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Asheville


5.28-8.5

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From the very end of May to the first couple of days in August, I stayed in a bnb in Asheville, NC. Why? Everyone who called me asked. I got bored staying with my friend in a house 24/7 for 2 months. I had to go to somewhere new just for the sake of being in a new environment. I also have a friend in Asheville — Kira, whom I met at Sundance this year. It was a spontaneous decision that I hadn’t expected before, but made a lot of sense in the end.

My time in Asheville was quite transformative. Being geographically close to Kira, one of my few friends who actually work as an artist, helped me a lot with shifting into a new mood. And since I was still staying indoors most of the time by myself, I naturally turned to learning a bunch of media art software (and watching Chinese variety shows) to kill the time.
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the spot I spent most of my waking time in --->
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During this time, I did a lot of things and nothing at the same time. If someone were to observe me every day, they’d see me sitting on the same cushion in the same spot between a huge desk and a couch all day long, occasionally getting up for food or a bit of workout.

But in the cyberspace, I did a 7-week long internship with the NY-based Independent Filmmaker Project, almost finished my collaboration with QRI on their upcoming web book, collaborated with a friend on a music video that’s coming out soon, did a 2-week full-time architecture summer camp in China time (rip my sleep schedule), created a short interactive web film for the Vibe of Asheville residency, while learning TouchDesigner, Blender and Houdini in my free time.

That’s A LOT OF THINGS. I wasn’t satisfied with what I had learned and experienced in the gap year, and wanted to squeeze in as many creative projects as I could before I take a bit of rest in August and get ready for school.

For this post, I’d like to talk about some of the major thoughts I’ve had, and share some photos from the few times I actually went outside or saw people.
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being a confusing existence to myself

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At the start of May, I had a huge and sudden wave of realistic wonderings and self-doubt: how am I possibly going to reach financial independence in a couple of years as an artist? I have to be extremely good at something in the creative field for that to be possible, but what could that “something” be? How would I know when I’d be good *enough*?

While these questions don’t bother me anymore, I am now simply operating on a blind faith that something will work out by the time I graduate. But I also know I definitely have to work very hard to improve my skills and create better work in the next three years for my faith to not be too blind.

Throughout May and June, I was disappointed that I didn’t do anything significant in the gap year that was about to end, and I still didn’t know how I’d get on some kind of path I wanted to get on. A particular challenge that I must face in my life is finding the inner peace that I am “on the right path” while creating a unique path for myself and still staying “sober” about my capability and impact. I guess there’s a cycle of faith and doubt that I’m supposed to go through continuously, and I was simply at the doubt part of the cycle. So long as I’d get out of it soon enough, it was a healthy thing.

What I took out of the doubt part of the cycle was that I have to have multiple identities. The miscellaneous things I’d explored throughout the gap year only taught me that I loved something different about each of them. While I’m not greedy enough to want to be a Hollywood producer AND a top game producer AND a top researcher AND a top media artist AND whatever, I have a lot of things I want to experience in my life time: art directing games, making documentaries about really unique people, doing projection mapping for live music performances in huge public spaces, organizing a collective of extremely open-minded artists and scientists to do intellectual/creative exchanges and create together, making crazy music videos with emerging technologies, making VR experiences, etc. I seriously want to do all of these. Many of the truly creative artists I admire were never hindered by any medium because they actually understood creativity. I strive to be that kind of artist.

As with financial independence and my ability, it’s pointless for me to think too much about it at this point. I’d prefer to be a “pure” artist than a “businessman” artist, so I must accept that I might have to do jobs don’t completely align with what I want to do when I graduate. But I still have three years! So before then, I’ll just try to work the hardest I can to level up my skills and gain more experience in creative projects...
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Hanging out with Kira

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Hanging out with myself

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Day 100 of quarantine

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Creating Looking At You

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My bnb host, Celeste, also runs an artist residency. When I met up with her and Kira at the end of June, she asked what I’d been doing in the apartment, and I said just learning how to create thinsg with more software. So she said, this is what Vibe of Asheville (her residency program) was about anyways, why don’t you make this an official artist residency here?

So I officially started doing a project that’d be due at around the same time I leave.

Initially, I wanted to make a web installation. I saw PERA by Ali Phi and thought it was such a cool idea. (http://pera.aliphi.com/)


I asked the artist how he made it and he told me to look into three.js.(https://threejs.org/Ah! Coding!! I was excited to learn it, but it seriously has been two and a half years since I last touched java, and I haven’t done any web-related coding before. With all the other projects lining up for me in July, I didn’t think it was a good idea for me to face so much uncertainty in terms of how much I could realistically learn and create with a new programming language for a personal project.

I ended up using Readymag (https://readymag.com/examples/) as my website builder, which provides some easy and quick interactive elements. I used TouchDesigner to create a filter of topographic noise, played around with the variables to make different versions, and added them to a series of short videos I recorded myself doing random things in my bnb.

I also used images of digital objects I made in July for my other projects (primarily using Blender), built an environment in Unreal Engine 4 and made an animation with it, used 3d scan apps on my phone to scan myself and some parts of the room, and did projection mapping with those elements.

Basically I used this project as an excuse to play around with the miscellaneous little things I know, while gaining more familiarity with the software through this experience. ‘






This project was about loneliness. It talks about two kinds of loneliness. 

The first is probably shared by a lot of people. In Asheville, I lived by myself and didn’t have a real person to meet up with most of the time. The number of covid cases was still rising but more and more people got tired of staying home, and that made *me* watn to stay home as much as I could. Interacting with people through zoom or facetime became tiring. It started to feel like my friends and family weren’t real. They could almost be AI’s. And I didn’t feel like a real person--if no one is in the physical reality to interact with me, I could totally be a non-human in an alternate reality... I did almost everything in the same environment every day. I felt almost completely isolated.





Then the second kind of loneliness, which I started to experience in July,  was different from most of the loneliness I’ve experienced before. 

I’m usually not aware of my nationality. I also don’t remember that when I meet people, unless they themselves stress the particular country they come from in our interactions a lot. (I guess this also has to do with the fact that I am naturally attracted to people who have been exposed to more than two cultures, so then the literal colors of their passports don’t matter as much because I remember them as some mixtures of cultures.)

This became difficult as the tentions between the US and China increased this summer. I have been forced to read news every day because they actually became highly relevant to my life and could very well determine where I will be in the near future, regardless of my actual preference.

I sensed more and more nationalistic thinking in my mind, and I didn’t want that for myself. I’ve always been pretty proud of being able to drop the nationality barriers, which helped me befriend people that I wouldn’t have even felt comfortable talking to if I were much more “Chinese” politically. (If I strongly held the opinion that Hong Kong is and has to be a part of China, Taiwan is and has to be a part of China, Tibet is and has to be a part of China, for one obvious example.... These were things I grew up being told as unquestionable facts for the first 15 years of my life, before I dived into an environment that told me the opposite, with an added moral supremacy that marked me “inhuman” if I disagreed. Hmmm... imagine that experiece in itself. I can tell you this forceful means of breaking down my pre-existing structure helped me learn so much about what it takes to have an open mind.)

Now when I looked around, my non-Chinese peers seemed too far away: they wouldn’t understand what it feels like to be me right now. They don’t have a clue about finding oneself in the middle of a new cold war, with both of the two sides being the strongest influences in their cultural identity.

US and China “fighting” in whatever means and capacity directly contributes to a feeling of being torn apart. Choosing a geographical place to stay in is a matter of predicting travel bans in the next year--do I risk not seeing my family for two years or not being able to find an internship/job or go back to school in the US in a year? It subsequently decides what cultural sphere I engage in. Even though I can still use Google, Youtube, Facebook and Instagram in China if I use a proxy app on my phone or laptop, the act of turning on and off the VPN every day always reminds me that I am in a separate world from my international friends. What makes it better than seeing the US threatening to ban WeChat--the only app I use to contact my family and Chinese friends and get a feel for the Chinese reality--soon?





But it’s no use for me to dwell in this feeling of isolation and look at everyone around me with a pair of tinted glasses further strengthening our barriers. It doesn’t make others understand more. 

I became more and more drawn to thinking about how others may feel the same urge for different reasons. If we can somehow visualize or map all of the feelings ever experienced by everyone ever lived on this planet, I bet a large portion of the map would be occupied by this particular kind of loneliness that makes us feel the rest of the world doesn’t understand our unique difficulties. The capacity for empathy that we humans have is much lower than ideal.

Yet the world also seems to operate on this very same fact -- other people’s minds can give us fresh perspectives and free us from being completely absorbed in our own miseries. If an ultimate empathy machine truly exists, and all of us are hooked up to experience the exact same consciousness, including the exact same pain, who will save us?





My most updated thinking is that the time of boundless opportunities will eventually follow the current period of rising tension. Though people like me have been dealing with so much uncertainty for a whole year, as the US threatens to ban certain visa holders and all Communist Party members (which was an absolutely ridiculous thing that only showed how little the US understands China if the Trump administration seriously meant what they said they meant) from entering the US, close down Tik Tok and transactions in WeChat, etc, we will become crucial bridges between the two countries for them to understand each other more. That is if we will still have enough faith and desire to be such bridges. I hope some of us will.

Also, I never imagined myself taking politics classes, but two of the three classes I most look forward to this fall are about American presidency and China’s foreign relations. It truly speaks volumes to me what a special time it has been...





Anyways, I digressed a bit at the end. That was a summary of my two months in Asheville. Check out my work
“Looking At You,” if you’re interested. The other summer projects are in antoher page.





“Let's absurdify life, from east to west. Let us play hide-and-seek with our consciousness of living.” (Fernando Pessoa)