19```Summer summary (& next stops)
Where I was
second half of May
New York City —> Boston —> campus
New York City (& campus, on a few days) —> somewhere in NH —> Philadelphia
Philadelphia —> Portland (OR) —> Beijing --> Shanghai
Shanghai —> Beijing —> Inner Mongolia —> Beijing —> Nepal: Kathmandu & Pokhara —> (Beijing) —> London
What I learned // how I changed this summer
I started to reconnect with my creative self.
Several separate events this summer brought me again and again to the sad realization of how much I’d lost the creative mindset in my first year at Princeton (even though I was doing illustrations for clubs and took one art or design course each semester, it was far from enough) I won’t blame everything on Princeton, though, because Princeton was preceded by four years of boarding school, which also wasn’t a very friendly environment for artists. I just need to take the break that I’m taking, become a stronger person who knows how to protect her creative mindset, and Princeton will be a much better place for me when I go back.
I feel that I did become more creative in the last two months. Increasing creativity requires two things: 1) having a more open attitude (i.e. letting your mind roam around), and 2) a ton of artistic input (i.e. seeing other art, no matter discipline or style).
When I applied to Gnomon in July, I was trying to learn concept art on my own as I prepared my portfolio. I was concerned at first about how I could possibly draw out any imaginative spaces. So I spent hours and hours looking at concept art on Artstation, Instagram, and Pinterest. And at some point, imagining a nonexistent place felt easier and easier. That’s when it really hit me the importance of input. You have to see a lot of things before you can make interesting combinations of them, which is what being creative is about.
The open attitude I gained back after I submitted my paper proposal to the Conscious Cities anthology in early August. I submitted on Sunday, and Monday night I somehow ended up watching a bunch of Billie Eilish videos and felt jealous about how much she was connected to her creative self. The week after that I got to explore the artsy city Portland (OR) with my artsy friends, Cammie and Megan. My time there helped me a ton with freeing up my mind and letting it wander. And I’ve been able to keep up with feeling the creative energy since then! I took tons of pictures and videos of beautiful moments I spotted, whether I was traveling or not.
By the end of this phase of my gap year, I really was open for inspirations.It is still a work in progress, but I’m really happy with how much more creative I’m feeling now than earlier this year!
Sublime is about reaching boundaries and facing infinities.
My research at the Positive Psychology Center this summer was to identify the visual and spatial elements of awe-inducing spaces. I read from the fields of aesthetics (philosophy), awe & self-transcendent experiences (positive psychology), neuroaesthetics and environmental psychology, and architecture for this research. A very important piece of the puzzle was realizing that self-transcendence is about elevating oneself from the mundane world/material reality: when a person is in awe, they are feeling their own limits in the face of infinities, physical or conceptual. It is at the boundary of one’s limits when one’s mind is challenged and needs to adjust -- a fundamental component to the definition of awe (which is composed of “perceived vastness” and “need for accommodation”). Therefore, the architecutral extension of awe should further embody the pursuit of extremes, limits, and infinities.
And more importantly, we don’t always need awe. Or, we can’t be in awe all the time. Comparing to happiness, awe is a more ‘lonely,’ or ‘private,’ emotion. The spatial embodiment for awe is more enclosed and more filled with shadow than happiness or excitement.
I learned many more things in this research experience. As a freshman who felt she was too young for her research. As an artist who felt like an imposter. But in the end, I realized that every work I get out there, whether research or art or something else, is a part of the larger work in progress. The pursuit for what I am really curious about doesn’t end. And getting my work out there for others to see and critique, is part of this never-ending process that helps me get a little farther ahead in my lifelong studies in the subject.
Here is the link to the visual component of my research. I will share my essay when it gets published in October/November.
I finally developed the habit of working out
I used to hate being active, actively. Dancing was sort of an exception, but everything else in sports or physical activities I never knew how to appreciate. So it is a really big deal that I’ve been regularly working out this summer (3~5 times a week). I’ve tried to develop this habit a few times in the past two years, but I think the reason why I’m finally sticking to it this time, is that I actually wanted to be more active now, while in the past it was for losing weight and I was never too motivated to lose weight. There are a lot of cool things to do when you’re more active, feel lighter/agile, and have more strength, and I don’t want to miss out on that. So, yeah! I’m really happy that I’m getting a healthier lifestyle, and, while I still can’t say working out is something I love to do, I want to try more physical activities and find a few that I really love.
Instead of asking who I really am, which assumes an unchanged single entity, I now ask myself what I feel like doing right now
I have talked enough about this in my earlier updates. Essentially, after imagining myself (and trying to work myself towards) being x, y, z kind of people throughout this year, I stopped labeling myself and I’m just going with my intuition at the moment. I’m no longer saying to myself “I can’t take on a documentary project if I want to go into the game industry” or anything like this that puts me into meaningless boxes. But I just (at least I hope to) go ahead and do what I want to do.
The best way to learn is through doing a project and learning as you go.
For the first two or three weeks of my research, I was just reading everything I could about the topic of the sublime in art and architecture. I was getting a lot of exciting insights on the qualities of the sublime every day. I was realizing new topics and materials that I should look into. I was gonna read about Chinese and Japanese art theories, take a look at all the books by Harry Mallgrave and Juhani Pallasmaa, go through almost the whole Critique of Judgment by Kant, etc. I found myself knowing too little to take on this tremendously ambitious project of integrating art and architecture, neuroscience, positive psychology, and philosophy all together on the topic of sublime spaces. It very soon became overwhelming.
Then David, my advisor, suggested that I start writing my paper. Just start with anything I had to say at the moment. See how the readings I’ve done fit into the paper. And do future readings with this paper in mind. Almost as soon as I started this process, I felt clearer about what I should be reading. I think it also had to do with the realization I mentioned earlier in this page about every project being a part of the larger work in progress. It was very hard for me mentally for a long time to believe I was doing anything worthwhile, because of how little time I had to read and how big the project intended to cover. Overall, I thought that David’s advice was really helpful. Reading aesthetics at the very beginning of my research helped me establish the philosophical framework for my research, and I used it as a guide on the directions of my further readings in other disciplines.
I see this research project as something in between a school assignment and a “life project” (as in, the kind of project you do when you are actually in the society). I had a mentor and a general deadline for my research. But I got to decide what to research on design the concrete goal for myself (how many words to write; if i want to publish it; in what format; in what kind of publication, etc). The freedom I was allowed meant a lot of “up to me”’s. No one was there to give me a grade and it was all about how hard I wanted to push myself. That remained a constant source of stress at the back of my mind. I still believe I could have read a lot more, done the research a lot more rigorously, and written the paper a lot more professionally, but I am satisfied enough with what I came up with. I did a pretty cool project! And I am still exploring the topic, in other ways.
I enjoyed living independently and had some fun with cooking.
This is not a personality change or anything like that. But this summer was my first time living on my own in an apartment for an extended period of time (2 months), and cooking for myself every day. I especially loved cooking, which, as cliche as it sounds, really is a kind of art. I basically never followed recipes and just experimented with the ingredients, as long as the food was actually cooked. Nothing I cooked this summer exceeded the craziness of the pepper filled with licorice, curry, cheese and felafel that my friend Luca and I made last year, though. It was an actually delicious dish. I am curious to see what the next crazy dish will come out of my hands.
I developed a few theories on belief and religion.
Earlier this summer, I wrote down my ideas about religion, and here’s an excerpt:
1. Religion is essential human experience that comes in explicit or implicit forms.
2. Religious framework is the most effective mechanism to attracting, influencing, transforming people, because it is so fundamental to how humans operate.
3. Religions provide an often complete system of symbols and narratives that help their followers to access a specific state of mind, or even unlock a certain power within their brain that is hard to get at without religious practices. It comes down to the power of belief.
4. Religion exists where belief exists. Terms like “truth,” and “*the* answer” are often marks of religions, though they could come in a variety.
Questions I am asking now:
1. Do humans become more free or less free when they buy into a specific framework (versus dabbling in multiples without committing to any)? Or, if freedom is relative, in what way do humans become more free with having a specific shared belief system?
2. What’s the contemporary incarnation of religion? What changes and what doesn’t change in NRMs?
3. For people who started New Religious Movements, what was the mindset people were in when they established their religions? Were they fascinated with power? Were they aware of their fascination or lack of fascination of power? Did they genuinely think they were serving others?
4. Are perceiving infinity always or most of the times religious? Does religion, in its broader term, represent uncomprehensibility and infinity?
5. What exactly separates religion and politics?
I kept up with this weekly update!
I didn’t think too far ahead of how my updates will turn out when I started it. I mostly wanted to force myself to reflect on my gap year regularly, which definitely worked. But I’m also starting to see the beauty of it as the integrated archive of my year. Even though I have my physical journal in which I actually write about everything I feel like writing, and even though I take a lot of pictures every day, it is another thing to put together the archives in different mediums and filter out the gibberish, and keep these more crafted archives together in one place where I can access all the time. I am sure I will appreciate what I’m doing now so much more after I finish my gap year!
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︎This is the main thing I will be doing for the next three months!!! It is a course that introduces all sides of video game art production. We’ll learn about building environments in the game contexts -- lots of 3-d modeling involved, which I am so excited about. The course runs from 10am to 5:30 pm every weekday for 12 weeks straight, so it is a lot. And I’m excited for this opportunity to immerse myself in something creative!
Studying Video Game Art Production at Escape Studios in London.
I only found out about this course when I was in Inner Mongolia, a little over two weeks before I arrived in London. Honestly, after seriously considering studying game art for two full years at Gnomon this summer, a 12-week intensive doesn’t sound that intense after all. So I almost didn’t hesitate to sign up for the course (I hesitated for like an hour, though. Because I had been planning to take advantage of the resources in London in a very different way before learning about this course)
Taking Experience Design at Central Saint Martins.
Apart from the game art course, every Monday night, I have this class at the world’s most renowned art school that I don’t have too good of an idea about. My trajectory in exploring art and design, and my experience with organizing puzzle hunts, have made me really certain about my interest in designing experiences. With art and design, I started out with painting, moved on to sculpture and installation because 2D was too limiting, moved on to participatory art and interactive art because simply 3D with no interaction was no enough, and most recently moved on to architecture and games because they are much more immersive than the mediums in fine art. It is evident that I have been searching for greater immersion and user participation all along. I also loved puzzle hunts because it was a real-life team event that’s basically a massive game comprised of mini nerdy games. And organizing it was really fun when we thought about how to improve participants’ experiences (teamworking, sense of accomplishment, diverse range of skills required, thinking outside the box, etc)
I’m pretty sure that no matter what exactly I do in the future, I will be doing something that involves participation/interaction, immersion (integrating multiple senses; large scale), and a huge need of creativity. So this course sounds like a really helpful one to take and I’m curious to see what it will teach me in the next ten weeks!
︎Almost every year since 4th grade, there would be moments when I really really want to get back to dancing. I used to do dance quite intensively before 4th grade, and I hated it. My elementary school’s dance group was a really good one: we performed at the torch relay ceremonies in Beijing Olympics in 2008. But I was the worst in the whole group, and being the competitive person I was at the time (now I’d LOVE to be the worst, if I could be in a group of the best), I could not bear dancing in the last row and feeling ignored by my dance instructors. Plus the training was too hard and intense and quite an amount of crying was involved… Any way, so I quit, but every year I get an urge to learn some type of dance. One year it was Chinese fan dance because I wanted to connect with traditional Chinese culture more. For a few years it was K-Pop because I loved K-Pop. Now it’s hip-hop and house, because I want to channel a part of myself that hasn’t been very accessible yet.
When I took an acting workshop during spring break this year, my teacher said that acting isn’t about pretending to be someone or something else, but actually becoming them, because all characters exist within us. We are able to channel all kinds of emotions and personalities from ourselves. I thought this was so cool because now I’d want to explore the different personalities I can embody. I want to know how many versions of Wendi I can unlock.
Hip-hop and house are some of the dances that I feel don’t match my current spirit. I’ve been loving watching these dance videos on Youtube, and with what the acting teacher said in mind, I now really want to take dance lessons and see what that will do to me. I’m hoping to do that in London as well as when I go back home in Christmas.
Learning textiles in Oaxaca (!!)
I just got accepted into the Arquetopia artist residencies! Arquetopia has a lot of programs in Mexico and Peru, and the one I was accepted to is a 3-week weaving program in Oaxaca with master instructions. What that means is, from mid February to early March, I will be learning weaving from an instructor, alongside about 3-5 other artists, in Oaxaca, and doing an individual art project.
I have been interested in Mexican culture for a long time, and going to Mexico for an extended period of time was always in my mind throughout planning for this gap year. I found out about the Arquetopia residencies right after I got rejected by Gnomon in August, but I only realized how early the application was due three days before the deadline… Thank goodness it all worked out!! Especially, HUGE thank you’s to David, my summer research mentor, and Joe, my sculpture professor freshman fall, for responding to my very very last-minute emails asking for reference. I need to be more put together next time...
I’m hoping to stay for one to two weeks longer than the residency, for traveling with my parents and exploring Mexico’s culinary traditions. Hopefully I’ll take a few courses on cooking when I’m in Oaxaca. I’d love to extend cooking into something beyond just me messing around.