MAGAZINE

The transformation of the I/I without body (part III)

Through the perspective of Liyu Xue

by Adriana Ghimp

The transformation of the I/I without body (part III)

Through the perspective of Liyu Xue

Liyu Xue is an interdisciplinary artist currently based in Los Angeles. Through his work, he explores the performative nature of the bodily presence using video, photography and performance. The works are informed by consciousness studies and they investigate new perspectives in approaching the body-mind connection and the embodiment.

In his introduction, Liyu continues clarifying that the body and mind are not separated but we are led to think of it in these terms by the great proliferation of the visual stimuli. From his studies on consciousness and the many investigated theories Liyu discovered that among all the senses constantly active, the visual one takes up to 80-85% of our brain activity to be processed. This explains why visual material strikes us more than any other content.

Liyu: Our eyes are like a getaway to the interior of our body. The external visual signals are transmitted and interpreted by our brain faster than any other stimulation. That explains why images and moving images are so powerful and so easy for us to understand, at the same time, we can also be easily manipulated by them. With the current development of the digital platforms that host visual content,  our senses are overpowered and that leads us to over-consume and lose the sense of our physical body. Also when our body processes the visual stimuli, different areas of our brain activate, even neurons, that are in charge of physical actions. That explains how even if we’re only stimulated by visual input our body responds in a physical way trying to make sense of the visual imagery.

Analysing the spectators’ encounter with art in the physical space and in the digital space, we are confronted with a very different spatial experience. There seems to be a big reduction in terms of the senses involved in the digital space considering that the only sources of stimulation are the screen or speakers.

Liyu: I believe that the body reacts really well in the digital space, the sequence of the moving images, the patterns, especially the flashing colours, all really capture our attention. This is a good time to introduce the scientific discovery of the mirror neurons and mirror mechanism done in the 1990s. 

A group of scientists at the University of Parma led a study in which they used an MRI to measure the neuron activity and firing of neurons and they discovered that the same neurons that activate while performing an action are also activated merely by observing someone performing the same action. 

So that is a revolutionary discovery. Even if we only see the object and not the action we can associate the object with the action and that leads to the understanding of actions and intentions and even abstract understanding. There are specific studies that investigate how we respond to certain artworks based on the mirror neurons discovery. We can deeply understand abstract artworks, being just splashes of colour or brush strokes, when we see it the same neurons fire that are in charge of the action that produced the artwork. This leads us to make sense of how the artist used the stroke to express certain emotions and how we would use it in a similar way. 

A very striking example in this regard are the works of Lucio Fontana in which he used the knife to make cuts in the canvas. When we see the mark as the result of the action – the cutting, we can make sense of it because physically the same neurons fire that are in charge of the cutting action.

It is really fascinating and liberating to understand the artistic process through this perspective. Even if it is an abstract idea we are able to resonate with it in some way, and it is not only our brain that is trying to make sense of it but our whole body. This applies not only to physical objects, but we also respond in the same way to digital images and objects.  It shows how when we are dealing with so many screens as we do nowadays we respond the same to physical artworks or objects.

There is a tendency in the digital space to simulate and recreate the physical space even though the digital environment theoretically allows for infinite possibilities. We are trying to multiply the number of visual sources in the physical space and are witnessing an acceleration in the proliferation of screens and images. The digital context, on the other hand, has the potential to display an infinite number of visual sources and still we are somehow hostile to it.

Liyu: In the digital space there are no limitations. You can build whatever you want but the result we are currently seeing is just a replication of the organisation of the physical space. Especially with the online galleries that are replicating the physical galleries. Probably because of how our brain is wired to experience space. When we think of ourselves, our bodies, there is a certain map in our brain that is visually locating us in space. Our mind is constantly trying to locate ourselves in space and time in the physical world and so when we are entering the digital space we are trying to create something familiar to the physical space organisation that we are wired to. For now, a lot of people are feeling dislocated and struggle to find the orientation when they first enter into the digital space, but I am sure we will be able to develop a completely different spatial organisation and orientation once we are completely wired to the digital space.

 

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We constantly go through processes of adaptation and while in the physical world we have physical objects in space to use as points of reference in the digital environment we create from nothingness and can potentially materialise every fantasy. In the physical world, we adapt to what exists, develop and add new levels based on our past or present experience. In the digital world, since everything is possible we are lost, we do not have points of reference as we do in the physical environment.

Liyu: I am curious to see if perhaps in the next 20 year or so we will establish some sort of metrics, basic building blocks for the digital space and by doing that digital objects will become a crucial part of our consciousness, and even an extension of our consciousness.

Speaking of disorientation I would like to bring up a personal experience. For the past year, I have been dealing with a physical problem: an imbalance in the hip area. I have been dedicating time to improve my physical body and in the meantime that made me think more about how I am located in space and how my body orientates. I have to exercise every day by walking in space very consciously, I am more aware of the surroundings and the space makes me aware of the imbalance in my body. I am still in the process of recovery but it is astonishing how long it is taking for me to reorient myself correctly in space and how this subtle imbalance can lead to a very different spatial perception. By doing this I am re-learning to stand and walk correctly and it made me realise how hard it is to break habitual cycles. So I say it is a very easy process for us to expand in the digital realm but then, it is also equally difficult to alter the way our body is wired to respond to the environment.

Throughout this series of articles, the identity is described as very concrete, defined in the present moment and then projected onto other entities when we activate in the digital space. And although the visual stimuli are able to involve our whole body, there is still a lack of physicality and it is related to the weight of the body, body temperature, gravity, the pressure in the air, etc. That which we cannot experience in the digital space. 

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