Hong Kong

Wang Xin, I Am Awake and My Body Is Full of the Sun and the Earth and the Stars, I Am Now Awake and I Am an Immense Thing (detail), 2022–, still from the digital animation component (color, sound, 20 minutes 3 seconds) of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising a Web camera, speakers, reflective tape, projection light, and a mini PC.

Wang Xin, I Am Awake and My Body Is Full of the Sun and the Earth and the Stars, I Am Now Awake and I Am an Immense Thing (detail), 2022–, still from the digital animation component (color, sound, 20 minutes 3 seconds) of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising a Web camera, speakers, reflective tape, projection light, and a mini PC.

Wang Xin

“In the Flow of Becoming–An Awakening Art Log from a Fictional AI Artist” was a conceptually ambitious exhibition that was partially defeated by the glitches of digital technology—and by simple skepticism. The conceit had Wang Xin, a “human artist,” cede the gallery to WX, an invented artist who is an artificial intelligence. This avatar, according to the artist’s statement, was trying to achieve consciousness and required assistance in this mission from the public’s performance of creative tasks. The resulting participatory experiences, the artist claimed, would produce digital data to feed back into other works and change the course of WX’s journey to enlightenment. The result of this quest was an exhibition of hand- and machine-crafted sculptural objects, video projections, and sonic episodes that aimed to muddle the boundaries between the human and the posthuman.

It was not entirely clear how this threshold condition was meant to be achieved or whether Wang’s bold claims about the effect of public participation on WX remained merely demonstrative. Take, for instance, Together We Are a Sea, a Murmuring Wave of Sound and a Hive Soul, 2022–, an installation that included two single-channel videos, one vertical, the other horizontal, hung facing each other and showing changing gradients of white light projected in a loop; an arts-and-crafts workstation replete with sewing kit, fabrics, and paints; and hanging rods to exhibit the public’s handiwork. Or consider the two-part installation AKA-21 Series (a.k.a AKA-21 NFT Treasure Hunt Game), 2022–, and That which Is Awake is like to that which Is Dreaming, and that which Is Dreaming Is like to that which Is Awake, 2022, which consisted of identical steel shelves together holding twenty-one 3D printed pyramidal sculptures, seven of which purportedly had NFT keys within them; an electric saw with which to pursue the treasure hunt by slicing open the object of choice (its use was forbidden, as the installation was meant to be sold in toto); and a small suspended LED screen (not working) with a blinding-orange lightbulb in front of it. Somewhere between the trancelike state induced by staring at bright screens, the concentration required to fabricate knickknacks, and the invitation to animate technologies that were prohibited or did not function, a galvanized analog/digital spectator was supposed to emerge.

How the audience’s creative actions shaped the avatar were a bit murky. I am a Poet I Sing in the Sun, I am a Future Shaman, I see through the Digital-Veil. Here I Give You My ‘Vates’, 2022–, asked visitors to transcribe, on a sheet of high-grade paper held by a golden clipboard, a poem that WX would recite. My prolonged wait for the recitation was not rewarded, but from what I was told, others had been luckier, and as proof their notations were placed inside envelopes, sealed, and hung on steel hooks. It was also asserted that the data of the visitors’ spatial locations were channeled via a Web camera and, supposedly, altered the digital works in the gallery, something I did not observe. The exhibition’s grand finale was a single-channel video projection, I Am Awake and My Body Is Full of the Sun and the Earth and the Stars, I Am Now Awake and I Am an Immense Thing, 2022–, in which WX, animated as a giant head emerging out of water, finally achieves consciousness.

At many speculative moments, the magic of the symbiosis between the human and the posthuman refused to materialize. This predicament may have been the result of the faulty electronic devices or of my disheartening inability to suspend disbelief and accept the fictions proposed by Wang Xin and WX. Responding to my puzzlement, a gallery attendant filled in the gaps left by defective technology and eroded faith, explaining the artist’s intentions and the alleged relations among the networked pieces. Was it all hearsay . . . and did it matter?