CREATIVE FUSION: Brave New World – Lin Ke / Beijing, China

Maybe it’s ironic to present images of Lin Ke’s virtual art in a print magazine. Or maybe printed photos representing works that are made on a laptop and exist on screens or in projections, with the internet experience as their subject matter, are just another layer in the experience of removal from reality.

The artist from Beijing, China discussed the work at the FRONT Porch on a Wednesday late in January, in dialog with University of Cincinnati professor Jordan Tate. With support from the Cleveland Foundation, the Madison Resident artist stayed in Cleveland at the Glenville arts campus for three winter months.

Since 2010, he has been making work using the internet as a medium, his laptop as a primary tool. The art presents snapshots of the experience of surfing and manipulating a world wide web full of content, with apparent implications of alienation, or perhaps just an awareness of that fear. But is the artist critical of the detachment, and potential loneliness that come from living in a virtual world, or is he celebrating the access that the internet gives to the world of virtual people, images and ideas? It’s like seeing the plot of a dystopian sci-fi novel play out in an art gallery.

To Lin Ke, a laptop is a way of experiencing the world. He creates videos and stills based on sessions exploring ideas and images online, and on the idea of the screen as an interface with the world. In using images and websites gathered from around the internet, he’s almost always re-mixing the work of people he’s never met. In many of the works, his own face appears in a small, inset window, the way Skype and other two-way video programs show what the person on the other end of the conversation sees. In some of his works, the ghostly reflection of his face on the screen is also captured, creating a haunting sense of voyeurism.

The conversation at the FRONT Porch began with the artists each introducing their practice. When it was Lin Ke’s turn, rather than work through the human translator sitting next to him, the artist presented a full page of text on a projection screen, with Chinese on one side and the English translation on the other. According to the statement, his first artistic pursuit was drawing, which is what led him to study art, but at the university, his training focused on new media art. At first, he says his work included installation, but without a studio in which to experiment, his laptop became his primary tool, and he began to make installations using 3D software. These works look like installation views of exhibits that feature his work—but the installation view is part and parcel of the work itself; the exhibit never happened in the real world. It existed only on the screen.

As his statement read, “I started engaging with artworks on the internet daily, immersing myself in all the artworks I can find, and also produced and shared my own work on the internet. Later on, I found that I could use the computer interface to produce new works with new software that felt like real world tools, like I had a real studio that was simulated by the computer.”

Lin Ke, I Am Going to Use this Poem to Cook.

Lin Ke, I Am Going to Use this Poem to Cook.

The use of a computer to translate his statement was akin to an extension of his artistic practice. First, the translation was done via software, with all the quirks of that process intact. Second, rather than leaving it to the audience to read, or having have any live human read it into a microphone, the text was delivered through the sound system by a robotic voice built into the program. It was efficient, and it showed the technological accomplishment of anthropomorphism in artificial intelligence. But in a room where live humans had gathered to hear an artist talk about his work, and where a human translator was present, this might have also seemed like a tragedy of our technological age.

“Thanks,” the artist said when the robotic voice was finished reading. The audience laughed.

The innuendo between critical lament and celebration was well embodied in one of his works—a virtual installation view that seems to present a video screen suspended from its corners by hefty chains stretched to the corners of a room. Lin Ke’s face appears twice—as a reflection on the “real” screen’s surface, and again in a little inset window on the blue screen-within-the screen, where he projected a fragment of dialog from an episode of Star Trek: “When dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating; you even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit living and reliving other lives left behind in the thought records.” ( Gene Rodenberry, from “The Menagerie,” 1966).

For his part in FRONT, Lin Ke plans to create an augmented reality installation, experienced by visitors using their cell phones in locations around MOCA Cleveland.