01 The creative team of the “Still”, started from the left pianist Chuhan Zhang, composer Sam Wu, artist Liu Wa

The creative team of the “Still”, started from the left pianist Chuhan Zhang, composer Sam Wu, artist Liu Wa

Born in Beijing in 1994, Liu Wa will graduate in 2017 from Yale University with a joint degree in anthropology and art. Realized via neurotechnology, electroencephalogram (EEG) technology in particular, “Still” is an interactive installation that senses and reflects a spectator’s changing attention levels. During the immersive experience, the viewer controls the ambience through their brainwaves and simultaneously observes her own emotions, constantly shifting her role between spectator and performer.

This piece is a collaborative project by artist Liu Wa, composer Sam Wu, pianist Chuhan Zhang, and BrainCo, a startup company specializing in Brain-Machine-Interface head gear. The multi-media installation premiered at Yale University on April 14th, 2017, then travelled to Harvard University on April 28th, 2017.

The spectator is invited to don the electroencephalogram (EEG) headband and enter an enclosed dark room. Accompanied by the sounds of glass harmonica and piano, the whole ambience is vibrating: ripples expand across the ink; a plant is vibrating; and its shadow on the wall is shaking.

As the viewer reads the hand-made book placed on the table, her rising attention levels light up a lamp that slows down the moving ripples, and calms down the vibrating leaves until everything becomes still. Her process of concentration is thereby visualized by the subtly changing surroundings. After the spectator finishes the book, her declining attention level dims the light and again triggers distractive movements in the ambience.

The changing light and movements in turn motivate the viewer to meditate on her own thoughts and emotions. Each spectator is a performer. Each experience is an unique artwork.

Interview with Liu Wa

“Still” is an art project blending the electroencephalogram (EEG) technology and experimental music, why do you attempt such a creation?

Liu Wa: My collaboration with Sam and Chuhan actually started from our performance “Tree of Life” two years ago. By coincidence, we met the founder of BrainCo, Bicheng Han last year. I have always been interested in interactive and new media art. That being the case, we decided to explore the possibility of merging art and science.

This piece is a collaborative project by you, composer Sam Wu, pianist Chuhan Zhang, and BrainCo, a startup company specializing in Brain-Machine-Interface headgear, what role does each person play in this project? How do you consider the teamwork in creation?

Liu Wa: I came up with the whole structure and the visual component of the piece and solicited help from my friends in music and technology. According to the peaceful atmosphere of my work, Sam composed the piano music and experimented with a glass harmonica. Chuhan improvised on Sam’s composition. After I designed the light and motors, BrainCo provided their EEG technology. We together ran tests and fine-tuned the codes. Everyone took a share of the responsibility and inspired each other.

The key to realizing the “Still” project is the electroencephalogram (EEG) technology by BrainCo, and now technology is extensively participatingin the creation of art projects which has become a trend, while the artists’ identity boundaries are increasingly blurred, how do you view this phenomenon? 

Liu Wa: I think the combination of art and science does not undermine the role of artists at all but brings about more exciting possibilities. Good art should be soul touching. It depends on the intuition and brainpower of artists to transform technology into something artistic and humane. This project is just the start of an ongoing path and I look forward to more collaboration with my peers.

Seen from your previous works, for example the photography-related “Self-Timer Series”, and the “3D Theater” project on display at theUtopia in the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, as well as some installations, etc., we can find that the themes, styles, forms and the use of medium have been greatly changed, and it is not a fixed clue, would you like to tell us what are you interested in? 

Liu Wa: Although these works feature a variety of mediums and forms, they all reflect on one theme—the shifting boundaries between an individual and society. My experiences in China and the US as well as my academic background in anthropology and art inspire me to challenge the binaries between heterogonous cultures and lifestyles. External influences and social expectations could gradually be internalized in a person’s disposition and shape their behavior but every individual also has the agency to break free from her social role. While artistic forms are important, I want my art to have multiple layers of meanings and be open to different interpretations.

Do you think that you are currently in the stage of attempting to explore?  

Liu Wa: In my opinion, only after an artist explores a wide range of possibilities in the unprecedented diverse world, can they develop an unique artistic language. As an emerging artist, I take pleasure in the process of making new forms of art through trial and error.

You are about to graduate from Yale University this year, do you have any plans for development after graduation? 

Liu Wa: I will keep working on a series of brainwave art projects.

About the Artist 

Born in Beijing in 1994, Liu Wa graduated from Beijing No.4 Middle School in 2012, and is about to graduate from the Yale University in 2017, with a jointdegree in anthropology and art.

Exhibitions   

2017 “Still”, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA

2017 “Art Above the Sofa: Next Generation”, New York, USA

2017 “Happened After Sunset”, Art Pavilion of Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, China

2017 “Undergraduate Thesis Exhibition”, Yale University, New Haven, USA

2016 “Art Nova 100”, National Agricultural Exhibition Center, Beijing, China

2016 “Bazaar Art∙Artistic Utopia”, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China

2016 “Nature Unbound”, Yale University, New Haven, USA

2016 “Fantastic Art China∙Sino-American Art Colleges Alliance Exhibition”, New York, USA

2015 “Narrative Song”, Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

2015 “Tree of Life”, Yale University, New Haven, USA

2015 “Tree of Life”, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA

2014 “Art Exhibition”, Yale University, New Haven, USA

2013 “Process – Thinking in the Watching”, Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

Courtesy of the artist, partly translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

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