Chris Romero (CR): What made you interested in creating rooms or interiors for this series?
Wang Yefeng (WY): A big part of this piece definitely has some relationship to my experience in the US, I was not born in the US. When I first came to the US 9 years ago, I was considered an outsider of course. Then I began studying and working there. During the 9 years, I moved about once a year. It makes one think about their condition as a Chinese person living in the West.
There is a feeling of an ongoing instability and an increasingly obscure notion of home, which relates to the title, The Drifting Stages. This is a project with a lot of collected memories. I look back and think about the spaces I’ve been living in, in the US, and think about what I’ve encountered and shared with these places. As you know, I also collect real things a lot. I have a collection of Asian antiques, mostly Chinese and Japanese. My artworks and equipment for making artworks became my collection as well. These are things I collect on purpose, if you will. Then I realized, there is another very big part of my collections, which is much bigger than the collections that I accumulate on purpose. Every time you move somewhere new, you’re going to have to buy stuff. For example, you have to buy furniture, from Ikea, or kitchenware from Bed Bath and Beyond. These things keep growing and actually become a much bigger collection, unintentionally.
CR: You also have digital stuff too.
WY: Yeah, exactly, like the stuff I’ve made or downloaded on my computer in the past. I didn’t use all of them in previous projects, I didn’t use a lot of them in fact. They became forgotten artifacts on my computer and hard drive, but they are also my virtual collection. I feel like I have tons of resources I can use for The Drifting Stages project. The structure and system is already there, I just need to put it together visually. My process is basically that I start piling up objects, my collections, and my memories, into a virtual space, and seeing how it goes.
Speaking of our relation to space, I often imagine that every time we move into a new space, we will have expectations like, “ok, this is my next apartment – I’m going to make it the best place ever. This will be my perfect kingdom.” You then go to Ikea to buy furniture and you say, “I will buy the perfect furniture for my perfect kingdom.” But what I think now is that an empty space is just a prison. So when you go to Ikea in order to buy things to “decorate” your prison, you are actually buying a selection of compromises, because that’s what they sell. You will never find a “perfect” piece there. You might find usability or efficiency, but never “perfection.” In fact, even after you finish decorating your “perfect kingdom”, it just becomes a nicer looking prison.
CR: There is kind of an ikea culture of convenience and efficiency. When we were skyping the other day you actually noticed that I had Ikea furniture in the background. For The Drifting Stages, how did this all click together?
WY: I just couldn’t imagine how much stuff I’ve bought or collected unintentionally (or passively) in the past 9 years when I was in the US. I bought them not because I wanted to, but I had to. On one hand you have to get them because they are convenient and efficient. But at the same time, I was really fearful of them. It is frightening when I imagine how much more of this stuff I will possibly buy in the next 10 years, especially if I continue to move to different places. So that’s why in the virtual space of The Drifting Stages, you can see a lot of these “unintentional collections”. Basically the process is to pile them up in Maya and build up my virtual kingdom, and in the end it’s always pretty absurd and broken.
That’s the funny part of it: in the end, the virtual space I build becomes something I trap myself within, and my intention of escaping it always fails.
CR: That is comparable to your other piece Dreamspace as well. Somewhat related, I talk in my sleep a lot, and when I do, I keep my eyes open.
WY: That has happened to me too.
CR: Yeah it’s weird, I’m kind of in between two spaces of awake and asleep. With The Drifting Stages or Dreamspace there is a parallel to the virtual and real, as well as personal memories.
WY: The difference between this and a dream though is that when I was making them, sometimes I purposely (very objectively) tried to reflect the space in my memory that I lived in. But whenever I try to do so, it becomes really crazy and always very absurd.
CR: Do you see that in green screens or other artificial worlds, as a kind of a façade, such as the flatness of instagram? How do you interpret that? What does it say about us, and you as an artist responding to that culture?
WY: Our world is definitely becoming more and more flat again. No matter how realistic the 3D rendering is, a digital video is always flat as soon as you project it on a wall or watch it on screen. You are not able to physically touch it. I am interested in the idea of video installation and keen to show my 3D animations as video installations in different spaces because in a way I feel it shows an artist’s fear of or desire to riot against the “flat world”. In general, everything we see is becoming so flat and I think video installation is trying to challenge that flatness.
Nowadays, we can know the whole world just by looking at a smartphone screen. You get all your information on that flat piece, and at the same time, the manufacturers never stop trying to make these flat pieces even flatter and flatter, thinner and thinner. Now these flat pieces have super high densities as well, not only in terms of the resolution on the screen, but also the amount of information we stuff in them, and we never stop stuffing these flat pieces. I believe these thin, flat pieces with super high densities are prisons too, and there is no end to their imprisonment – you cannot escape from them either.
You mentioned green screen, and obviously a saturated green is a pretty iconic color of 21 century. But I do want to tell you a story of my color selection for the background in one of The Drifting Stages you see. In The Drifting Stages demo, you see the background flickering between saturated red and blue. This flickering happens in 30 frames each second; 15 frames of red and 15 of blue, within one second. This references a pretty famous Japanese animation called Pokémon.
CR: Oh! Yes, I know.
WY: There was a pretty absurd incident that happened in Japan in 1997. TV Tokyo was playing a Pokémon episode, and they used a very common technology at the time which made a flickering of two highly saturated colors with 30 frames per second to create a very intense visual effect of explosion.
In one of the episodes that effect made more than 600 Japanese kids pass out and they had to go to the hospital because of the digital light switching on and off. It caused physical illness such as headache, blindness, vomiting, convulsion, etc. On the top of that, the character in that episode is called “Porygon, or 3D dragon”, this interesting story and the ironic name of the character made me decided to use that technique as a background for one of my pieces.
I also found that many people are very sensitive to the color choice of my works, and I am often asked questions about it. My question is, are we sensitive to it because of my color choice, or are we sensitive to it because we are programed to certain ways of watching in the 21st century?
CR: Are there any kinds of symbols or iconographies that stood out when creating this piece?
WY: I don’t think there’s a specific symbol, culture, religion or anything, that I am aiming for. I consider it as a mixture among a lot of different things, just like me.
I don’t think it’s always necessary to reveal the background of the characters I create in my virtual scenes, but I will give you one example. In The Drifting Stages, there is a toy-like, cylindrical character with very simple, cartoonist face. That face has some reference to a default social media profile icon or emoticon. It is a pretty common default portrait on internet platforms such as Netflix; you keep seeing it until you replace it with your own photo. It just looks like two dots and a line represents eyes and a mouth.
CR: Or in finder too.
WY: Yes. We are all familiar with the chart that shows human evolution, from an ape to a modern person sitting in front of a computer, as an ironic representation of how the computer takes over the world. In my opinion, that chart of evolution is missing one stage, I would add a square face with two dots and a line as the default internet portrait, as the current and last stage of the evolution. That’s basically where this toy-like character came from. But see, my character becomes much more boring after I explain the story to you, so that’s why we should keep some secrets.
1) Send a picture of your computer desktop.
2) Send between 1-3 video links (this doesn’t have to be to your artwork).
3) Send me your favorite emoji.
4) Send a .jpg of something on your computer.
5) Respond to this image in anyway you’d like:
A1: They are Chris, Ryan and I (I'm the squirting one);
A2: If they are not Chris, Ryan and I, there are people inside;
A3: If there are not people inside, they are looking at a person who is not captured by the camera view.
A4: Their outfit is exactly the same one with Flea's (RHCP bassist) skeleton jumpsuit.