C U Next Game
Welcome to Wang Ziquan's solo project “Creatures of the Air”, presenting an installation that carries a time axis. In Wang’s past practice, computer-generated (CG) imagery has been a record of himself operating the software, the act of which has a fictional narrative and is bound to the spatial and temporal axes of rendered images and 3D modeling. The working methods of CG, including building scenes through computer animation, generating and storing images in real time, as well as the shifting of perspectives, are equally applicable to the thinking of and creating with other mediums. Wang’s ongoing "Control Interface" series integrates the effects of CG image editing, functioning as meta-language, with a touch of classical sculpture brought by laser engraving techniques. The artist uses 3D modeling software to capture hundreds of frames of classic movements from different game animations, skeletally binded to the same avatar. The body of the sculpture is bizarrely disassembled, reassembled and flattened, moving back and forth on the time axis until the perfect digital figure emerges and is framed by material treatment as a relief that bears the marks of time.
How to generate a path to view the invisible parts of the physical world at the intersection of the virtual and the real, and to complete the act of lifting the base of the sculpture, is the starting point for the artist to develop this exhibition. If "Creatures of the Air" is a script written by Wang Ziquan with different mediums as characters, the site-specific experience is his interface to dynamically capture the audience's attention. The semi-closed sculptural space enclosed by metal pipelines hovering above the exhibition hall is the premise for the project, the track for drone racing and scouting, the common ground for human and machine existence, as well as the mechanism for triggering an infinite game. The viewing in the first-person perspective of the FPV drone and its never-ending operation continue to produce and update data. The images captured by the drones inside the pipelines are broadcast live on three channels, synthesizing into the external organs of the audience. The restricted yet instinctive responses of the two performers are mixed with a vast amount of materials that are difficult to trace or classify, as if they were filled, overlaid, cut, and lost in layers. The presence of sound further confuses the audience. The labor, professionalism and enthusiasm of the pilots who manually operate the drones in the back stage are the technical support that keeps rewriting the rules of the rally. "Creatures of the Air" attempts to create a new access system, where the accumulation and dissipation of information form a flowing state in real time.
The instability of the exhibition constantly declares it as an event. Judging from the renderings of the Cinema 4D scheme, one cannot predict the ultimate situation of the project when realized. It is up to on-site judgment what should be included and what excluded. Similarly, the pilots in the control room and the performers in the pipelines rely on their experience and intuition to jointly fulfil a fictional mission. Generally speaking, drones that are remotely controlled or follow pre-set programs can perform tasks including military operation, industrial prospection, commercial aerial photography, and scientific research. The information asymmetry between the sender and the receiver is the violence imposed by intelligent monitoring equipment against personal privacy. The drones, resembling creatures of the air, occupy a supreme spot of observation and their non-stop flying transmits an endless stream of images while searching for signs of life; the performers, curling up naked in the pipelines, become human-like animals and vulnerable targets stationed at pre-confirmed locations, exposed to the assault of the drones without early warning. Meanwhile, the performers call out to their abandoned fellows and dodge their predators circling nearby by means of impromptu dialogues and actions. The artist picks up rubbish left on construction sites and riverside streets and then reshuffles the order of things in the material list. The performers who have lost their autonomy resemble the objects around them while the material memories of individuals and society are all stored as data inside the pipelines. The mixture of waste refuses to be unreservedly looked at by the audience; the realistic texture of gravel suggests that it once appeared nearby, it comes from a past that cannot be revisited, and that it can be destroyed. Wang Ziquan thus creates an inhospitable, isolated environment full of dirt and waste, without security or freedom of movement, that is neither a battlefield nor a ballroom.
Is "Creatures of the Air" a rehearsal of doomsday or a game of simulation? The near-future conceived by the artist is a habitat of drones, where machines replace humans in completing a series of tasks such as irrigation, logistics, broadcasting, etc. Pipelines are constructed and suspended in the air to simulate underground urban infrastructure and competition tracks. The trajectory of the drones is generally circumscribed by the three-layered annular structure of the pipelines, while their actual flight path depends on the pilot's skills and mentality as well as on accidental factors on site – they are not on an auto-pilot mode. From preliminary studio preparations to set-up and rehearsal at the gallery, every aspect of art-making and exhibition-making rests on countless feasibility tests. The presence of nearly narrative-free hurdles set up by the installation requires the pilots to remotely control the FPV drones and navigate them through. The limited diameter of the pipelines, inadequate lighting, and the debris spread on the inner wall wrapped by styrofoam may all cause unexpected accidents, such as unstable airflow, clouds of dust flying up, blind spots, difficulties in orientation, and damage to the blades, possibly resulting in an “air crash”. As the developer of the racing game, Wang Ziquan stations himself along with random viewers in the back-stage control room and the front-end display area, acting as a coordinating bystander or an unknown factor interfering with the pilots’ performance. Uncontrollable sensations are mixed with pleasure, fear, pain, grief avoiding sensationalism, and ambiguity. The uncertainty of interaction delays the arrival of perfection. Right here and now, with the help of prosthetics (monitors and drones), we extend our scope of sight and movement to a mysterious elsewhere.
If the images sent back by the drones to the TV screen reproduce the intrusion of mass surveillance on individual privacy, are the drones still a device for escape from reality? The drone itself is regulated by law as the electronic fencing and cloud systems monitor its operational data in real time. For example, the geofencing system developed by DJI restricts drones to flying in safe areas. In contrast, by opting out of GPS installation, self-assembled racing drones can avoid signal detection in restricted flight areas, thereby establishing an autonomous community beyond existing governance technologies. Oddity RC regards modular production as the ultimate consumption form of FPV drones: standardized products should be made up of independent modules that can be disassembled and modified by users, instead of complete built units whose default rules cannot be rewritten. It is the custom-made parts of a machine that redefine its functionality: the flight control panels that expose the electronics and the batteries without casings are exclusive designs for "Creatures of the Air". Together they seek maximum speed with minimal protective gear. In fact, the more radical Freestyle flying focuses on the extreme experience of operating an FPV drone and challenges the pilot to achieve the speed, accuracy, and visual impact of user-defined stunts. The artist, in turn, needs to work with the entrepreneurial tech team over a long period of time in order to find a balance between flight speed and stability. Accordingly, self-remodeled FPV drones produce alternative images. Compared with surveillance videos that stealthily obtain public information, the video transmitted in real time offers the audience a perspective that is originally visible only to machines as well as a position to watch the surveillance. The latter contains an unpredictable, unspoken discourse embedded in the power relations of the physical body and the act of watching.
Wang Ziquan tries to cooperate with practitioners with different professional backgrounds in multiple parallel fields, thus engaging the viewer’s senses in an all-round way. For the first time, he expands his choice of medium from sculpture and video to live performance and sound, and strides into the unknowable through alternative ways of thinking. His artistic investigations are driven by experiments in approaching his ideals rather than voicing explicit demands. In other words, collaborators work on the basis of an open proposition: How to achieve interspecies communication between humans and non-humans? How to perform with restraint in a grotesque interior space while transmitting subtle energy outwards? How to devise a sound that has its source blurred, that wanders about like a halo and penetrates matter? How to make the pilots, half-athlete and half-staff, look as if they belong to a concerted team? The aesthetics of "Creatures of the Air" is founded upon long-lasting close relationships, in which each party is willing to share and jointly take the risk of trial and error. Hence decentralization is built into its belief system. What is intriguing about self-organized belief systems is precisely the temporary nature of the formation or dissolution of a collective, as well as the free will unbound to any particular interests or ideology. We always have faith in the individual.
See you next game…
Text / MIAO Zijin