Standing before the screen in a dark room, I slip on the ultra-modern glasses and watch as the electronic ocean before me, a sea of dots and lines, reverberates softly. Slowly it undulates, ripples, and then suddenly heaves and sways, replicating my mind’s activity. It is, as the name suggests, a literal “Mind Ocean”. The user who slips on the glasses finds their own brain waves visually fluctuating before them. They are standing in a tide of their own thoughts. This is the work of ZZYW Studio.
A husband and wife team, Zhenzhen Qi and Yang Wang, ZZYW Studio, create interactive and experiential videos among many other technologically advanced projects. Their work focuses on bringing the audience directly into the creative process. The work of art cannot reach its climax of intended use without the audiences reciprocal action. Many of the pairs pieces are reaching out to collaborate with the crowd, and even projects such as the Book of Happiness, relied on outsourced data to complete. ZZYW Studio uses technology to permeate the boundaries between audience and artist, while also creating works that delve into human conditions. Within their art man and machine coexist and coact happily.
Zhenzhen Qi and Yang Wang were both kind enough to expound upon their processes to me, and invite you to play with their pieces at the Chinatown Soup community space.
The Residence & The Mirror
16 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
Justine: I would love it if you could give our readers a look into your background as an artist. What is most important to you as an artist and human? How did you come to create videos and digital art? Who or what are your inspirations?
Yang: I grew up in a small city in northern China. My parents are quiet people. I remember every night after dinner they would sit on the couch reading books or newspapers or watching TV with the volume tuned very low. My mom meditates daily. I followed her to the meditation center every weekend throughout elementary school. It was never something I felt particularly interested or bored about. Naturally, I sort of inherited the quiet lifestyle. After I left my hometown to Beijing for college, I still spent a lot of time alone. I guess that’s partially why I am very drawn to the extreme and the powerful, fascinated by things that express magnificent energy, like oceans, glaciers, Elgar’s music, Etienne-Louis Boullée’s architectures, etc. The sublimity invigorates me, and I have a very strong urge to share it through my artwork.
When did the idea of interactive installations come to you? How did it evolve from beginning to end?
Yang: Video games have been a big part of my life since I was little. Traveling inside the game world, reading the stories and digging deeper into the worldview are the things I enjoy most about video games. I have always dreamed about constructing my own world just like how great game designers have.
After college, I went to the Interactive Telecommunication Program at Tisch School of the Arts for my master degree, where I met my wife Zhenzhen. It’s where we started our practices in programming, and both of us really enjoy it. Combining everything I love together, we started to use code as a main tool for creating artworks.
Below is a video from the Mind Ocean exhibit. The ZZYW Studio website explains,
“An installation is comprised of an EEG brain wave sensor and an animated projection of an ocean. Waves rise and fall in response to the mind activity of the viewer. The Chinese idiom “脑海” could be literally translated into “Brain Ocean”, which is simply an analogical representation of “The Mind”. The mind is like an ocean: mysterious, deep, and almost intelligently incomprehensible. The ancient Chinese were very interested in the relationship between the mind and physical reality. By coining the word “脑海”, they expressed an ideology of connecting reality and the mind. We are fascinated by the analogy and were driven to create something that could represent this idea using new media technology.
We employed the EEG brain sensor and generated the digital ocean. By the EEG sensor, we can get the basic brain activity of the viewer, and then we use it to control the movement of the ocean.”[vimeo 133180912 w=640 h=360]
Your website is full of beautiful and incredible projects. One in particular that caught my eye was the “Data Emotionalization: Book of Happiness”. A lot of your work seems to reach out to the viewer, and this inclusive aspect of your work is marvelous. What concepts or meanings behind your work are most important to you, either within the “Book of Happiness”, or other projects? What do you hope that the viewer will take away with them after seeing your work?
Zhenzhen Qi: In a way, we all wish to get in touch with ourselves in a deeper, more meaningful way, and the journey itself is a very beautiful process. So, we feel very happy when once in awhile, some audiences tell us our work become part of a process that illuminates a new part of themselves.
Famous artist couples have a past all their own in the annals of art history, and I wondered how you and your significant other work together? Is it a very organic work environment, or do you each have particular skills that fit each project? Do you have separate practices besides your work together?
Yang: It is indeed a challenging process. So far, the way we collaborate is sort of like how a team makes a film, there is always a director, usually the one who comes up with the idea. The director controls the artistic part of the project. When it comes to production, we just do what we can.
Besides making projects together, we both make our own projects on the side, with a different focus. But of course no piece is created purely by one, discussion about projects and concepts has been a routine for the two of us. It could happen anytime anywhere.
Technology changes extremely fast these days, however, it is interesting to note how many films and books were written in the past about the world of the 2000’s. Many people thought we would have flying cars and people living on Mars by now…as a very technology based artist, how do you see the world in the future, say 100 years from now? What do you feel are the positive and negatives of technology in the world we live in today?
Yang: Technology is very powerful. It enables us to achieve more. It’s convenient. In a way, the will of technology is the will of humanity. Once in a while, we become lazy and depend on technology for more than it is capable of, and it becomes dangerous. We will continue to make new art, work with new technology, and try as hard as we can to not be lazy.
Many times, I have been involved in conversations that revolve around questions such as: Is art design? Is design art? Can art survive without technology and vice versa? What are your personal views on art, design, and technology as interconnected subjects?
Yang: Those are very interesting questions. Zhenzhen and I have spent a lot of times talking about this topic since when we started collaborating.
Technology is constantly advancing; there are new art forms being created all the time. The boundary between arts, design, video games, even routine behaviors are more blurred than ever. You can always find a little bit of this and a little bit of that in the same work. I am not saying we don’t need to separate art and technology anymore. However, we need to be extremely careful when we try to judge the author’s intention.
Art can’t survive without a medium, and to create a medium, we need to have some sort of technology, from pigment to LED monitors to Virtual Reality glasses, those are all medium, and artworks exist on them. Can technology survive without art…? I don’t know, maybe one day if we can clearly define what is art, then we will be able to properly answer this question.
One aspect of your work that I adore is your blog. You give emerging artists support through that site, and I wondered when you decided to create a blog that promoted new artists that you and your husband have an affinity for?
Zhenzhen Qi: We enjoy creating new work. Other works that speak the same minds in a slightly different language also lighten us. We set time aside visiting openings in our neighborhood (lower east side) as well as when traveling abroad. Encountering a special work is like being sucked into a secret whirlpool with another person in a temporal dimension, and conjuring up a deeply profound connection that defies language, imagery, and spatiality. And when the whirlpool stops, you come back as a slightly fuller, humbler person.