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Interview with Media Artist and Designer Jiayu Liu

Jiayu Liu is a designer and media artist, interested in physical data visualization and interactive code.

Jiayu Liu is London and Beijing-based media artist that creates artwork using some custom algorithm to extract data in real-time. She was born in Liaoning, China and she earned an MA at the Royal College of Art. Her work often recreates and augments the natural world and focuses on relationships between humans, nature, and the lived environment, exploring human behavior and response. Her work has been featured on WIRED, Inhabitat, Thecreatorsproject, VICE, Design Boom, and more. She has been shortlisted for the Aesthetica art prize, Lumen digital art prize, and she has exhibited internationally in museums and galleries including the Victoria&Albert Museum, K11 Art Space, Today Art Museum, London Design Festival, Kinetic Art Fair London, London Fashion Week, Watermans Art Centre London, etc.

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Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How and when did your interest in art come from?

I was born in 1990 in Liaoning, China. My interest in art was inspired by my parents since childhood when I started to learn Chinese calligraphy at the age of four, then Guzheng (a traditional Chinese instrument) and painting in the following years.

Who influenced you as a person and as an artist? What does art mean to you?

My parents are definitely the ones who influenced me the most as a person, it was also them who inspired my original interest and the spirit of exploration in the world of art. However, as an artist, I was influenced by not just a few people. Since digital art was still a rare subject in China, I started to learn about this subject formally until I began my study in the U.K.

The pioneers in digital art such as Olafur Eliasson, Leo Villareal, teamLab, UVA, random international, kimchi and chips, marshmallow laser feast have inspired me a lot from diverse perspectives, and thanks to RCA where I was studying in, I got the chance to attend lectures given by these artists at school and to visit some of their studios, these experiences have affected my interest and exploration in this field.

Her works are part of her constant interest in representing the natural world in introspective ways with various types of technology.

You grew up in Liaoning and now you are working in the U.K. What cultural differences and what common points of view did you find? What did it mean for your artistic and personal path moving from China To England?

I grew up in Liaoning and moved to Beijing when I was ten, later I had my postgraduate study in London, currently, I am working and living in both the U.K. and China. I do find a lot of differences between these two countries no matter in culture or daily life, it is a gap between western and eastern cultures. At the same time, as an artist, I discover common points as well. For example, digital artists from these two countries are using similar ways and the same software to finish their works, which I think is a huge advantage of digital media as it truly practices the idea that art does not need language, or we could say, art does not need a translation in language.

As we all know that artwork itself is the translation of an artist’s expression of emotion, audiences will more or less understand what the work is trying to express or reach a consensus when they see it even when each of them has his or her own perspective. In this case, the U.K. and China don’t really need any more explanation. Personally, the benefit of working and living in both countries is being able to find out the common points between these two different cultures, which is also where my creation is focusing on as well, about how to reach the commonality between cultures and resonate with audiences no matter where they come from.

Besides, we are living in an era when the development of technology and the Internet is growing really fast, audiences are now having quicker and more paths to access new works, artists are able to show their works to the world via the Internet while it would take a longer period for the audiences to see a painting or sculpture from other countries in the past. Therefore, thanks to the power of the Internet and globalization, I don’t think it would be a problem for an artwork to move from one place to another. The dissemination is not unidirectional but globally radiating.

What were the biggest challenges you encounter in the realization of your artwork? How you keep alive your inspiration?

I do encounter challenges every time when I am making artwork and I have received the same question for several times, however, actually, I don’t think there is the biggest challenge because the challenges I am facing are all different and no matter if the challenge is big or not, I will have to consider carefully and conquer it in the end. If I have to pick the biggest one during the realization of my artwork, I would say is the “process” that I am going through for creating artwork.

My inspiration accompanies my daily life, I never think inspiration is an idea that turns up accidentally, I won’t have it with just one pen and a notebook in an empty room for five hours, inspiration should be made of experiences and stories in life.

You are an interdisciplinary design, and technology artist, exploring various perspectives. Which of your technique reflect you most as an artist?

I would only say I am a digital media or new media artist because of the way I create my installations. But I don’t think any technique could reflect someone as an artist as it is just a pattern or medium for an artwork to be realized.

Liu creates a new space that challenges one’s perception of the environment. She is known for highly conceptual and evocative light installations.

You create art using technology to touch topics that show the human connection to nature. What do you enjoy most about your work process?

What I enjoy the most is the process indeed! Before I start to make an artwork, I will usually have a general image of how it will look, and each member of the team in varied professions will try to use different techniques or software during the process together for reaching the final result. I really appreciate and enjoy it when everyone in the team is working on the realization of our imagination because I believe the success of a work is not because of one person’s effort but the strength of the whole team.

How much from you and your personal life experience can we find in your artwork projects?

It is not hard to find a connection between my projects and my personal experiences. For example, “Within invisibility”, my final year project when I was studying in RCA, was to bring the wind from China to London. After I moved to London and saw the Thames that recalled the river is where I grew up, I created “Riverside”. The idea of “The side valley” was inspired by my experience in Switzerland when I was invited by Audemars Piguet to visit their factory.

I was standing on the top of Vallée de Joux and I found that the clouds were moving fast while people were moving slowly, which reminded me of the place I grew up, where the clouds were moving slowly and people were moving fast. At that moment, I decided to capture what I had noticed about time.

My recent work exhibited in Manchester, “Tracing the sky”, was inspired by the lakes, trees, and mountains from my homes in London and Beijing, my artwork moved these natural views from my daily life into the castle. I have to say art really comes from life, all of my artworks are connected to my own life experiences and stories.

Her design lets the users transcend between two worlds. Liu’s work provokes behavioral responses and emotional resonance.

Can you share with us any meaningful story from the backstage of one of your artwork?

I think there are actually many stories behind the scenes, and they are always surrounded by questions like how to solve a problem or to face a challenge. I believe all the difficulties and problems with programming or the work itself are encountered by every artist when creating a work. One story that is especially meaningful to me is the one that happened when we were working on the project of “Tracing the sky”. It was an art piece that required specific conditions of the location, so I had lots of requirements for the venue. Since we were using the technique of AR, we needed a space where we could control and adjust the brightness by ourselves.

And then because we were going to do a full 360° projection, we would need a darker space. Therefore, we were looking for a balance between these two requirements. At the same time, as the work was going to be projected on the wall, I would like to see a venue with a complicated structure, so that the visual effect could be stereoscopic.

There were some other conditions, but these three points were the most difficult to balance. Therefore, we spent a lot of time looking for the venue. We settled at Manchester Cathedral at the beginning. It’s a really beautiful space, some singers took their music videos there, and the space looked perfect when it turned dark. However, our decision turned out to be wrong after we had our first testing in June. The venue was not an ideal one, we fell into the situation that we could not find any venue when there were fewer than two months left before the exhibition. The whole team was in a trough during that period. I decided to take a break, so I took the British double-decker bus and sat on the second floor from the departure to the terminal as usual.

The bus stopped at Old Street Station, it’s an area where you will see trendy fashions, young people and advertisements for different brands. I saw the huge billboard of the brand that sponsored us, it was their advertisement for the European market. I was touched and felt strengthful at this moment. I went back and encouraged my team to find the venue again. Eventually, we managed to find a place that we missed at the beginning after looking for almost every place that was available during the exhibition. Both of the organizers of the exhibition and the venue were supportive, things began to be smooth. The reason why I think the story is meaningful to me is not just because of the strength that the billboard gave me that helped us find the venue but more of an experience that brought me a deeper understanding of teamwork and the power of a team.

Jiayu Liu interrogates the relationships between humans and nature through digital. Using live and static streams of data as well as digital technologies her installations enable new communication nodes with audiences.

In your artwork, we can see the relationships between humans and nature. What do you think about the current environmental situation? How can art, contribute to awareness and environmental conservation?

I have noticed that the situation of the current environment is not going in a good way, a large part of the rainforests in Amazon has already disappeared, Victoria falls is almost dried up. I am thinking to do some recreation projects of this kind of natural environment as the next step since environmental conservation has always been the subject I am concerning about. I think the biggest advantage of digital media art is that it is able to present things that have gone or don’t exist, I wish to raise the public’s awareness of protecting nature by reproducing natural scenes with the help of digital media techniques.

Photos courtesy of Jiayu Liu

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