Curatorial Statement – everything is a projection
by Yeewan Koon
Sheung Yiu, a Hong Kong artist based in Finland, examines the elusive meaning of “home” within his migratory world and our (dis)connected digital lives as response to WMA’s 2023-24 theme. In “everything is a projection”, Sheung looks at how “Home” not only evades definition but defies it; attempts to seek anything definitive are inevitably met with incomplete memories/data or the anticipation of an unformed future. Nevertheless, we are often compelled to find, recreate, or replicate a home, especially once we have moved away from our place of “origins.” Sheung explores this compulsion through his photographic and digital imaging practice, and in the course of his journey, sees the gaps, erasures and loss inherent in digital technology that as yet cannot capture our memory attachment to “home” as a place where one can locate their situation in the world.
There are three interconnected points that flow through the show: Placeless-ness as a condition of “home,” the limits of computers to recreate reality, and the uncanniness in the resurrection of things through light. Anchoring this work is Sheung’s video project that provides insights to different ways in which he reflects on the relationship between perception and cognition, examining how our methods of looking impact our understanding of the world. These include metaverses and Chinatowns, as well as the biological conditions of memories. Using some of the more common modes of digital replications including photogrammetry, holograms, and projected texturing, Sheung also reveals the limits of these techniques in truly capturing reality, especially when it moves from the spectacular to the smaller things in our lives. He also brings in smell, and in particular the decay of nostalgia as an alternative sensory encounter, to question the advances in replication technology and how all data transfers, including memories, involve loss and gains.
THERE IS NO DUST IN DIGITAL SPACE
In Sheung’s first major video essay, Everything is a Projection, the titular artwork comprises seven stories reflecting on different aspects of home-making. In 2023, Sheung returned to Hong Kong and rediscovered his once-prized comic books packed in old boxes. While he found solace in their musty residues, he was aware of how others were repelled by their rankness. The individual specificity of responses to smell can be explained by how the neurological pathways of our olfactory abilities are located in the same part of the brain that stores long-term memory. Our responses to smell differ because our memories are different. This means that an objective and analytical measure of odour is impossible and to date, the digitisation of scent remains limited within mainstream affect-transfer technology. Memory/Data consists of a set of wax-cast computer external drives infused with a replica of the smell of Sheung’s old comic books. When lit, they melt into wafts of musty odour evoking the tracks of the dust-mites migrating across the pages of his comic book.
The video Everything is a Projection also examines the replications of sites—whether metaverses or Chinatowns. As diasporic landmarks burdened by colonial histories, Chinatowns across the globe have a superficial homogeneity that conforms to an idea of an unchanging place that does not exist anywhere but outside the site of its referents. However, such sites are readily legible as portable homelands for migrants seeking ethnic connections, suggesting that such placeless-ness is integral to their identity as connective community sites. A similar detachment from origins is also found in Marike Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, where hi-tech capitalism dominates virtual domains. Within these pixelated constructions their synthetic skins of spotless surfaces deny the bacterial process of change, erasing time in these virtual domains. As big tech companies compete in the graphic rendering of a “perfect” seamless 360-degrees world using sensors, optics and holography, what is offered is a hyper-masculinist vision of virtual space. However, like Chinatowns, these big tech metaverses, are arguably digital colonies, which employ placeless-ness as a mode of belonging, gleaming with digitalized light and absent of any dust-mites.
THE VIRTUAL IS A REDUCTION OF REALITY
In Towards a Philosophy of Photography, the philosopher Vilem Flusser summarises the history of media as sequential steps from a 4-dimensional space-time to an ultimate 0-dimension. This 0-dimension is a world of pure numbers and algorithms, where our physical reality can be translated into binary codes. Flusser envisions a shift from human subjectivity to projectivity – a state where “to project” means to shape, form, and plan. For Flusser, a future is about realising yourself, whereas the past becomes unreal. The co-evolution of humans with media suggests the importance of machinic images as the future. However, it would be inaccurate to label Flusser as a utopian futurist. He has described his émigré experience as a “dislocation of humanity,” where factors like translations (whether literal or cultural) were forces of displacement. The path of translatory changes is never straightforward, any more than the steps towards 0-dimension, for all translations are of certain departures and uncertain arrivals.
The “uncertain arrivals” of translation is seen in Desktop (altered), the 3D-printed installation that served as the catalyst for this project. During the pandemic period, Sheung remade the 81 objects found on his desk using a combination of photogrammetry and projective texturing. With photogrammetry, he inputted photographs of his desk to transform them into volumetric models. However, as always, any endeavours to build “realism” necessitates reduction to render the data readable in the standardised language of computers. In this instance, Sheung manually adjusted the models so they appeared more realistic to the human eye by removing the noisy data that comes from computer calculations. Projective texturing is a different technique where photographic images are applied as textures on 3D models providing a shortcut to pure computer rendering of an object, which would have required more algorithms and data. With this approach, if the surface of an object with projective texturing is magnified, one can see all the seams and overlaps where the photographs of textures meet. Escaping the human eye, these computer processes of remaking see the transference of loss as part of the very structure of the rendered product. Attracted to the inherent “failure” of digital replications, Desktop presents his 81 desk objects as 3D replicas whose immaculate state is visible from only one specific viewing point.
PEPPER’S GHOST TODAY?
In the 19th century, audiences were introduced to an illusionary trick using projections and mirrors. The technique, known as Pepper’s ghost after its inventor, involved projecting an offstage image onto the stage as a spectral form. Modern variations of this, such as the hologram, have resurrected deceased artists such as Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. Today, the uncanny nature of holograms has been exploited as commercial spectacles found in shopping malls and other public spaces. To what degree does this intersection of holographic perception with our own 4-dimensional world transforms our acceptance of presence as a marker of the real? The holographic appeal, especially when it is at its most theatrical, lies in witnessing volume without substance, visual appearance without the reassurance of the physical body, and the detachment of image from medium. It is a visual mode that encompasses fragments rather than the whole, dependent on the staging of our uncertainties to blur the lines between realism and fantasy.
But what if that performative spectacle of holographic looking is brought down to the level of the mundane and the ordinariness of things with little commercial value as seen in his Light Objects, Objects without Scent, Objects without Memories and Mushishi 3? They are things that hold Sheung’s memories of home. By veering from the spectacles of holograms, the immaterial state of ordinary things widens the possibility of thinking about what the technology of an image can do (and not just show). Can the uncanniness of holographic vision be utilised as a visual language that resembles the fragmented nature of memories? Or are these mere performances of memories? These questions reveal the ongoing transformation of the mechanic image as a world-making force.
Overall, the underlying discursive theme throughout the show is the ways that visual technologies have expanded our world and perhaps even shifted our perception of the way we belong within it. In his book, Everything is a Projection, which is also part of this exhibition, Sheung expands on his methods and research in relationship with the philosophy and histories of photography and the abstract future of after-photography.
Artist: Sheung Yiu
Curator: Yeewan Koon
Exhibition organised and produced by:
With thanks to Tuure Leppänen and BeCandle