TONGWU: Daily Dividuals
Opening Reception: Apr. 23rd, 2021, 6 pm - 9 pm
Location: 174 Roebling St., 1L, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Hours: Tue. - Sat. 11 am- 5 pm, Sunday 12 am - 5 pm, by appointment only.
Artists: Tong Wu
Curator: Eva Yisu Ren
LATITUDE Gallery is pleased to announce Tong Wu’s solo exhibition: Daily Dividuals, curated by Eva Yisu Ren, on view from April 23 to May 2, 2021. As the artist's first solo exhibition in New York, Daily Dividuals will feature a series of Wu's recent multimedia works, including videos, Augmented Reality (AR), digital sculpture installations, and digital paintings since 2019. Apart from the physical exhibition that occupies the gallery's two-floor space, the artist also has created an online ‘double’ of Daily Dividuals. The online section of the show utilizes the interactive functionality of web pages and virtual platforms to reinterpret the physical exhibition in cyberspace. Visitors to the online exhibition will also be part of the network system, partaking in the virtual exhibition with their own video window and mouse coordinates. As Wu hopes to allow the exhibition to extend beyond the constraints of time and geographic location, visitors reunite with Wu's artworks beyond the surface of reality by using their own digital avatars.
In etymology, the original meaning of "Individual" can be traced back to "not to be divided" in Latin. As recent technological advancement has enabled us to see the world beyond the naked eye, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze believed that the word "Individual" is no longer able to convey the meaning of the smallest unit that the society could be reduced to. In a contemporary machine-dominated society where most of the communication and perception are transmitted through digital screens, the Internet is gradually taking over the physical experience of our bodies, monopolizing all of our perceptions into the digital realm. Interpersonal relationships have also been transformed into virtual conversations between online avatars — this alienation has been further catalyzed by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Living in a digital era, individuals are metamorphosing into unrecognizable masses of data. But our online avatars, our 'Dividuals", on the other hand, are increasingly active in the fragmented virtual world, wandering, resting, and interacting with one another. Behind their numerous forms and facades, these online avatars conflict and blend with our physical individuality, creating more confusion and detachments via their accumulation of self-imagination and desires.
Two years in the making, Daily Dividuals is the outcome of the artist's long-term artistic research on cyber-culture and the digital system. The exhibition aims to discuss the expanding philosophical brokerage between the physical world, the virtual sphere, and online avatars and the fluid yet dystopian nature of "self." Tong Wu's works continue the long-lasting exploration of human alienation initiated by previous generations of artists, also sense the subtle difference of perspective between the human-machine relationship. As a self-proclaimed multimedia netizen artist, the Internet wasn't the only source of influence on the artist's understanding of the interpersonal relationship and social structure. Tong Wu's worldview is also significantly shaped by the Buddhism culture from her family and surroundings during her childhood in Quanzhou (Fujian Province, China), resulting in a close bond between Buddhist doctrine and the artist's practice. Information fragmentation in the digital age is indeed a universal and contemporary process. Still, Tong Wu's personal upbringing has led her to originate a very "personalized" perspective that is refreshingly innovative and also distinctly East Asian.
Buddhism classifies the "eye" into five perceptive faculties: the Fleshy eye, Heavenly eye, Wisdom eye, Dharma eye, and the Buddha's eye. The Fleshy Eye sees things with forms and entities, yet with the Heavenly Eye, one sees without physical constraint. Wisdom Eye belongs to dwellers of emptiness who cast away obsessiveness, and Dharma eye contemplates true emptiness. To a certain extent, the profound meaning of the Eastern religion has formed an unexpected encounter with the discussion of "identity redefinition" in the cyber world.
Several works in the exhibition explore this subject in an AR (augmented reality) con- text. The artist transforms a 3D scan avatar of her own body into a single functional existence combined with our daily necessities. Taking inspiration from the usual viewing interfaces of AR artworks, whereby objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information through small portable screens, Wu examines the phenomenon of human objectification by machines and questions "what is real”. Is only what the mortal body sees and hears real? Do people lose their individuality in cyberspace? How do we comprehend our alienated online avatars? And what is the relationship between the duplicated dividuals and the physical self?
Two video works provide deeper insight into Tong’s personal and physical experiences. In her piece “Love, Death, Wishes”, Tong Wu puts the physical individual back to the usual social environment and interpersonal network, witnessing yet another shift on the definition of “self”: under the social panopticon, how is a human individual destined to meet others’ inner expectations and become their avatar of imagination and desires? Through digital screens, can one actually know about another individual sitting at the other end? Living in a cyber limbo, what exactly is happening when human and machines are constantly perceiving each other?
The background music of Tong Wu's video work "One Man Band" is derived from "Thoughts on a Tranquil Night”, a classic 8th century Tang Dynasty poem in Nanguan style. Nanguan music, as one of the oldest ensemble music types in existence, is a style of Chinese classical music from Tong Wu's hometown, the southern Chinese province of Fujian. The singer usually sings in Hokkien, and the five instruments in classic Nanguan (Pipa, Sanxian, Dongxiao, Er xian, and clapper) complement each other to form a delicate and gentle melody. In this tune, the singer segments the entire poem into syllables by disassembling it with the phonology in Hokkien and lengthens the end of each note. Hereon, the language abandons semantics to form visualized and unrecognizable tones. The "one and only" individual converts into numerous avatars here, and the avatars are continuously derived, mutated, and become distinct unities in the imaginary cyber world. As one continues to blend and penetrate into one’s “dividual”, would the passiveness and criticism within the concept of "alienation" gradually weaken once the physical selfs start the imagination on their avatars?
In Buddhism, "Guan Zizai" means contemplating one's own existence. Existence is endless and subject to impermanence and uncertainty. No state, good or bad, lasts forever. When we examine ourselves as both individuals and our fragmented digital dividuals, can this become a way to transcend both the external functional confinement of the physical along with the fluid definition of our dividual selves, and achieve a state of true blissfulness?
Tong Wu is a multimedia artist raised on the Internet. She now co-exists with her digital doubles in New York and the Chrome browser.
Tong Wu's art research focuses on cyberculture, the digital system, and how "individuals" form relationships with their overpopulated avatars in the era of digital. She uses various media, such as 3D visuals, machine-learning models, installations, and performance, to construct a speculative world of digital doubles and to present the fluid yet dystopian nature of "individual".
Wu graduated from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at the New York University and the photojournalism program at the University of Maryland, College Park. She has exhibited her work internationally, including Koganechō Art Management Center in Yokohama, Japan, CURRENTS New Media Festival in New Mexico, U.S., International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) DocLab Session in Amsterdam, Netherlands, CultureHub & La Mama experimental theater club in New York, U.S., SandBox Immersive Festival Acceleration Program in Hangzhou, China.
Her personal and collaborative projects have also received international awards and nominations, including nominees of the IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-fiction and Digital Storytelling, winner of the Digital Dozens Special Jury Awards by Digital Storytelling Lab of the Columbia University.
Eva Yisu Ren is an independent curator, writer, and designer based in New York. Currently, she is working at Chambers Fine Art Gallery. She received a Master of Arts in Visual Arts Administration at New York University in 2020, and a Bachelor of Arts in both Fine Art / Contemporary Art Theory and Philosophy from the University of California, Irvine, in 2018. She has work experiences both from for-profit and nonprofit sectors of the art industry, including Christie’s, Heritage, The Armory Show, TEFAF New York, Chart Gallery, The FLAG Art Foundation, and National Museum of China. Before her art world journey, she worked in the Blockchain Industry and Venture Capital and was responsible for Marketing Strategy and Public Relations. Recently, she co-founded a curatorial project, ONBD, which dedicates to NFT based art.