A Creative Capital project

Lily & Honglei Art Studio

 

Project Overview

Shadow Play project explores the new significance of art in the digital age. It raises questions about the relationship between artistic form and narrative as well as the time-honored mediums and digital technologies. Commenced in 2014, the project investigates the urbanization process in China that had been undergoing for decades and became radically accelerated in 2013 when the national leadership unveiled its plan of converting 70 percent of the population to a city-oriented lifestyle by 2025. One may wonder how, and to what extent, the landscape, culture and the daily being of the nation’s people may be altered. As artists, we are compelled to explore and reflect upon the various phases of this historic undertaking.

Through research and fieldwork in China, we collect the ingredients necessary for a complex production that combines traditional artistic expressions such as shadow puppetry motifs with emerging technologies. Weaving three interfaces, namely virtual reality (VR) in cyberspace, augmented reality (AR) on mobile phones and a series of paintings, the project visualizes the metamorphosis brought about by the urbanization and industrialization process. With a retrospective into the past through time-honored imagery and a reflection of the present through immersion in the realities of modern China, we seek to present stories of everyday people to the conscience of a worldwide audience.

The gallery presentation may consist of followings:
1) Display of prints from screenshots and video documentations based on the VR environment, and the live interface of VR installation allowing audience to have interactive experiences via Internet connection when conditions permit (see below);
2) Print-based AR installation (see below);
3) Postdigital painting series (see below).

The exhibition catalog is available as Kindle Edition & paperback.

1) Virtual Reality Installation

Integrating the virtual reality technology with an intriguing Chinese folk art form known as shadow play, the VR installation Shadow Play: Tales of Urbanization in China offers an opportunity for the audience to experience the changing landscapes of contemporary China. In four parts, the virtual installation sheds light upon real-life incidents such as violent clashes during land evictions resulting from urban expansion, children abductions, suicide of migrant workers, 'left-behind children' and predicaments involving cultural and environmental degradation. The images presented below are screenshots of the VR work the artists created in cyberspace.

Visit Shadow Play VR installation live interface in the virtual world (a free Second Life account is required) - http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/UMassOnline/202/35/64

urbanization in China, virtual reality art, lilyhonglei
Click images above to visit Shadow Play virtual installation in cyberspace

 

VR Installation Part I. The Land: Death of the Village Chief

Part I is inspired by the real incident of Qian Yunhui, a popular village chief who led villagers to protest against the local government's forceful demolitions for urban expansion without proper compensation. In the winter of 2010, Qian was struck and killed by a construction truck that some eyewitnesses depicted as murder that involved four men in black security uniforms. While the case has been hugely controversial and silenced by the authorities, the violent conflicts between urban developers and villagers have become commonplace and inescapable fate for many. The artists create fictional characters of 'families of the village chief' whose tales are unveiled from here.

Click images below for bigger screenshots

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Click images above for bigger screenshots.

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VR Installation Part II. The Ruins: Lost Child

Part II depicts the abduction of the late village chief's young son by a human trafficker. Children trafficking is a unique product of China's notorious One Child policy that was partially abolished in 2015. The backdrop of the abduction is set in front of the demolished homes in the village, a prevailing situation in the country that has been undergoing rapid industrialization and urban expansion; that night is the traditional Lantern Festival when the family is supposed to celebrate the ‘decline of darkness’ in the year - the tragic incident also implies the breakdown of family life and cultural traditions. At the end of this chapter, the wise old man suggests the wife of the late chief to look for the missing child by traveling to the city and seeking help from acquaintances there.

Note: An estimated 70,000 children are kidnapped in China every year*, with many of them are sold for adoptions domestically or oversea while others are sold into slavery as beggars in cities. *Rothkopf, David. "China's Missing Children". Foreignpolicy.com. Retrieved 2014-04-12.

Click images below for bigger screenshots

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VR Installation Part III. The City: Into the Void

Part III. The courageous mother commences her journey searching for her young son in the city. She witnesses the urban landscape and its inhabitants are being transformed in astounding scale and speed by an unknown force. She laments everyday people's struggles and tribulations: parents abandoned their own babies outside children’s hospitals as they cannot afford medical treatments; migrant workers, blue or white collars, tread their shaky path of life like walking a tightrope; without a safety net, some of them are falling into destitution.

Click images below for bigger screenshots

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VR Installation Part IV. The Maze: No Exit

Part IV reveals the living condition of migrant laborers in the metropolis of the fast developing country: to save money and time traveling to workplaces, they often have to dwell underground, beneath the glittering cityscape they have helped build with their hands. A gigantic maze underneath the City of Beijing, these underground compounds housed millions of migrant workers until the chilly winter in 2017, when a massive campaign against so-called 'low-end population' evicted some of them from the capital city that they had lived and worked for decades. This chapter also illustrates the real story of five young street boys, the left-behind children whose parents work in far-away cities, were found dead in a rubbish bin where they took shelter in a cold night and were poisoned to death by carbon monoxide. As the protagonist carries on her journey pursuing truth, her view has transcended her personal tragedies by joining other parents who are also looking for their missing children. They will never stop searching in the exitless maze.

Click images below for bigger screenshots

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VR AR Painting

2) Augmented Reality on Mobile Devices

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The painting/print-based AR installation of "Shadow Play" utilizes augmented reality mobile device technologies that superimpose digital shadow play motifs onto a specific background image. The mobile phone then captures the combined images to generate new visual implications. The AR work can be presented as prints in a physical gallery space where the audience may perceive the AR components attached to each photo via their smartphones.

To experience the AR work, please first download the mobile app Artivive on your smartphone, then simply aim your phone camera at each image below. If you have any technical questions, please send us an email.

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Below: A series of AR images, based on original photographs taken by Lily Honglei during their research trips.
[click thumbnails for bigger images]

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Family of the Village Chief

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'They are coming...'

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'To demolish our homes...'

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'I saw four demons holding him down...'

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That winter, the village chief died.

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Homes were torn down.

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Another cold day in the village...

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The boy went missing.

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'I heard in a strange city...'

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...

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Taking train into the city...

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Journey in the city

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Traffic Sign: Slow Down

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the Tea House

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...

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The city is growing...

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also destorys...

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...the old town

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...the Hutong

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...the garden

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...the lotus pond

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...the mountain and river

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..the sky.

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No exit.

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VR AR Painting

3) Painting Series

Based on VR screenshots, the paintings have mimicked, adjusted, morphed and grown into their own species. In other words, the virtual environment is the reality that inspires the creation of the paintings, whose existence satisfies the artists’ longing for ‘making art with hands.’ However, the work hasn’t stopped there - the postdigital paintings have further influenced the creativity in the digital realm through contributing high quality, refined details extracted from the paintings, or experimenting various methods to integrate 3D environments with 2D painting components, etc. Shadow Play’s painting section is a new example of unlocking creative energy in an expanded territory encompassing both digital and physical spaces.

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization in China
F102. Oil on Canvas. 30 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization of China
F103. Oil on Canvas. 30 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization of China
F104. Oil on Canvas. 30 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization in China
F105. Oil on Canvas. 30 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization in China
F106. Oil on Canvas. 24 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization in China
F107. Oil on Canvas. 30 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization in China
F108. Oil on Canvas. 30 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization in China
F109. Oil on Canvas. 24 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization in China
F110. Oil on Canvas. 30 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization in China
F111. Oil on Canvas. 30 inch by 48 inch. 2020 © LILY & HONGLEI ART STUDIO

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Slideshow: Story of the Village Chief Family
Duration: 8 minutes

 

Lily & Honglei present "Shadow Play" project proposal at the 2015 Creative Capital Retreat

Read presentation transcript here

Shadow Play Kindle Edition is now available

Lily Honglei art - Urbanization in China

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Project Overview Virtual Reality Augmented Reality Painting Series