Automated Utopia — Reflections

1. Overarching Thoughts

Initial Thoughts

Ong Kian Peng’s Lecture titled ‘Automated Utopia’ explores the possibility of attaining Utopia with the progression and advancement of AI into self sustaining entities. It is important to acknowledge that ‘Utopia’ the term in itself is an imagined island of perfection (one that is somewhat inherently unattainable), however we are presented with the possibility due to Automatism brought on by AI, a contemporary concept that was not know of before.

Is AI then able to manifest Utopian Concept due to its ‘objectivity’ and lack of ‘human biases and desires. whom Lyman Tower Argent attributes to being the reason why ‘Utopia’s nature is contradictory and cannot be satisfied’.

Will AI’s automation introduce a sense of unprecedented homogeneity not capable before due to human emotions?

Will AI be able to express homogenous ‘emotions’ or ‘perceptions’ that are expressive yet binary enough to be ‘processed’ usefully with tangible outcomes?

On the other hand, pop culture has always portrayed AI’s increasing presence and dominance as Dystopian rather than Utopian – I Robot, Terminator etc. However in reality this depends if our concept of Utopian Citizens only consist of humans or do we now expand to include Robots and Tech as valid co-habitants. Pop Culture more often than not, tends to show a conflicting relationship between Humans and AI. In reality, our relationship with tech is increasingly salient and symbiotic. Maybe the first step to attaining possible Utopia is to accept this coexistence and work towards nuancing this complex relationship rather than perceiving it as contentious or as a threat to our survival (it is this innate survival instinct in itself than hinders Humans from fully embracing AI) — we mostly crave advancements in technology and AI systems because they complement our needs and supplement our human activities. Alexa, Google Home etc. They are subservient to us and are always ready at our disposal.

Hence, the idea of full Automatism is treated as a taboo as it undermines our long established dominance in this world. The possibility that another entity/being as intelligent or perhaps even more intelligent than us, destabilises our hold. Most of us ultimately still want them to ‘think’ within our control and only operate within the parameters we set for them. It is important though, to accept that moving forward, such resistance will not amount to further progress in tech. Part of wanting to attain Utopia is to accept that we have to let go of this and instead allow AI to take its rightful place in our contemporary ‘biosphere’ which has grown to include not just organic habitants but digital cyborgs.

Questions

With these overarching concepts, dilemma I will attempt to address some of the questions put forth by Ong Kian Peng in his slides :

1. So how can AI present a different world than that of the cyberpunk genre and give us a technological utopian society?

2.What value does it add ? And what do we lose as a result of automation?

2. Further Reflection

1.So how can AI present a different world than that of the cyberpunk genre and give us a technological utopian society?

AI in itself opens up the space for an alternate/virtual reality to exist. It diminishes the notion that there is only one physical reality or truth and instead introduces multiple possibilities not bound or restricted by the classical laws that govern the physical world. In our conventional world, truths tend to be more absolute — our lives are finite , we only have one outward appearance , we are bound conventionally by law to have a committed relationship to only one partner for life. In other words we are tethered by our physical bodies and limited by society’s constructed rules. Yes, we do break away from these rules however the moment we do, we become disillusioned and often become existential as we feel ‘guilty’ for transgressing. These rules hence dictate absolute truths which we have grown to accept.

However AI and VR allow us to adopt virtual personas in virtual spaces where we can manifest even the darkest of our fantasies and feel normal. We are increasingly less conscious of the satisfaction we derive from some of this fantasies due to how nuanced and normalised it has become. For example the notion of Sex — it allows us to have more than one sexual partner (via VR Platforms) and not feel guilty for doing so.

“With virtual reality porn becoming more popular by the day, couples may need to redefine the boundaries of what is and isn’t crossing the line when it comes to being faithful”

—  https://www.psycom.net/is-virtual-reality-sex-considered-cheating/

To push it even further we can decode how games like Animal Crossing where we adopt Animal Avatars and interact with one another, almost touch on the unspoken taboo of bestiality. Freud describes bestiality as examples of people fulfilling their desires insufficiently because of a lack of available options. Though this is a very crude and possibly debatable link, on a very subtle level it does act as a form of liberation from the repression of the ‘real’ world.

Essentially AI and Tech add a whole dimension of possibilities. Another example would be Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s ‘The Substitute’. This work is a video of an AI constructed Rhino (the last white rhino) aft it passed. In our reality it’s death is absolute and we have no way of breathing life back into it. However AI has intelligently constructed a virtual model of the Rhino by deep—learning its characteristics as accurately as possible. The Rhino is resurrected and paradoxically is immortalised as a digital entity. This could be done for species on the brink of extinction so that we do not permanently lose them. Death is inevitable and so is organic degradation and decay. However these same laws don’t apply to the virtual realm and hence AI allows us to to in a way preserve  the perishable.  This possibility then begs humanity to re-consider the idea of death as an end.

AI then offers us the possibility of a tangible after-life that can be seen , heard etc and not one of the Bible or Holy Books which are more or less imagined. We will be able to cope with death better, knowing that death won’t be an end it itself. On a more mortal and emotional level it adds some sort of stability and assurance. We mostly fear death because of the uncertainty we face having to abruptly leave this world with unsaid things or having to be separated from our loved ones. However AI in this context shown in the example, enables us to still ‘exist’ and interact with our loved ones, in the physical world, long after we are gone. It shifts us from one dimensional absolutes to multi-dimensional fluidity.

2.What value does it add ? And what do we lose as a result of automation?

On a very superficial level:

automation will result in many jobs becoming obsolete. Presently many jobs including vehicles which require drivers are becoming driverless. Waiters too are being replaced by Robots who have no ‘limit’ to the amount of productivity they can uphold. Jobs that rely on skills which can be easily translated into an AI System are becoming increasingly dispensable. Furthermore they do not have to paid/fed/replaced and are more likely to be efficient. More importantly we have to keep in mind the many strata of society. People of lower education with such skills will be at highest risk of being replaced. Being unemployed takes away their source of income and purpose. One could argue from a Darwinian POV that society in itself is a survival of the fittest and with technology becoming ever more dominant, it is those that are able to coexist with it that will sustain themselves while those not skilful’ enough will simply be ‘left out’.

On a much deeper societal and psychological level:

We risk losing agency. Automation implies that humans are no longer needed as an intermediary for AI bodies to function basically. However we can determine how much control we want to give up by setting up restrictions to the automated process before it is set into motion. This is assuming that AI does not have the capability to grow its cerebral capacity independently. However, If we were to treat AI Systems as executors of human input, limited by what we feed it, instead of self sustaining entities, we will only be adopting a regressive and insular view. AI in its core, is self sustaining and automatic. We thus have to embrace full automation due to its inevitability.

What we risk losing in this process of trying to reconcile with AI systems is our sense of identity and self. Up till now it is our ‘human’ sensitivity and ‘spirit’ that distinguishes as ‘higher beings’. It is this poetic, mythical, intangible ‘essence’ and its uniqueness to each of our minds that provide us with our personal identity. We hence emphasise on the idea of the ‘journey’ and the ‘experience’ to fulfil this aspect of being human, regardless of the final tangible outcome or task. Despite the task being the ‘end goal that produces a tangible benefit for ourselves and society, it is the means through which we attain it that defines our ‘purpose’.

With full automation, a highly intelligent AI system would be able to short circuit this process and complete the task without any ‘interference’ of emotion. It’s sole nature is its ability to perform with cognitive ability to solve complex issues. However it is devoid of any ‘spirit’ — something that we are yet to be able to replicate, if we wanted to in the first place that is. Hence when we are forced to co exist with these AI systems which are able to attain outcomes way faster than us, it will definitely undermine the validity of our humaneness. We not only risk losing our sense of self due to this suppression but risk losing our sanity trying to navigate our minds out of this sudden existential state.

Will we step back and let AI do all the work? Will we able to simply ‘enjoy’ and stop working? Will capitalist structures built on social classes disintegrate with all forms of work being automated? How then do we allocate wealth and resources? What happens to meritocracy if AI takes over the whole process?

3. Concluding Thoughts

3. What will be the role of humans in a future AI driven world?

Our overarching role would be to integrate AI into our daily lives. Instead of resisting or obsessing over keeping AI ‘in check’, which would result in possibly dystopian consequences. We already use systems such as SIRI and Alexa almost daily. We use GPS and deep-learning systems to speed up and execute processes impossible to humans. However these processes are mostly still mechanical ones. We have to anticipate for when AI are able to automate ecological and advanced processes.

As much as I believe we should embrace this direction towards full automation, we have to be very sensitive and aware of the complexity of it. A highly intelligent being lacking moral perception could be disastrous if not trained properly. Though it is impossible to replicate our emotional capability and translate it into AI Systems, it is possible to feed these systems with scenarios and outcomes to train them to react accordingly. This then requires us to be unbiased and objective in what we prescribe the system while it is deep-learning. Presently many biases already existracial profiling etc where marginalised groups are targeted in systems such as face detection. As systems become more prevalent and powerful, such biases could have very fatal and dystopian outcomes. We do not clearly know how AI will respond to such non-objectivity as their cognitive capabilities expand. Hence it is important that humans working closely with AI, imbue it with as much impartiality and objectivity as possible.

On Simulation — reaction essay to ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’

1.‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’

summary

In the book ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’, Margot Lovejoy brings us through the history and evolution of Art in light of the coming of the digital age. My personal insights and opinions will be in reaction to the Sub Chapters: the most advanced form of interactivity is hypermedia : virtual reality and ‘Digital Simulation‘ — the sections in which Lovejoy attempts to decode the relevance and complexity the realm of ‘Alternate Reality’ has in this digital era and also the consequential struggle artists face, having to reconcile the similar yet innately polarising spaces of reality and virtuality.

 

2. On Simulation (Personal Thoughts)

initial thoughts

After reading the section of Digital Simulation, listed below were the initial concepts I pondered about to myself:

When does a representation of Reality became Virtual or Hyper Real ?

With the idea of a single physical reality being diminished in the contemporary digital age, is Virtual Reality still considered an ‘artifice’ or has it earned its right beside ‘Physical Reality’ as an established ideal?

On the importance of Hardware and how it paradoxically enhances the ‘non -physical, virtual experience’?

What makes an effective design of a virtual space?

Reflection

When we think about Simulation, we are often aware that it is not ‘real’ or that it exists as some sort of imagined virtual entity modelled after elements rooted in our physical world. It is almost impossible to imagine or create a completely virtual space from ‘scratch’ — one that has no recognisability visually or cognitively. It is this ‘human handicap’ that inevitably and inextricably tethers Virtuality to Reality. Virtuality in itself hence often acts as mirror, extension, modification or re-interpretation of Reality. One could even argue that a successful Virtual Space (artwork) has to reflect at least fundamental elements of reality in order to engage with the viewer.

For example, in Peter Weibel’s ‘The Wall’ which Lovejoy discusses, a simulacrum is projected onto a large screen (a digital image of a wall), as the viewer walks past the screen, a camera captures his/her silhouette and warps the projected wall. As the viewer moves, the wall further distorts relative to his/her movement. The viewer then becomes part of what is being viewed in real time. Titled The Wall, The Curtain (Boundary, which), also Lascaux’ the work then becomes a modern metaphor of a ‘digital cave’ with the walls being the projection of the brick wall and the drawings being the ‘silhouette’ distortions. Here we can see how the artist has made a link to a pre existing real notion (Lascaux Caves) within his virtual space. Hence when we interact with the piece, we are intuitively coerced into making the interaction more profound.

Lascaux Caves

Weibel’s “The Wall” also explores the butterfly effect, based on Aristotle’s philosophy that we are all observers in a realistic and objective model of the world we inhabit. Weibel exaggerates and portrays this effect by allowing us to directly manipulate our present space. The virtual curtain acts as a non -discrete, mouldable extension to our immediate physical surrounding.

In essence, virtuality has no physical mass or matter. It is purely ‘visual’ or ‘aural’. It is the morphing of pre-existing cognitive notions we have that manipulates us into recognising it as ‘hyperreal’. The photograph of an image is not real. However it is not virtual as the level of transcendence between the two realms is zero. Compare this to what might be a projection of an image on water. The way the light inconsistently projects or refracts around the ripples of waves of water before it, distorts the image into a more obscure entity or rather the image of the image plays with our senses, resulting a high level of transcendence into virtuality. We can hence see how easy it is to cross over from reality to virtuality.

Nike Ad Projected on Flat Surface

Nike Ad Projected on Water Surface

However, we live in a highly complex contemporary digital age presently. It is one where the idea or rationale behind a sole true reality has diminished. Instead we acknowledge the existence of multi-realities within realities, some existing as dimensions of the other. With the advent of technology and social media for example, our social media persona or profile has its own unique reality separate from our real self. There is also heightened interactivity between these seemingly separate entities, enabling them to coexist and react to each other. As such, no one defined reality has influence over us . This phenomena then leads us to the notion of ‘hyperreality. A ‘new’ reality that is not based on physical rationale but rather, commands, algorithms and obscure intangible ‘digital building blocks’. It is no longer ‘imagined’ since it has no tether to any logical reasoning. Instead it is a spontaneous culmination of ‘miniaturised units, from matrices, memory banks, and command models’.

(Classical Physics) Reality – Virtuality – Hyperreality (Quantum Physics)

If we were to draw parallel to physics, hyper reality would be the quantum realm — contained within our observable physical world, yet completely different in the way it defies the laws that bound conventional matter. For example in quantum theory, a particle’s past state can be predicted from its future state. Consequently, Schrodinger’s Cat, Relativity and other quantum concepts suggest the possibility of time travel which is yet to be achieved in the realm of classical physics. The quantum particles, dark matter etc are similar to the building blocks of matrixes and commands, which operate the ‘hyperreal’. They exist on the same plane as their neighbouring entities  but are subsets in the way they interact and are ‘lawless’.

Lovejoy also mentions that hypermedia is the ‘most advanced form of interactivity’. Artists working with VR, are increasingly creating 3D, immersive landscapes which allow people to explore them via some sort of extension or intermediary gear. Computer monitoring tracks their every movement (depending on the sensors connected to their physical gear) enhancing the veracity of the interaction. It is important to note then, that virtuality is very deeply rooted in tangible hardware; it is not simply a detached, imagined space we can freely delve into. To experience or ‘enter’ the realm of virtuality, our body needs to ‘synthesise’ with specially developed gloves, tracking suit, VR Gear etc. We essentially need to come into physical contact with ‘machine’ for us to transcend into these obscure alternate realities. On a psychological level, the act of momentarily (for the duration of the interaction) ‘modifying’ our body into semi cyborgs, invokes a sense of disassociation from our physical body and reality. It ‘strips’ away any innate bias we have pre-interaction, and throws us in deep as clean slates. However, we still have our cognitive and emotional functions preserved, allowing us to then develop ‘new’ perceptions and opinions from our interaction with this unfamiliar virtual landscape.

Lovejoy discusses Artist Brenda Laurel who calls VR costumes ‘prostheses for the imagination’. In her work ‘Placeholder’, participants enter a dark cave where creatures which exist as petroglyphs, entice them to approach close. On approaching each, the participants “become” the creature, assuming its physical features and experience spatialized distortion of their own voice through the HMD (head-mounted device) speakers.” This then allows us as the participants to fully disassociate from our bodies, adopt a completely different one and experience the creator’s virtual narrative. The process of navigating freely as a digital ‘sentinal’ being  is overwhelming and euphoric. We have to take directions from the artist who ultimately has control over the virtual landscape through the boundaries they have set. Laurel’s ‘Placeholder’ hence is an example of Human – Machine – Human interactive system.

 

Placeholder : https://vimeo.com/27344103

 

With this in mind, we as creators have to acknowledge that we define the constraints and parameters of our intended virtual/alternate environment/space. Lovejoy describes how conceptualisation of VR spaces results in the dilemma of ‘freedom’ and ‘restrain’. She talks about VR artist Perry Hoberman who believes freedom of choices and a non discrete fluidity in the flow of interaction results in a more meaningful virtual experience. 

“With interactivity, it’s better to have nothing to say than to try to say something. It’s better for meaning to come out of the interaction rather than controlling the experience.”  — Hoberman

This idea of non-linearity and spontaneity can even be applied to a very simple Human-Machine-Human mode of interaction to see its affect. For example in Kazuhiko Hachiya’s ‘Inter Dis-Communication Machine’, two participants have their visual perspectives swapped. Hachiya talks about how the  perceived real world is different for each person (hence, the users are essentially experiencing a simulation when their sight is replaced by the other).  In this set-up, there were no restrictions or a prescribed set of options to confine or control the interaction. Hachiya even designed the machine to accommodate for the possibility of sexual intimacy between the participants. This then allowed the participants to process their virtual environment in any way they wanted and have that manifested physically (intentionally and unintentionally), in an organic and natural manner. It results in a more profound and impactful experience.

 

 

If as an Artist we were to instead limit possibilities, users will eventually be conscious of their lack of ability to affect their virtual environment the way they want to. They will be aware of the artist’s intervention to coerce an intended outcome, making the virtual space ‘less real’. We should always aim to make virtuality as convincing as possible as a legitimate entity capable of offering the same sensations reality offers us.

Concluding Thoughts

The above mentioned concepts are highly relevant to my group’s final project with involves simulated clocks and time.  Our installation involves the layering of physical hands of the clock above projection of a clock. The intersection of hyperreality and reality intensifies the interactivity. The video itself is a simulacrum—with an added melting effect to reference Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ . By choosing a subtle yet powerful distortion, we will be able to simulate a virtual modern interpretation of Dali’s melting Clock. This will also effectively display a contention between the real and virtual which is relevant when we think about what ‘real’ time is as opposed to ‘perceived’ time. Technology has also affected our perception of time and this juxtaposition between a mechanical clock and a virtual one perpetuates a psychological and uncomfortable feeling when viewed by the participants.

The projections are a form of simulation as the speed of the ticking, depending on the users’ action will all occur at ‘unreal’ rates.  We aim to create a convincing enough alternate space such that line between ‘mechanical’ time and the sped up ‘simulated time’ gets diminished the longer the length of interaction.

‘The Persistence of Memory’ , 1931, Dali

3. Links

https://vimeo.com/7900466

http://tauzero.com/Brenda_Laurel/Placeholder/Placeholder.html

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/die-wand-der-vorhang/

 

Dialogue with Time — Reflection

1.Experience

Initially, before experiencing the session, I was honestly sceptical of the potential take away I would gain, based on previous experiences of such exhibitions where the educational content was not translated convincingly to the participants. However, “Dialogue with Time” proved to be the exact opposite of that and it was via their technique of Role Play, that we as participants were able to empathise with The Central cause of ‘Ageing’. While role playing as elderly, manoeuvring through intentionally modified tasks to mimic their struggle with simple daily tasks, I was able to gain insight into this otherwise foreign demographic.

The first sharing segment where we identified with pictures we felt depicted the idea of ‘Happy Ageing’ best, it gave us a chance to consider in that moment, what we ourselves would want our future to look like. Often we are so engrossed and obsessed with living our contemporary lives (which is inherent and natural of course), that in hindsight, we fail to consider the implications and changes we will have to brace ourselves for as we age. I picked a card with a couple in embrace and in old age. To me, ‘Happy ageing’ was simple: being able to grow up and live life to the fullest with the people you love.

In retrospect, it puts into perspective how despite that might seem like an achievable ideal, in reality many senior citizens face the pain of living in loneliness once their spouses pass away. It is hard for us to imagine a life of loneliness when we are so used to being surrounded by people, in our youth. However that sharing session, struck a chord and urged me to empathise with the fear, unpredictability, and unease many of the elderly would have to grapple with.

The sharing by our senior citizen guide gave us further insight into her own growing process and how she coped with both physical and mental changes brought about by ageing. It is rare that we have a chance to sit down with and talk to someone of age unless we live with our grandparents. Hence for me it was a meaningful opportunity to remind myself that ageing was a significant and important that issue that deserves attention.

2.Role-Play

The main benefit would be its effectiveness in contextualising and providing us with a clear parameter to think in. It coerces us to be focused on our thoughts and it is confrontational in its treatment of the issue at heart.

For the central segment with interactive stations. We were directly challenged to complete simple tasks, imposed with the same limitations elderly face. For example, hand tremors where we had to unlock a door while resting our hands in a shaking loop. The confrontational and direct approach of the stations conveyed the sense of seriousness and urgency of the issue. Instead of being interpretative in its presentation and treating us a a general audience, our characters as old people, effectively enabled us to be convinced of the issue with immediacy. Certain people were also pulled out to sit out, to invoke the idea of retirement. It echoed the idea of the inevitable succumbing to loneliness. Personally I was confident that I would be able to clear all the stations with ease, but was surprised when I fumbled myself. There were moments I was uncomfortable, as it did make me feel momentarily displaced from normalcy. Being forced to think about and reflect while under the guise of a role, allowed me to derive a new perspective.

Words that came to my mind whilst in role : Frustration,  Slow,  Burden.

While people were waiting for us, the fact that we were taking time to complete the station due to its difficulty mirrored similar issue elderly in real life deal with daily. Role-Play allowed me to associate with relevant ideas that I otherwise would not identify with usually.

3. Examples (Effectiveness of Role-Play)

Role Playing would mostly be effective when we as designers are trying to understand challenges that our target audience deal with, (the same challenges we aim to resolve via our design output). It allows us to have an active rather than passive approach towards our design process when we first hand are able to experience what they do. For example, for people with disabilities who are wheel chair bound – role playing to understand the difficulty many ‘normal’ infrastructure designs pose for the manoeuvring of wheel chair bound individuals. Apart from physically changing our experience, role playing also more importantly contextualises the way we absorb information around us. It attunes us to receive information based on the perspective of our target audience, as we interact with them and in their shoes. For something less physically apparent such as trauma, role playing may help us understand heightened sensitivity and trigger response this demographic has. All these then help us as designers be mindful and targeted in our design solutions. It also helps us identify what to focus on and what to avoid that may be detrimental to their betterment.

Task 1A : Exploratory Research

1. Current Issues

1. Sustainable Food

With depleting resources, people are increasingly advocating for the need for plant based diets and Veganism. Common sources of Protein such as cattle and pigs, which have been reared for centuries, are under threat and there is an urgency to harvest alternative sources of protein such as Insects, which are less popular but abundant.

” Businesses that have started to farm and sell insects as food claim their environmental footprint is relatively negligible, and that lean insect protein is a healthier choice for the consumer. “

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/entomophagy-eat-insects-food-diet-save-planet-meat-cattle-deforestation-a8259991.html

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jun/16/future-of-food-insects-gm-rice-on-the-menu

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/68m-fund-to-turn-labs-into-food-factories-of-the-future

2. Mental Health (BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER )

Mental Health , especially illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar , borderline etc are often misunderstood and misinterpreted due to sensationalised portrayal in films and media — The Joker saw many people downplaying the seriousness of severe illness.  Personally I feel, people suffering from more ‘conventional’ illnesses such as depression and anxiety are stepping forward for help and are more readily accepted. However those with more ‘severe’ or culturally ‘frowned upon’ ones still face social stigma and discrimination. People tend to be more wary of them and see them as ‘threats’ more so than people who need help. Borderline however is one that is also stigmatised by Medical Practitioners. It is often maligned in the way it is perceived.

“When they discuss cases, the term “borderline” can take on derogatory overtones. A Canadian study found that psychiatric nurses were more likely to sympathize with hypothetical patients if they were labeled schizophrenic rather than borderline, even when the symptoms described were similar.”

https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/In_Brief_The_stigma_of_borderline_personality .

“This emotional instability leads to some people self-harming or abusing drugs and alcohol to cope. One in 10 people with a BPD diagnosis kill themselves.”

https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2017/oct/27/borderline-personality-disorder-stigmatised-misunderstood-misdiagnosed .

https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/4A8D81B3BB7564E2E561D99E2F80CB89/S0007125018002027a.pdf/prevalence_of_personality_disorders_in_the_general_adult_population_in_western_countries_systematic_review_and_metaanalysis.pdf

3. LGBT INTOLERANCE

Over the past few years there have been major milestones for the LGBTQ Community World Wife with the legalisation of same sex marriage in countries such as the U.S and prominent figures such as Artists (Lil Nas X) and  Apple CEO (Tim Cook) coming out as Gay. However at the same time, this has resulted in an equally strong resistance. LGBT hate crimes continue to happen and Religious Organisations still deem it as unnatural. This has led to continued discrimination and infringement of personal rights worldwide. In Singapore there is still a very strong resistance to the abolishment of the infamous 377a. This is often due to lack of knowledge and empathy.

“Same-sex sexual activity is a crime in 70 countries, and can get you a death sentence in nine countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. And even where these restrictive laws are not actually enforced, their very existence reinforces prejudice against LGBTI people, leaving them feeling like they have no protection against harassment, blackmail and violence.”

http://amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/discrimination/lgbt-rights/

https://www.asiaone.com/health/intolerance-lgbt-can-be-detrimental-young-people

https://www.hrw.org/topic/lgbt-rights

4. Substance ABUSE/Addiction

Substance Abuse Disorder or Addiction, is a world wide epidemic that has been on the rise despite expenditure on healthcare resources to curb it. This is due to the fact that many end up relapsing after undergoing treatment, indicative of a ‘failed system’. In the US itself, there is a Major Opioid Crisis due to the prevalence of prescription pills coupled with the lack of external support for addicts. People get hooked onto painkillers and eventually turn to cheaper drugs such as street heroin, fentanyl etc. The stigma stops many from seeking potential help until it’s too late (further spiral or overdose). It affects family and friends, has social and economic consequences, and healthcare and environmental impacts. Furthermore, proper rehabilitation centres are expensive. In most countries such as Singapore, drugs are criminalised, regardless of the reasons the person may have had to fall into addiction.

“Nearly 64,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2016 alone. Opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 of these deaths, more than any previous year on record.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/opioids/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/claryestes/2019/12/01/successful-alcohol-and-drug-recovery-still-hindered-by-stigma/#f0a6b3e27bfd

 

2. Chosen Issue (Addiction/Relapse)

Why?

The issue is important as despite advances in our technology and healthcare, addiction and deaths from overdose have been steadily increasing rather than decreasing. Addiction not only affects people within the social circle of users but leads to detrimental economic burdens and impacts on the environment. It is a major cause for concern as despite initial successful treatment, almost 80 percent end up relapsing. Most however do not even seek help to begin with. This points to a ‘broken system’ and it needs to be tackled from a new perspective. In the US itself, overdose from drugs has become the leading cause of death for those under 50.

“People with substance misuse issues are less likely to be offered help than are people with a mental illness or physical disability.”

https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DPA_Fact_Sheet_Stigma_and_People_Who_Use_Drugs.pdf

“Drug abuse and addiction cost American society more than $740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs.”

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics

Who?

Addiction affects users and their immediate family and friends. However it is the users who bear the stigma and often end up being ostracised by society even after being clean. This discourages them from contributing to society and many end up relapsing due to not knowing what else to do. Fundamentally being an addict becomes their identity (just like how society views it as such). Those who want to seek help, are too scared to for fear of being harshly treated and end up giving up the fight to recover. Some people are ‘born’ addicts when they are born to addict parents with drugs in their system. Others often have other trauma or pain in earlier phases in their life which eventually led them to spiral into substance abuse. The public often forget that many of these people are human and were not born abusing drugs.

How?

It often ends up in poor socio economic status, prison or death. An addict who does not recover or gets integrated back into society, gets stuck in a vicious loop. They also end up affecting people close to them permanently as addiction is never a problem exclusive to just the user.

3. Target Audience

Who

Recovering addicts or addicts who want to seek help. ( Remind them of their worth and that they are not defined by their history of abuse). The aim would be to encourage them staying clean, getting back involved with family, people. However since addiction is not just isolated to users, a separate target audience comprising of people affected by a loved one’s substance dependancy could also be drawn up. This would ensure a more affect.

Effect

Empathetic, rather than punitive and deterring which is the case for most existing Drug Campaigns. It should  encourage them to seek help and remind them that there is a support system they can rely on. It should ideally also come off as warm as opposed to being disengaged. Users should remember the motivation to stay clean such as their kids or family members who will be adversely affected if they continue to neglect them.

4. Visual Communication Examples

‘Thief’ , Montana Meth Project, Venables Bell + Partners

https://www.montanameth.org/

Pros :

This campaign is executed via a poster which aims to deter and instil fear into potential drug abusers. It is personal in the way it utilises a photo to make the message more intimate for the viewer. The fonts used are also bold, firm and white, reminiscent of white powder. The colours are lowly saturated and the mood of the visuals is relatively sombre. The use of an unsuspecting and ordinary shelf as background echoes the message of ‘home’ and how drugs can so easily pervade one’s family.

Con :

However the use of thief in a larger font to describe an addict is exactly what perpetuates the stigma and is highly discouraging for both family members or users.

 

‘Heroin’, Crenvi, Bronx Comunicação, 2013

https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/print/crenvi_heroin

Pros:

This campaign is based on the organic structure of Heroin. It uses the branches in the structure as a tourniquet for the Male who is injecting himself, while the other branches extend out to bind his kid and Wife. It smartly and effectively captures the idea of how substance dependence directly affects loved ones. The colours used are predominantly white, black and red (Clinical). Text is incorporated within the stamp motif. Heroin and 10 is in red to highlight the severity and danger of the substance. Personally I feel, this campaign utilises a good balance of seriousness and empathy. It calls for potential addicts to reflect on their action rather than outrightly berating them. It allows for thinking space rather than aggressively putting forth an idea.

‘Last Days’, CNB Drugs Free Sg, 2019 (Film)

Pros:

Use of Family to engage and stir emotions of audience.

Con:

This film is by CNB’s ongoing Drugs Free Sg campaign. It dramatises the scenario where an ‘addict’ kills a toddler in broad day light to pawn her Jewelry for drugs. As much as the purpose was to send a very serious message, I feel that it failed in portraying addiction in a nuanced manner. The exaggeration perpetuates stigma and would only discourage affected ones from being supportive. It is also too unrealistic and disengages the public, causing discourse between more widely read youth who are not convinced and zealots whom on the other  buy into the idea religiously. Users who view this film would also be further discouraged from integrating back into society due to the way they are portrayed as murderers even though substance dependency has no direct correlation to murder.

 

 

On Sound — reaction essay to ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’

1. Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age

Summary

In the book ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’, Margot Lovejoy brings us through the history and evolution of Art in light of the rise of technology. My personal insights and opinions will be in reaction to the Sub Chapters:  (Exhibiting) sound as Art‘ and ‘Sonic Bridges‘ — the sections in which Lovejoy explains the relevance and potency sound has in this digital era and also the overarching dilemma artists grapple with, due to constant technological advancement.

2. On Sound (Personal Thoughts)

Initial Thoughts

After reading the section on Sound as a medium, listed below were the initial concepts that I pondered about to myself :

Sound as A New Medium?

When does Sound become ‘Interactive Art’?

Sound is Relative not Definite

Sound as a Measurement of Space
(Visually Impaired use their hearing to gauge proximity and spaces and hence ‘see’)

Reflection

When we approach the use of Sound as a ‘Visual Art’ medium, it is often isolated from any strong visible elements that might distort or ‘soften’ the experience. The space of sound exhibits are kept relatively minimalistic in terms of aesthetics — any interesting aesthetic acts as an extension for the sound interaction rather than a pre requisite to its affect. For example Lovejoy talks about the work ‘Tim Hawkinson, Uberorgan, 2000, sound sculpture installation.’ In this installation, a massive instrument, representing our internal organs occupy the span of a few rooms, attached to a central organ. The sculptures are inflatable cavities and pipes with piano keys that act like the work’s central nervous system. When the audience walks in the space, their motion triggers different keys, producing different notes.

In this example, the sculpture is transparent and the organ itself is stripped down and ‘raw’. It is not embellished and rather is placed there to simply serve a technical purpose. However at the same time, Hawkinson plays with the scale and form of the pipes to resemble that of an internal system to heighten the immersion and veracity of the experience. He does this without disrupting the hierarchy of significance ‘sound’ plays in the work. Instead it is treated as important as the tangible sculpture itself.

Hence when working with sound as a medium, we have to be sensitive in the way we employ visual complements without compromising the central medium of sound and at the same time using just the right amount of visual elements to create a holistic experience still.

Fundamentally, by removing away or ‘suppressing’ our sense of sight, we are prevented from ‘seeing to believe’ and instead have to form our own perceptive version of reality with whatever abstract information we are being exposed to in that moment -temperature , sound etc. It gives way for wonderment and synaesthesia to occur (touch, hearing, smell) , allowing us to potentially experience a heightened multi sensory sphere.

When the relative and elusive nature of sound becomes our primary source of ‘vision’ (as dictated by the limitations imposed by the artist), we are lured to ‘unsee’ to see again. Of course not all sound exhibits involve blinding the audience. However most of these exhibits are minimalistic in nature and often have wide empty spaces with almost no intentional use of colour to cause any visual bias. On the contrary, the use of variation in spaces or the nature of the space itself acts as a vessel both physically and metaphorically for sound to travel or convey its meaning. If we were in a space resembling an empty ship and hear sounds of screaming, we might associate it to that of drowning.

Association in the digital age, with the rise of mechanisation and the internet, have become more introspective and metaphoric rather than connotative. Instead of associating a certain sensation to a definite imagery, we are likely to associate it to a multitude of simultaneous feelings or fragmented ideas derived from constant exposure to social media, the internet or even mass culture. These in turn come together in that moment to form a temporal experiential bubble that is unique to each individual. However the context of the sound and the space it is set in does set boundaries or an overarching concept for pockets of these multiverses within the same alternate reality.

The author also talks about the era of simulation with the advent of technology and computers being incorporated into art. This is inextricably linked to the way sound is used – as much as it is considered an abstract medium conceptually, in science, sound is empirical and the way it is produced or transmitted can be changed via its voltage, frequency, etc. We use hardware and manipulate elements of it to choose the type of sound emission we want to achieve. This then leaves it up to the artist to transcend it beyond science. Rather than just emitting sound, we have to exercise our creative freedom to play around with these elements or string them in non functional and unexpected ways to induce a certain reaction.

For example in Shinseungback Kimyonghun’s ‘Stone’, which we discussed in last week’s lecture, wave crashes against a stone rigged with pressure sensors, are translated into mechanical knocking of solenoids against a block of wood. The output sound occurs after going through a technical and systemic process. However the sheer loudness of it and the way it has a very flat sound is unexpected and contrasts with actual dissipating sound of waves crashing (which is projected on a screen).

Another aspect of sonic in modern culture would be how easily accessible and ‘producible’ it is. Anyone with the right software, has the ability to ‘create’ their own sound just like how artists create songs and music. Existing sounds can also be studied, taken apart and selectively replicated. Lovejoy talks about Laurie Anderson, an experimental artist who explored the melding of sound and poetry in her works, before sound was recognised as a legitimate visual art form. Interestingly, I personally love one of the ‘songs’ she wrote in the 1980s that became an unexpected hit — O Superman. It utilises poetry mixed with constant distinct humming and electronic vocalised harmonies. It has a very mechanical, robotic and futuristic sound.

Sound, in spite of its relativity, and in its function, has a distinct power to covey a specific idea or philosophy effectively. As humans we associate sounds to objects. Anything unfamiliar or new we tend to associate with the Avant Garde or the ‘future’. When Laurie Anderson released O Superman In the 80s, when the established sound was ‘pop’, dominated by the likes of Madonna, it cause a stir and was considered highly experimental for radio. This is an example of how the accessibility and ease of transmission of sound allowed it to penetrate mass culture. Years on, as a millennial myself, ‘O Superman’ is one of my favourite songs as it still holds its own ground in being an experimental masterpiece even in today’s music scene.

Although one must not confuse between sound in the visual arts and sound that is consumed in mass culture via music, it is important to understand both the nuances and the essence of the power it upholds universally. It is important for artists to play  with, and approach sound in a poetic and liberating manner.

One further notable exploration of sound as medium would be the undeniable presence that sound has in both its presence and its absence. Marina Abramovic, in her long durational performance art training institute, MAI, has chambers that immerse prospective artists in absolute silence. It is part of her ‘workshop’ which is intended to ultimately heighten our creativity and consciousness as artists.

Here is an independent experiential installation of hers in which silence is the main transcending medium bridging the audience and the ‘artwork’ and also the only ‘artificial’ and deliberate mode of interaction.

Concluding thoughts

Apart from this specific idea I have chosen to discuss and explore in the above reflection, in ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’, Lovejoy emphasises throughout, of the dilemma we as creators grapple with, as technology advances exponentially in this digital era. We are part of a very real digital ‘Matrix’ of our own where we too are offered both the Red Pill — brutal and harsh truth of what technology can do (negatively when manipulated) and in an increasingly subliminal manner and the Blue Pill — this seductive idea of an unchartered and constantly growing territory for us to explore our ‘Art’ with each new development that comes with each technological milestone. In our reality, we are acutely aware of both these dichotomies and hence must come to a personal compromise within ourselves in order to shape and assert our creative voice with both conviction and affect.

As an artist I’d choose the thing that’s beautiful more than the one that’s true — Laurie Anderson

3. Links

http://ssbkyh.com/works/stone/

http://referad.ru/60888/60888.pdf

https://mai.art/

 

Typography Lecture 3 — Futurism

1. Reflections

In this lecture we learned about the dawn of Modernism. A period sparked by the birth of Cubism which further let to the development of Futurism in Italy, Constructivism in Russia and Precisionism in United States. During period, new philosophies by influential poets and literary figures formed the primordial soup for corresponding Art to emerge. Before this, Typography and Art were widely used in posters and to gain attention with primarily variation in colour, form and with the integration of visuals. However they were still mostly linearised with focus on readability and conveying of a tangible message. With Modernism, these supposed rules fell apart, and artists redefined the arrangement and construction of letters and texts according to their personal beliefs. They were manifestations of the mind, made to stir emotions and induce feelings rather than to serve a material or superficial purpose. In some ways we can say that Typography in this period was imbued with an organic and spontaneous life of its own. Personally I was most drawn to the rebellious and robust philosophy of Futurism.

2. Futurism

Background

in 1909, Poet F.T. Marinetti issued a Futurist Manifesto which was published in La Figaro (a popular magazine run by youths), igniting the movement. He urged artists to revel in and celebrate ‘the beauty of speed’ and emphasised the veracity of movement. He was inspired by this notion of speed when he avoided a collision and ended up flying into a ditch in his speeding car.

“a roaring racing car that seems to run on shrapnel is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace”

Full Translated Manifesto : https://www.societyforasianart.org/sites/default/files/manifesto_futurista.pdf

Works

This love and obsession for speed and movement is evident in his use of texts which fully break away and disregard the conventional rules of typography. He used varying fonts within one page with variations in thickness, colour, strokes.

When one looks at his books, there is a deliberate lack of harmony and no form of symmetry – accurately capturing the essence of the idea of Movement he was so passionate about. This erratic and chaotic appearance (lack there of, of rules) became a rule in itself for the Futurists. He scattered mainly nouns about the page and conveyed meaning through arrangement and size. His lines were organic and dynamic and their grids intersected freely on the page.

Personal Thoughts

Marinetti wanted to express a sensation or a feeling, something intangible and intense and this accurately is reflected by his free and unrestrained ideology of Typography. When I see his work, rather than viewing it as a book, my sense of it is more visual and imagery. It is also important to note that Umberto Boccioni was the leading artist of the movement and manifested Marinetti’s philosophy through his sculptures. His main aim was to capture a cinematic sensation of flux in his figures. As a collective, the also fascist futurists were controversial and rebellious. They were known for provocative acts such as proclaiming fascist slogans from the top of the Venice’s St Mark’s bell tower. They even went to the extent of advocating a new cooking style named ‘Cucina Futuristica’ – extremely absurd recipes that involved the use of cologne and other unconventional ‘ingredients’. They measured their success by the level of abuse they received from the masses. However the movement was short lived and ended with Boccionis’ death. Which fittingly (?) occured due to a riding accident. I suppose one could say he brought his passion of Futurism with him to his grave.

Boccioni, “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space”, 1913

Even though Futurism was short-lived, its aesthetics had a significant impact  on the development of other movements like Surrealism and Expressionism which subsequently lead to the birth of Post-Modern Art movements. Their philosophy of centralising Art and Typography around a specific sensation and feeling propelled the exploration of the intangible, temporal and subconscious to the fore front of Art.

Future World @ ASM — Reflection

1. Layout

Experiential Design

The Space in Future World by Art Science Museum is an example of Experiential Design, from the way the works are curated and the manner in which visitors navigate through the space. The purpose of a successful and immersive space is the create an ‘umwelt‘ — a world of perceived reality that is unique to each individual that comes into contact with it. FutureWorld achieves this through its enclosed yet open layout, comprising of various interactive art works placed all over, allowing visitors to move around freely and make their own choices. As visitors ourselves, we were not restricted or force to directly interact with any of the works. Everyone had 3 choices while navigating between the works : Interact, Observe as a Voyeur or Interact in ways different from what is suggested by the description complementing each work. This ‘freedom’ makes each individual’s experience and take away from the same overarching narrative of FutureWorld, unique to them and them only. This was evident in the way me and my friends approached different works we gravitated towards or engaged in different modes of contact with the same works.

2. Experiential Journey

Hero’s Journey in FutureWorld

Coined by Joseph Campbell, any successful Experience Space should incorporate this theory of leading one from the known to the unknown and back again to the known with some sort of internal transformation.

Source : Worlds of Wonder ,Experience Design for Curious People

Based on my personal experience at the FutureWorld Exhibition, I will breakdown how it integrated this theory and achieved each step in leading us through this journey through the gallery space.

1. Invitation

Pre-Visit, people are enticed to step into this ‘unknown’ realm via its advertising and promotion online. We are given a tease of the potential ‘journey of discovery’ we will undergo and urged to explore it for ourselves. We are also informed of a Story (Narratives) that tie the exhibition together, making the idea of visiting the exhibition less foreign and more intimate. When I read the ‘invitation’ my curiosity was undoubtedly piqued and I wanted to experience this narrative for myself.

 https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/city-in-a-garden.html

2. Transition

This crucial step is the first glimpse the visitor gets of the unknown world they are about to step into — a bridge between their present familiar world to the one they’re about to be immersed in. We were introduced to a guide who gave us the breakdown of the key exhibits and the modes of interaction we would encounter once we stepped in. She also presented us with a floor plan to facilitate our navigation while in the gallery space. Each student was also given a sticker right before we stepped into the FutureWorld space, almost like a ticket to our transition.

3. Introduction

In this stage, visitors would typically be immersed into an introductory area filled with evocative and sensory elements to welcome and give them a taste of the rest of the space they will go on to explore. In FutureWorld, the first area we stepped into was enclosed with high ceilings and big walls that had projections all over. These projections were interactive and veracious in the way they reacted to touch and movement. Even the floor had projections. This space also featured six different artworks that seemed to dissolve and flow seamlessly into each other. Many of us spent a considerable amount of time within this space before stepping into the main area which was sealed off with a black curtain. The intense ‘immersiveness’ set the appropriate tone and mood for the digitally interactive theme of the whole exhibition.

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/city-in-a-garden.html

4. Exploration

Typically in this stage visitors would come into contact with a myriad of exhibits and stations allowing them to choose which ones they would want to participate in. The key element in this stage is the freedom of choice coupled with the depth and multitude of experiences to choose from. Here, users are ideally supposed to complete certain tasks and see the direct effect of their interaction. In FutureWorld, most of the tasks involved direct and deliberate physical interaction and an outcome. For example in the Giant Block Connecting town area, we were able to build our own cities with large blocks and observe a real time projected map of the city. We were able to place obstructions to divert ‘traffic’ or hinder movement in the virtual projected city.  In the Sketch Aquarium exhibit, users had to draw and colour out caricatures that once scanned, got projected and brought to life on a huge aquarium screen. Hence once we completed tasks, we were paid with a satisfying ‘reward’ in the form of a tangible and observable outcome.

 

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/park.html

5. Admiration

This stage is a pivotal moment where an intimate relationship with the audience is created to encourage them to continue on their ‘journey’. All sensory organs should be potentially engaged and and evoke enough wonder to sustain the narrative and their commitment to it. In this area of FutureWorld, most of the interaction here was physical involving pushing illuminated balls which resulted in corresponding music and designing and playing hopscotch. It was a predominantly ‘play’ area where visitors were able to respond to each other via their interaction.

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/park.html

 

6. Immersion

In this stage, which Campbell describes as the ‘Descent into The Innermost Cave’, the interaction between the visitor and the main subject or theme meet in the most intense manner yet. In context of FutureWorld, we as visitors are transported into a ‘psychedelic’ room that alternates between complete light and darkness with projections that warp according to specific movements. The experience one feels here is somewhat overwhelming.

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/sanctuary.html

7. Connection & Recollection

This step aims to consolidate the overall experiences for the visitor and offer them a transformational final experience before they depart from the space. In a sense it is the stage that fully tries to engage the visitor on a personal level and convince them of the relevance of the narrative they went through to their personal lives. In FutureWorld, Crystal Universe undoubtedly and successfully delivers this. As we step into a mini ‘maze’ surrounded by strings of shimmering 170,000 LEDS and distorting mirrors, we experience a temporal existential moment — floating in a ‘digitalverse’. The lights around us changed as we interacted with our phone screens. The sheer luminosity and intensity of the surroundings reminded me of my ‘insignificance’ in the vastness of the universe we live in today — not just the literal universe but the virtual one of technology.

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/space.html

3. Reflection

Sketch Aquarium

When I reached the Sketch Aquarium Exhibit, I sat down at the drawing tables that were occupied by kids and their parents and observed how drawings were being converted into animated images onto a huge projected aquarium. I realised that there was no mediator to filter the works or images that were being scanned and couldn’t help but wonder what kind of reaction would something controversial or ‘inappropriate’ incite in the viewers. Hence I decided to disrupt the idea and demography of the work by making a ‘protest’ Jellyfish. I used the colour red, an angry face with the slogan FTP (Fuck The Police) and Free HK. I wanted to it to be graphic, tacky and controversial —especially right now with the ongoing protests. As I wasn’t breaking any law by doing so, it was a line that I decided to cross intentionally. The fact that this particular artwork was accessible to anyone and had no filter, gave it huge potential for open collaboration. I scanned the image multiple times and an army of angry looking jellyfish started floating insidiously in the aquarium. Almost immediately, adults who were before just smiling innocently at kiddy drawings, got tensed up and murmured among themselves . It was significant that there were a number of mainland Chinese tourists on the day. The station was mostly ‘intended’ and targeted at adolescents who would pick up their crayons and enthusiastically draw. But does the museum expect only kids to interact in this work? Despite being open to public? Personally I felt that the lack of a moderator and the easy access gives way for a ‘Trojan Horse’ in the way the safe space within the kid context allows for controversial opinions to be conveyed and garner attention without facing hinderance.

Typography Lecture 1 — Oracle Bone Script

1. Reflections

In this first introductory lecture, we learned about how letter forms over the centuries, have evolved and changed along with man’s need for different functions, before they were treated as typography or something that is more closely associated with Art as we know it today. In the archaic days, pictographs and petroglyphs (engravings) were created to facilitate documentations with the main and simple function of conveying information. Many of the ‘stylistic’ elements of the form like the stroke were unintentional and rather occured due to the tool with which they were being engraved with (cuneiform, brush stroked serifs on ‘Trajan’s Column’). However over time, with the establishment of function, creating letter forms became a more discrete and unique activity, leading to various modifications and explorations of how they can be presented (with identity and character) as we have them today. We were also presented with many examples of typography being employed in different cultures throughout the centuries. One in particular that we did not delve deep into piqued my interest — Oracle Bone Script. Hence I decided to look up this particular script on my own.

2. Oracle Bone Script

History

The Oracle Bone Script are the oldest form of pictographs that are recognised as the predecessor of modern Chinese Language. They were used by diviners in the Shang Dynasty (questions were inscribed using a metal pin on animal bones and tortoise shells, before being introduced to a hot rod which then caused cracks, allowing the diviner to craft their answers by interpreting these cracks).  They believed the divination via pyromancy allowed them to communicate with their ancestors.

Form

The letters found in the Oracle Bone Script, were essentially pictographs and hence they were highly abstracted version of modern Chinese characters — with some being a combination of two characters. Some scholars theorise that this simplification was due to the difficulty of inscribing on the hard bony materials. Here the form of the letter is hence possibly influenced by tools and materials just like mentioned earlier with regards to the ‘serifs’ on Trajan’s Column. From this script, only about 1300 of known 4600 Chinese characters have been deciphered. Below are some examples of Oracle Bone characters.

Personal Thoughts

Being a non-Chinese speaker, I did not need any prior knowledge of the Modern Chinese Language to decipher the rough meaning of these highly visual pictographs. The characters in the Oracle Bone Script were abstracted ‘diagrams’ of ideas and words. These then eventually transitioned into calligraphy and more complex strokes as they appear today.  Scholars are still trying to fully decipher these texts, as they potentially contain key information about the history of ancient Chinese Civilisations and the way they lived.

“Sidney Leng at the South China Morning Post reports that the museum is offering 100,000 yuan, roughly $15,000 dollars, for each character researchers are able to translate (with sufficient evidence of course). They are offering 50,000 yuan for anyone with a definitive explanation for some of the many disputed characters. Of the estimated 5,000 symbols found on oracle bones, scholars have only been able to translate about 2,000, meaning there’s a lot of room for any brilliant code-breaking scholars out there.” 

One of the main difficulties is due to the fact that the script was irregular in size and form depending on which dynasty they belonged to. Standardisation only occured during the Qin Dynasty period.

What is interesting to note here is that the similar pictograph like Egyptian Hieroglyphs were fully deciphered, by Jean-François Champollion and Thomas Young after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. The presence of Hieroglyphs, Demotic Script and Greek on the stone, all conveying the same ‘decree’, allowed them to compare and eventually decipher the Hieroglyphs. The lack of a clear transitional ‘piece’ of artefact has yet to be found with regards to the Oracle Script and Modern Chinese Language, making difficult up till today for scholars to gain full access and depth to understanding these characters.

Rosetta Stone 

This could potentially be due to the fact that countries like China and Japan were isolationistic and trading only within themselves for a very long period of time  — this probably did not allow for their language to be appropriated and transpired across regions, which is contrastingly evident in the Egyptian, Greek and Roman scripts.

3. Sources

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Rosetta-Stone

https://www.omniglot.com/chinese/jiaguwen.htm

https://www.smithsonianmag.com

Final Project — Limbo

1. Limbo

Description

Limbo is an interactive space and a journey that invokes the idea of recurrence among cancer patients and portrays the inevitability and ambiguity of their eventual delirium and death due to sickness in a clinical way. It comprises of a start, middle and end. Start: where everyone approaches a clinical and minimalistic set up with detailed and specific instructions. They queue up and go step by step, making it methodical and prescribed. This is symbolic of hospital visits. They clean their hands, and wear masks. Middle: When tester wears isolation suit, he or she is stripped of their identity and becomes a patient while everyone else with their mask on become voyeurs (Doctors, nurse, friends, family). When they put on wig and look in the mirror, reflection is fragmented/distorted and flatline emits after a standard heart rate. Shrill sound of flatline forces ‘patient’ to remove ‘liberating wig’ exposing their scars while everyone else is relieved that sound has stopped. Enforces the idea of accepting death. End: eased out by disposing of props in trash can.

2. Inspiration

Statistics 

The following table shows the relatively significant and high recurrence rate.

Source: https://www.cancertherapyadvisor.com/home/tools/fact-sheets/cancer-recurrence-statistics/

Personal Thoughts

I have relatives and close friends who have experienced the loss of someone because of cancer. Psychologically it is a disease that not only affects the victim but their close ones as well. Many of them told me that as much as they were sad when their loved ones passed in the final stages, they were relieved to watch their pain come to an end. The final stages of cancer, coupled with the strong doses of painkillers such as Fentanyl, causes one to hallucinate and lose their identity. They become unrecognisable physically and mentally fragmented. The only pieces left of them lie in the hearts and the minds of their loved ones — Only the audience could see the clear face of the tester/patient — patient was only able to see their reflection through the fragmenting mirror. Hence this was the overall sentiment and ‘vibe’ I wanted our interactive piece to emanate. It was important that not only the tester was involved.

Delirium is the most common sign of medical complications of cancer or cancer treatment affecting the brain and mind. It is a common problem for people with advanced cancer or those at the end of life.” — https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/physical-emotional-and-social-effects-cancer/managing-physical-side-effects/mental-confusion-or-delirium

3. Ideation Process

1.Degrading Mirror

Body Dysphoria, Using a wig that emits male guttural noises when worn. To induce body dysphoria. We realised that this was too niche of a topic to evoke and many would not be able to relate to it, making it seem contrived.

2.THINNING Mirror

Second idea was to use a mirror that would make whoever who looked into it feel like they’re perpetually sick. Incorporated with a wig that emits heart beat followed by a flatline. We wanted to use a concave mirror for this. However sourcing for one was extremely hard and we felt like we could narrow it down further. We also decided to use a pixie cut wig instead so that it would be more androgynous and inclusive.

3.Distortion Mirror

Final Idea that translated into ‘Limbo’ was a fragmented mirror in which a person’s reflection, looked from any angle would always be fragmented. We used a plain mirror form but altered it and guised it in a vanity table set up. We also expanded the interaction to include a beginning to ease the testers and voyeur audience into the interaction ‘space’ and ‘psyche’. Wig would be triggered upon wearing and would beep for 5 seconds before flatlining for two minutes straight unless removed. We wanted this to be reminiscent of people with cancer who have to visit hospitals time after time for surgery all while constantly preparing for a relapse even after recovery. The wig which is liberating object for them, then becomes a dark object since whenever it is put on, it reminds them of their possible death rather than injecting a sense of hope or life into them. Complemented by the mirror which reflects the delirium cancer patients go through during their final moments.

4. Instructional

Physical Set Up:

Pre-Installation Interaction (Start)

Materials Needed:
Hand Sanitiser
Surgical Mask
Isolation Gown
Instructional Signs

Steps:
1. Buy medical supplies from a walk in medical supply store.
2. Set up a convincing clinical and minimalistic table set up. Orderly and cold. Lay out in a line, equidistant to condition audience’s mind to think of queuing up when admitting to hospital.


3. Sanitiser with signs. (Pump 3X thoroughly) Specify number to bring out the idea of prescriptions and steps. Prepare clear clinical like instructions.

4. Mask (Involves voyeur in interaction, discomfort not only for tester but for audience), apart from discomfort from interaction, tester will also be surrounded by everyone else with masks on.
5. Tester will have to put on an isolation gown before proceeding to interact with the main object. This is to ensure the identity of the tester is stripped away for the duration of interaction.

Installation Interaction (Main)

Materials Needed:
Vanity Mirrors
Photo Frame
Storage Box
Trash Bags
Stand
Mounting Tape
Glue Gun

Steps:
1. Buy items from hardware store or relevant beauty shop. Buy isolation gown from medical supply store.
2. To create Topographic, Fragmented and 3D mirror, buy separate pieces of mirrors. Seal them in a tight plastic bag or protector. Use hammer and hit hard to shatter the glass into small pieces. Lay out pieces.


3. Detach Photo frame backing and lay out first layer of glass pieces to form a flat layer of support. Use glue gun to secure heavy pieces. Layer slowly and build up with different heights to achieve intended areas of concavity or convexity. Use fabric as a filler and support to hold denser areas of layers.
4. Finish with photo frame. Use pliers to secure heavy mirror piece. Glue gun to ensure further support. Mount the back with strong mounting tape and mount on the wall
5. Place Necklace stand directly in front of mirror.
6. Place storage box beside with laptop and circuit beside table. Line with trash bag to conceal circuit. Instruct testers to throw gowns and mask into bin as away of stepping out of interaction space and also to enhance discretion of circuit and appliances.

Arduino and WIg (Main)

Materials:
Wig
Arduino
Photocell
Bread Board
Resistor
Processing App
Speaker
Needle, Thread
Soldering Kit
Thin Wires

Steps:
1. Buy androgynous wig with lining
2. Buy long wires, at least 2.5 metre to give allowance for tallest possible tester. Use thin wires to make set up more sleek.
3. Solder Wire to each end of photocell and set up circuit as shown below.


4. Thread wire ends to photocell legs to secure and prevent breakage. Thread photocell onto lining of wig to hide it.


5. Arduino Code — Use low threshold to prevent wig from emitting sound before intended interaction

6. Processing Code

7. Upload Arduino Code then press run on Processing
8. Leave all items in the storage box and proceed to hide.
9. Place wig on necklace stand


10. Let interaction begin

5. User Tests

Body Storming

(Read Micro Project Post)

Testing Code

6. Final Interaction

Interaction

Feedback

7. Reflection

Observations

All the testers were compelled to remove the wig relatively quickly due to the high pitch sound of the flatline. They were wary of annoying the rest of the audience and were troubled by the sound itself. However upon viewing the interaction I realised that maybe forcing them into this choice of removing the wig, was too easy’.

Improvements

Incorporate a sensor within the wig that heats up upon wearing. However upon removal, it starts beeping and then flatlines. This would be symbolic of burning or heat and hence death/cremation. And it would then cause a conflict where users would have to decide if they wanted to let their scalp be uncomfortable and hot or let the shrilling sound play. This is symbolic of the idea of having a choice to go for chemo or other form of therapies yet still facing the high possibility of recurrence — No matter what they choose it will still lead to a ‘negative’ outcome.

 

Zine — Locale (Part 2)

1. Ideation

Concept

For part 2 of Zine, I wanted to expand on the idea of voyeurism explored in part 1, by examining unique and small details within Neil Road. I decided to document these details via photography and incorporate them to produce an exploratory and experimental Zine.

Themes

Panopticon/Surveillance, Subversion, Coexistence, Voyeur

Over—ARCHING FONT

I looked up derogatory terms used to slander the LGBT community by traditional older people and decided to incorporate the word : rényāo — Human Monster, through out my Zine spreads. I broke the word down into its three root characters to use them as relevant imagery. ( 人 , 女 , 夭 ).

LAYOUt

For the spread I wanted to create a Zine with two covers, that gradually converge in the middle. This was to initially separate the iconography surrounding the LGBT and Old Community within Neil Road to portray them as two extreme antonyms of one another. However I wanted to show a gradual blurring of lines and increase in similarity between these communities as the pages turn from either side. Eventually in the middle they both converge and coexist as one unique, eccentric community that are voyeured by everyone else out of Neil Road collectively, rather than each other. Aesthetically I hence wanted to start from a minimalistic style that shifted to collage and eventually to a very graphic and experimental explosive middle spread. I wanted the middle spread to be the most intense in terms of colours and elements.

2. Pages (1-3 & 8-6)

PAGE 1 

Page

Description

This is the front cover, and the LGBT ‘end’ of my Zine. I used the character 人 here, to subvert the slander used on these people. I repeated, rotated and overlaid the characters to form a visual pattern that resembles a red seal. The front page is symbolic of a door and portal, and the red seal act as the guarding layer. To emphasise this idea of breaking into and prying into something, I placed the outline of the door opening of the gay bar Tantric right in the middle. Upon closer look, the locks and handles are also visible. To foreshadow or hint at the blurring of lines between the LGBT and Traditional Communities, I included traditional looking metal Lion Head door handles that I found on the wooden doors of Tantric. The red here is derived from the dark crimson red walls on the inside of the bar. 

Elements UseD

 

PAGE 2

Page

Description

For this composition, I intended to portray the eccentric nature of the LGBT Community as something rebellious and transgressive. I used a trash bin that had the words ‘Old Man’ spray painted on it — this was a really significant find, taking into account the tension I wanted to convey between the Old people and LGBT Comm in Neil Road, within this page. In the background I used a photo of a door with the graffiti of a hush sign. However hidden behind the dustbin, one could visualise it as a logo pointing the vulgar middle finger. On the top right corner I included a torn poster from a wall outside an LGBT Club. The colours used here are also very bold and graphic — accentuating the stereotypical idea that LGBT people like to stand out.

Elements

 

PAGE 3

Page

description

In this page, I wanted to show the blurring of the lines that segregate the two communities and express how they are not that different from one another. For the background, I took a photograph of black and white tiles outside a traditional Chinese martial arts school. What stood out to me was the ‘odd’ black tiles among the white ones. I hence infused this idea of being different within a traditional tile pattern with the perception of the LGBT Comm. I reflected the tiles to create a ‘trippy’ pattern to show this bending in perception. In the middle I incorporated a shrine of a four headed Buddha. The Buddha wears a bright and flamboyant garland and other flowers. Here, I wanted to use a traditional and ‘conservative’ icon to bring out the idea of flamboyance. People often associate LGBT and Ladyboys with Thailand. Hence using a predominantly Thai deity was significant. I use Chinese chess pieces and embossed them with the picture of drag icon, ‘Bianca del Rio’ who is dressed as a clown here. The overall composition looks ritualistic but open closer inspection is filled with hints of extravagance.

elements

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PAGE 8

Page

description

For this page, or the front page from the right side, depicts the Old and Traditional Community in its extremity. Like in the first page, I used the root character 夭 as a seal here, to subvert its derogatory use back onto the old people instead. In line with the idea of its connotation of ‘spirit’ and ‘monster’, I made a patterned seal with the characters similar to how I did with the LGBT Cover, and overlaid it over a grilled shrine dedicated to the deceased. Hence here, the old people are depicted as literal spirits due to their proximity to possible death. I also placed it’s lock directly in the middle to convey the same idea of having to break or pry open doors, to discover the truth behind the community that resides in Neil Road. The green used was taken from the grilled shrine for the spirits.

Elements

 

PAGE 7

Page

description

This page is made up of vector tracings of photographs I took of traditional establishments — mainly doors, windows and gateways. Many of these elements had a grid like angular pattern in them. I layered them to create a claustrophobic composition with bold lines, symbolic of how many traditional conservative people live within the prisons of their own judgments. I also used black and white as a metaphor for how they project their very distinct ideas of what is acceptable and what isn’t onto anyone that is beyond their comfort zone.

Elements

 

PAGE 6

Page

description

In this page, I wanted to once again show the blurring of the lines that distinguish the two communities and express how they are not that different from one another. For the background, I took a photograph of traditional Peranakan looking wall tiles outside a TCM Shophouse—Clinic. The feminine symbol of the roses, floral design and soft pastel colours all have an effeminate nature which the older generation often simply associate to any LGBT person. Hence I wanted to depict that such motifs weren’t that foreign to these older people. In the middle there is an idol and image of the Hindu Deity Ganesha, placed on a Chinese altar. When I was eating at Tong Ah Coffeeshop which is Chinese owned and run traditional kaya toast shop, I noticed that they were playing Hindu Hymns on the radio. It was this that led me to notice this Hindu Deity. Through the use of this idol I wanted to express how within the community of the older generation itself there is cross cultural appreciation. Hence coexistence with a different group of people (LGBT) should not be that hard of an issue. Around the idol, I used images of lavender eyeshadow pans, and imprinted a traditional martial arts association logo on them. This was to introduce the subtle blending and convergence of both communities as they start to reconcile.

Elements

 

PAGES 4-5

Page
description

This is the middle spread where both communities that coexist in Neil Road converge as one eccentric and unique community. In the background I used a grilled gate of a traditional martial arts association — it features two figures facing each other in a fighting stance. However within this context it could be interpreted as two people coming together. I overlaid it with different opacities to give it a blurry illusion — one has to step back and look from afar to get a clearer view of the Neil Road Community. I also used the form of the Chinese character 女, to create a pair of lens — this echoes the idea of surveillance and voyeurism that people outside of Neil Road practice. Both the LGBT culture and many of the traditional landmarks here are treated as hipster attractions and subcultures. As seen from my survey results in Locale Part 1, most people have not visited the gems that are concentrated within this area. I also juxtaposed street signs with a traditional gilded Chinese sign to create tension. The word Taboo from the LGBT Club tag also creates irony beside the traditional Chinese characters that translate to kindness and benevelonce (taken from the billboard of a charity organisation in Neil Road)I edited the street signs such as ‘No Dumping’, rotated the high voltage sign and inserted the CCTV Logo to create a satirical and provocative visual narrative. The use of the work ‘Kok’ from the coffeeshop ‘Kok Sen’ juxtaposed against the image of a rooster (cock), further amplifies the satire within this page.

Elements

3. Printed Zine

Mirror

I wanted the pages of the Zine from each corresponding end, (the spreads) to mirror each other visually to make a final cohesive piece. This idea of mirroring further adds to the effect of convergence in the middle spread.

Spreads

1. Seals :

2. Graffiti and Grit:

3. Deities:

 

4. Jewellery Loupe

Hidden text

I incorporated addresses within each page (the respective place or landmark where most of the elements originate from) in fine prints that would not be visible at first glance. To emphasise the idea of the Panopticon, I provided a Jewellery Loupe (purchased through carousell) that readers could use to scrutinise and find these ‘hidden addresses’ which they could then look up for themselves. This also follows through with my concept of my Zine being an exploratory one. I wanted it to be an emotive experience and intrigue users to visit the site for themselves.

Texts viewed with Loupe

5. Critique