Residency in RMB City
Manifesting inside Gendai space at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and the on-line virtual world Second Life simultaneously, Residency in RMB City is a virtual residency programme intertwining with an actual exhibition, staged to experience, reflect, and agitate the contingencies and resistances around the thresholds of the virtual and the actual in response to the augmented reality our everyday inhabits.
Three proposals originally developed for Chinese artist Cao Fei's RMB City in Second Life are put forward by Toronto-based artist/architect, Adrian Blackwell; artist, Yam Lau; and the collaborative team GestureCloud: Judith Doyle + Fei Jun. These interventions are predicated on three distinctive thematic inquiries into the actuality of this virtual city: architecture and urban development with Adrian Blackwell, the aesthetics of time, space and image with Yam Lau, and labour and production through the lens of art and technology with GestureCloud.
Lóng Sùshè (Dormitory), Adrian Blackwell
This dormitory is an essential infrastructure for RMB City. Inspired by a very long dormitory in a town called Shajing in Bao’an County, Shenzhen, it is a building that never ends, forever under construction at one end and constantly falling apart at the other. Sociologist Pun Ngai has called the form of production ubiquitous in southern China, a ‘dormitory labour regime,’ because it relies on the precarious work of migrants from rural China, called “farmers” by the household registration system, despite the fact that they work in factories and live in urban spaces. This dormitory is called ‘Lóng Sùshè,’ in Mandarin, which means ‘Dragon Dormitory.’ The dragon is the sign of the Chinese sovereign and it is often used as a metaphor to describe the Chinese economy. According to French sinologist Francois Jullien, the dragon symbolizes the power that lies in a certain dis-position of things in space and time. China has assumed its ascendant position in the global economy on the foundation of the productivity of its mobile and temporary workforce. The hands of these workers have made many of the commodities on which we rely for communication, work, and play in our daily lives. The dormitory is both the crucial apparatus that serves as the minimal space of social reproduction, regulating the worker’s movement outside the factory, and a potential locus for labour struggles and resistance to this disciplinary system.
Adrian Blackwell is an artist and urban and architectural designer, whose work focuses on the spaces and forces of uneven development produced through processes of Postfordist urbanization.
Since 1996 his art projects have altered existing spaces to encourage common uses. Public Water Closet (1998) and How to Open a Car Like a Book (1999) open private enclosures to the city. Recent works such as Light Net (2004), Car Pool (2005) and Model for a Public Space (2000, 2006, 2008, 2010) produce new locations for collective action and public discourse. These projects have been exhibited across Canada at artist run centers, museums and public institutions including the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Art Gallery of Mississauga, Mercer Union, The New Gallery, The Hamilton Art Gallery, The Power Plant and the Mackenzie Art Gallery, at the University of Michigan and at the 2005 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture.
He is a member of the Toronto School of Creativity and Inquiry and the editorial collective of the journal SCAPEGOAT: Architecture, Landscape and Political Economy. In 2009 he collaborated with Jane Hutton to design and build Dymaxion Sleep for the International Garden Festival in Metis, Quebec.
In 2005 Blackwell co-edited Unboxed: Engagements in Social Space, with Jen Budney and is co-curating the exhibition and publication Detours: Tactical Approaches to Urbanization in China with Pei Zhao. Since 1997 he has taught architecture and urban design at the University of Toronto, initiating the school’s China Global Architecture program in 2004. In 2003 he was a visiting professor at Chongqing University and was the 2004-05 Muschenheim Fellow at the University of Michigan’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
Model Fabrication: Scott Ling, with Assistance from: Joe Hambleton, Daisuke Takeya, Kika Thorne, Mahsa Majidian, Michael Lin, Tristan Thom
Princess Iron Fan, Yam Lau
Yam Lau’s avatar Princess Iron Fan is a mythological character in popular Chinese culture. Incidentally, Princess Iron Fan is also the main character in the first feature length animation of the same title produced in China in 1941. The appearance of Lau’s avatar is based on its former animated incarnation.
In response to the current residency in RMB City (Second Life) and at Gendai Gallery, Princess Iron Fan is incarnated into different spatial/temporal expressions. She assumes a minimal, almost less than virtual presence in Second Life but an almost physical presence in Gendai Gallery. In both instances, it is the “almost” that sets her apart from the respective environments, installing a definitive sense of remoteness that befits her aristocratic dignity.
Yam Lau’s creative work explores new expressions and qualities of space, time and the image. This exploration traverses a diverse field of mediums such as painting, animation and digital video. Lau is also actively involved in the local art community. Certain aspects of his practice, such as using his car (Toronto) and a donkey (Beijing, China) as on-going mobile project spaces, are designed to solicit community participation.
Yam Lau has exhibited widely across Canada, United States, Europe and China. He is a recipient of numerous awards from the Canada, Ontario and Toronto Arts Councils. He publishes on art and design regularly. Currently he is professor of painting, drawing and studies courses at York University, Toronto. In addition to his post at the university, Lau is an appointed board member of YYZ Artists’ Outlet and Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art. He is represented by the Leo Kamen Gallery in Toronto. (www.leokamengallery.com) and Yuanfen New Media Art Space in Beijing, China (www.yuanfenart.com)
Artist Assistant: Joe Hambleton
GestureCloud, Judith Doyle + Fei Jun
GestureCloud is an ongoing collaboration of Judith Doyle and Fei Jun, that questions how labour is transposed via gesture across networked conditions, to have material effects elsewhere in the world. For example, can surplus labour in a factory in China activate events in virtual conditions? Can this accrue value that returns to the factory workers? In Beijing, GestureCloud ‘s field research included video documentation at the Antron Printing factory. Workers actions were performed for motion capture, transposed as data to Second Life and used as gesture files to animate virtual objects, including a specialized avatar, Gesture Warden. With electronics sourced from Beijing’s surplus markets, the team including Jim Ruxton and Ken Leung built a robotic projector that is controllable across a network using Pure Data or Processing.
For "Residency in RMB City", GestureCloud examines underlying structures of virtual worlds and labour. A prototype robot projector is installed to move a worker-avatar through the various production zones of the gesture factory installation. The avatar's factory work is animated using a new custom set of motion-captured gestures.
An artist and filmmaker, Judith Doyle’s feature film and documentaries are broadcast and screened internationally. Awards include a special citation at the Mannheim Film Festival and Chameleon Award for Best Documentary at the Brooklyn International Film Festival. Screenings include the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Anthology Film Archives, TIFF, Cinemateque Ontario, The American Museum in Washington and the Museo de Beunos Artes in Buenos Aires.
Doyle’s recent projects are produced in virtual and digitally-merged environments. Since 2005, her research with neuropsycholgist Dr. Brian Richards (Baycrest) focuses on art and assistive memory. Doyle was awarded the 2005 CanWest Global Fellowship at the Banff New Media Institute where she created a memory architecture of her family home in the Unreal Tournament 2 game engine. Other projects include "foxscape: configuring animals in urban and digital geographies", her 2007 thesis in digital visual media with a textual substrate. Her site-specific installation for a computer lab built with SecondLife was commissioned for Nuit Blanche (2008) in the OCAD TestBed program. In 2010, Phantom House, a virtual memory architecture Doyle created in widescreen video and digital frame versions, set a Canadian record at auction for digital media art.
Fei Jun is an associate professor in interactive media art & design at CAFA Media Lab, China Central Academy of Fine Arts. He holds MFA in Electronic Integrated Art at the school of art and design, Alfred University, NY. As an artist and designer, his art works and design works have been exhibited nationally and internationally in galleries, museums and festivals.
His mainly research areas are Digital art, Interactive art, interface design, interaction design and digital publishing. He is particularly interested in the intersection of virtual space and physical space. His recent research focus on creating locative social media for public engagement, empowering interactive system for sustainability in the context of unbalanced labor value, virtual labor value and exploring the new form of value transformation.
In their collaboration as GestureCloud, Judith Doyle and Fei Jun are interested in contemporary conditions that provoke new experiences of embodiment and emotion. For example, motion-captured (bvh) files deliver an immediate emotional charge. They instantly, viscerally evoke the human, whether the “playback” unit looks human or not. In virtual architectures and environments, familiar rules of embodiment operate as more-or-less optional effects (gravity, opacity, density, staircases to climb and so on). They are interested in embodied memory processes, and these intimate, cognitive and performative effects of digitized gesture. Their installation practice aims to reveal underlying structures of virtual conditions and embodiment.
Lead technician: Emad Dabiri, Lead programmer: Ken Leung, Programming Design: Jim Ruxton, with overall Tech support: Ian Murray
MOCAP technicians from CAFA Beijing: Wang Liming, Tian Yue
About RMB City
RMB City is a virtual realm in the online world of Second Life, initiated by Beijing artist Cao Fei (SL: China Tracy). It is the condensed incarnation of contemporary Chinese cities with most of their characteristics; a series of new Chinese fantasy realms that are highly self-contradictory, inter-permeative, laden with irony and suspicion, and extremely entertaining and pan-political. Launched in 2008, and open to the public since January 2009, RMB City is a conceptual space that can also be utilized as mode of artistic creation, an experimental platform on which Cao Fei and her collaborators use different mediums to test the boundaries between virtual and physical existence. As a model of avant-garde urban planning, it traverses the boundaries between past and future, real and virtual to link China and the cosmopolitan world.
Residency in RMB City is made possible through the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council, Ian Murray’s virtual studio expertise in Second Life and and OCADU campus in Second Life. The project is a collaboration between Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival and Vitamin Creative Space (Guangzhou, China) and is in conjunction with the exhibition RMB CITY by CAO FEI (SL: CHINA TRACY) which is on view at the A Space Gallery until December 11, 2010.