Van Gogh Sphere

Who would have thought paintings done by a man suffered from mental illness could become a blockbuster exhibition and appreciated by tens of thousands of people in more than 100 years time.

The paintings, revealing a man’s inner world through stunning colours, bold style, and brushstrokes inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, are not static. The pinenut trees and flowers, wheat fields and plain sky, all covered with layers of pigment and thick lines, making a statement of their own. I could also see a slim and lonely man sitting not far from them, rapidly sketching out their shapes, and fiercely making touches with his brush, or fingers.

Interestingly, his works have nowadays been recreated into replicas and become a source of income for peasant painters in China. In a Chinese village where there is no trees, no flowers, let alone wheat fields, the painstaking painters are self-teaching his techniques, applying them with their brushes, and perhaps adding a touch of their own imagination of the world he used to live in.

We all say that great art is invaluable, however when art becomes accepted, circulated, and a part of mainstream, they come in a price tag and distinct values. They then gradually form their own economy sphere — like the exhibition, the replicas, the moment another piece of work claimed to be inspired by Vincent.

As the end recipients of that economy sphere, we feel inspired by the strong energy and emotions those paintings convey to us and probably sympathise with the master’s suffering and experience. Behind that sphere, the struggle, isolation and frustration that once impacted or even drove the master’s works, may have been continued in today’s world, although in a different way.

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The Game of Watching and Being Watched

Live streaming on Taobao has been gaining more and more popularity since its launch in 2016.

Like this one above, they all seem very entertaining to watch, and especially engaging by allowing users to ask questions during the streaming process.

This kind of sales model doesn’t require much set-up or training. For the sellers, not only are they providing services and promoting their products at the same time, it is also an opportunity for them to show off their personality, build trust with customers, as well as to stand out from hundreds of other sellers who sell pretty much the same thing.

Similar to the spread of live streaming on Facebook, Instagram, etc., being filmed has never been this common. From a viewer’s perspective, live streaming is probably something with more genuinity and interaction than many other things one sees on everyday media. The impact is also spontaneous, like reality TV but the audience gets invited to be part of the show as it is happening. Here’s another example in advertising:

However, the dark side of technology has quickly emerged. There also seems to be a tendency for murder, suicide, crimes being broadcasted on live streaming, and they got circulated online faster than ever because of social media. Suddenly it feels like Hunger Games could happen anytime soon in the real world. But Facebook has already reacted to that and found a solution, which is to hire 3000 “Content Monitors” to review the live streaming content as they go live. A solution that is not so high-tech but perhaps effective for the time-being, which seems to suggest that more violence simply leads to more surveillance and regulations.

What do people gain from going live? Profit, leads, or just pure entertainment? There is never a standard answer. As broadcasters, as viewers, we are all being watched, willingly or unwillingly.

Ghost, Shell, City

Ghost in the Shell (2017)
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Based on my limited knowledge of Japanese sci-fi manga, I initially thought the film Ghost in the Shell is a remake of anime Neon Genesis Evangelion (EVA) or a western adaptation of EVA. Even when I saw Scarlett Johansson’s posters on the street, I still thought she plays Rei Ayanami in EVA and it didn’t occur to me that this is actually a different piece of work.
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Left: Rei Ayanami(EVA).Right: Major Motoko Kusanagi(Ghost in the Shell)
Aside from my ignorance to Japanese sci-fi manga classics, Major Motoko Kusanagi actually does share some similarities with Rei Ayanami. They both have purple hair and red eyes, have limited or no emotions, and were built to fight as some kind of augmented human-like robots that are superior to normal human beings both physically and mentally. Being faces of the future world, they have tough bodies, but they are also longing to develop their own identities and connections to the outside world.
Major Kusanagi demonstrates what a “Ghost” would be capable of once she overrides the power that comes with the “Shell” and has established her own thinking and execution system. Scarlett Johansson did a great job expressing Major’s frustration and struggle of being a robot that takes orders and a proper mastermind that makes the decision, though this is not the first time Johanson plays a character that is surreal and from the future. Her recent characters include the seductive girl in  Under the Skin (2013) , the mentally enhanced Lucy in Lucy (2014) , and most impressively, the digitally augmented female voice of a virtual girlfriend in Her (2013). Johansson has given these “super-humans” a female voice with her appearance in these movies by following a path of creating female “super-humans”  that are expected to be prettier, sexier and smarter in all dimensions. Yet their fragile and complicated minds are as mesmerizing as their physical charm.

Major Kusanagi’s jump from the top of a building into the dark, gigantic urban jungle background is inevitably the highlight of the film. As a cyberpunk movie, Ghost in a Shell inherited the futurist and postmodern urban setting like the ones from Blade Runner (1982), with ubiquitous high-rises, flickering digital screens and rotating animated projections. Though obviously a duplicate of the skyline of Hong Kong, the 3D effect of  city created by the latest CI technology has improved tremendously compared with the augmented film scenes in Blade Runner from the 80s. One day when the digital technology is mature enough to present such settings via virtual reality glasses, it would probably be another step closer towards the cyber-world that is depicted in the movie.

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Top: Ghost in a Shell (2017). Bottom: Blade Runner (1982).

Following the trace of love

It is a bit hard to define what type of work “Love at Fifth Site” is — a digital installation, a creative project, or simply a film (even though there is no record of this on IMDb). The installation is made of 5 film clips, and you get to “watch” them by standing in front of 5 different screens. However, instead of listening to the characters speaking to you, you actually follow the characters’ dialogues by pointing your own phone at the screen at each of the site, with the help of an APP.  At the same time you also get to experience the scenes by interacting with the props supplied onsite, which appeared to set in the same way as the ones in the film.

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At first I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I encountered that at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, but it turned out to be a very fun and enjoyable experience to follow the development of a love story. The lack of music is the only small disappointment to this experience, as the audio and sound element would make the whole story more engaging together with the visual and interactive elements.

It is fascinating to see how this creative use of digital device gives people a new way of “being in control”, which has been seen in many other creative artworks such as this one. It certainly allows the audience to explore the visual space more actively compared to the traditional cinematic experience. However there has already been contemplation on a  world where smart phone penetrates all parts of everyday life and even dominates people’s thinking and perception. An extreme but not unrealistic example has been demonstrated in Black Mirror-Episode “Nosedive”, where people constantly rate each other with their phones after every single encounter, and the whole social trust system is built upon that as a result.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to have the choice available in the meanwhile, so that we can all be easily surprised and inspired with that little device in the pocket.

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Black Mirror-Episode “Nosedive”

 

Life and death under LED lights

I encountered two amazing LED-based art installations when travelling. Both artworks featuring twinkling LED lights in the darkness — one is set outdoor in the desert field of Uluru while the other one is indoor at Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney.

  1. Field of Light-by Bruce Munro

Over 50,000 bulbs light up a massive block of land the size of a football field at the foot of Uluru. The colours and strength of light of the bulbs change automatically and gradually as the audience move around the field in the darkness, making the whole filed come to life in a quiet and calm way.

Being in the red centre of Australia is already a mind-blowing experience. The Field of Light exhibition is certainly a nice touch that adds another layer of fascination to the place.

“I saw in my mind a landscape of illuminated stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, quietly wait until darkness falls, under a blazing blanket of southern stars, to bloom with gentle rhythms of light,” he (Munro) said. “Field of Light is a personal symbol for the good things in life.”
(http://www.thenibbler.com.au/article/field-of-light-graces-uluru/)

2.Mega Death by Tasuo Miyajima – MCA Australia

Mega Death (1999) features about 3000 white LED counter gadgets on a three-walled billboard. The counters count down from nine to one, on to darkness without indicating “zero” then return to nine and repeat themselves. They are programmed to be completely switched off every few minutes, leaving the viewers in complete darkness, then go back to counting at various speed again.

The changing faces of numbers or digits appear in different forms in almost every piece of artwork in Miyajima’s exhibition- Connect with Everything, and this piece is the most impressive work in terms of its scale and design. Almost like some kind of ritual, the blue illuminated room and its numerous glittering LED counter gadgets is a very power visual expression that challenges the audience’s perception of time and changes.

“It is about the Holocaust, but it has parallels with global tragedies. It holds the meaning of many of the human-caused tragedies of the 20th century: the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, terrorist attacks … any mass death or destruction or killing where a life is taken before [its natural term].”
(http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/japanese-artist-tatsuo-miyajimas-digital-genius-on-show-at-sydney-mca/news-story/09b11f9888762c46102f08ee97d58186)

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The use of LED lights in the darkness opens a gate for me to be fully immersed in these installation space. It’s interesting to see that both artists have chosen the same medium to express their concepts and ideas yet shape them into something quite differently, as one celebrates the greatness of lives, the other contemplates the meaning of death. While it is also undeniable that the two themes are closely interlocked with each other at all time and are simply showing the 2 different sides of the same story.

Leave to Parliament everything about my future..

It’s been a couple of tough months for Park Geun-hye’s political career ever since the corruption scandal involving her close confidant Choi Soon-sil has emerged into the public’s eyes. Furious protestors on the streets of Seoul have constantly questioned Park’s administration and request her resignation.

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There has often been a mysterious aura over Park Geun-hye, who came from a family where both of her parents were assassinated due to political reasons. Her life seems be vastly shadowed by her father Park Chung-hee, and the tragic childhood. Her tight relationship with Choi soon-sil,  the daughter of a shaman-esque cult leader has revealed her dependence of spiritual advice in making presidential decisions, which is something extremely disastrous from a political perspective.

When looking at another example of female Prime Minister in Asia- ex-Prime Minister of Thailand –Yingluck Shinawatra, Park’s current situation looks not that unfamiliar. Yingluck, whose brother Thaksin Shinawatra was once the Thai Prime Minister, stepped down from her PM position after a military coup in 2014, and is now also facing charges over the rice-pledging scheme from Thailand’s Attorney General. Both Park and Yingluck came from families with inherited tradition of being in the centre of their countries’ political scenes, and came into power as the first female Prime Minister of their counties, while they are both currently under close legal scrutiny and criticism by their governments.

The struggles that Yingluck and Park are facing are probably just a moment in their destinies. For them, entering the political stage seem to have been closely tied to their family tradition, from which holds a deep sense of connection to the generations of supporters and also commitment to the country. They dedicate their lives to what they believe, and more importantly to fulfill what the family group have been trying to achieve. And now when they are struggling to continue holding the power, the merciless side behind a political scene has replayed on them, just as how it played out on their family members previously. For Park, the scandal has obviously infuriated the country, she doesn’t have much choice but to leave her fate to the judgement of the country for now. And in Yingluck’s case, she has determined to fight back with the best possible dignity.

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I stand firm to fight my case, I had duties and responsibilities to fight on. All eyes are on me. I assure you,  I never thought of fleeing.“–Yingluck Shinawatra

She&She: FKA twigs & Ella Chen

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Screenshot from “Are You Normal 你正常嗎” by Ella Chen 陳嘉樺
Official video release date:13 April 2015

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Screenshot from “Pendulum” by FKA twigs
Official video release date:15 Jan 2015

“Are You Normal 你正常嗎” is from the first solo album Ella Chen released outside of S.H.E, the popular Taiwanese girls group she belongs to. I just couldn’t help but think that this music clip is a clever adaptation of the whole set-up of FKA twigs‘ “Pendulum”  when I saw a picture of Ella having the same kind of “double-bun” hair style and the hanging stripe in the background. The movements she takes in the video seem to further confirm that. And here is another music video in the same album of Ella’s with elements of chains, characters being tied up and scenes of “struggling to be free” , which again remind me of “Pendulum”.

Ella Chen and FKA twigs each has quite distinct target markets and obviously very different things to express in their music videos. However it’s still interesting to see how the relatively artistic set-up in “Pendulum” can be turned into something that fits into Asian pop culture and then go back to the commercial world.

Here are the two videos for those who would like to compare in details.

“Are You Normal 你正常嗎” (from 3’20”)

“Pendulum”