, which could be traced back to the ‘totem’ in ancient times, or direct contact tools across geographical and ethnic difference in current times, they both consist a collage of fragmentary world views. Moreover, here comes an Internet era, "the spread of the Internet points to keywords more, the Classic of Mountains and Rivers and Emoji are two keywords easy to spread, therefore causing chemistry when combined together."

In this light, Zhang’s “Icon” series is the effect of the spread of the Internet. The series seem like a response to being symbolic and flat in the present era, but the series result from how people tend to think in a flat way. Zhang said, "My work style is indeed 'pop'. While pop art is characterized by its distinct images, why should I work on art history? I try to figure out a violent interpretation on classic works of art and history through such seemingly violent images and strict black edges. In fact, it exactly shows how to turn those in-depth art works into flat ones." It is a common response under the influence of network aesthetic tastes, also Zhang’s response to such phenomenon.


When it comes to the inevitable picture that contemporary arts are valued in the context of commercial market, do commercialized art works still hold the power to ‘tell’? In this regard, Zhang is very optimistic. Under the circumstance that most of her creation in the “Icon” series has been collected, she thinks commercial and artistic values are not contradictory. She hopes to develop art works’ commercial values, and meanwhile, business is not a diluent of art; on the contrary, it may be how viewers look into works and bring artistic values of works into play. Zhang also said, "today, the figure of art is so vague that business and art can be transformed at any time. Art is not real art itself. To some extent, business is the ’equity’ of art." She is also sober and rigorous, rejecting the “Icon” series to turn into popular goods. Does the art still hold the power to tell? There's still a lot to tell via the art.

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