Connector: Language Collision

For this week’s assignment, we were asked to make a “connector”.

– Content

I ask myself, who or what do I want to connect? Or rather, who or what do I think are poorly connected? I thought about ideologies cross culturally and environmentally: how do people from different environment view the same things completely differently? What are the connectors that are malfunctioning here?

Eventually, I found myself blaming the use of language in our cultures, media particularly. I then went on to different news websites and searched for the same headliners. Expectedly, results came back vastly different. Take yesterday (Feb 22, 2017) as an example, one common headline was found in both Chinese and the U.S. media: “the assassination of Kim Jung Nam might affect the relationship between China and North Korea”. Here are the headlines about the same news from a Chinese news site and a U.S. site, respectively:

Chinese site (People’s Daily):

Full article:

U.S. site (Bloomberg):

Full article:

Needless to say, they are different (if not other things). Could I “connect” them?

– Form

I think in most cases, especially when it comes to physical connections, we would like to see connectors acting seamlessly, let it be a conversation with a stranger that just “feels right”, or a plug that fits perfectly into an outlet. However, in an art context, there is also undeniable power in bringing things together by force, intentionally not quite smoothly – juxtaposition, as we call it.

A literal crack on the museum floor could connect immigrants with native citizens, and a fountain installed under Brooklyn Bridge might bring us urban residents closer to nature.

– Output

I decided to create a python program that merge different texts together by force. Or rather, let them collide into each other. With such force visually, I’m interested to see what results I can bring to fill this communication gap.

I placed the two texts side by side (in this case, People’s Daily on the left, Bloomberg on the right), randomized them by sentences, and let them collide.

Below are a few generated results:

The same program can be applied to other texts as well. I’m looking forward to colliding more words in the future.

Neutralizer (Generated Cut up Poem)

Inspired by Charles Hartman’s writing that the awareness of “words and sentences partly as language and not simply as references to nonlinguistic things”, I went fishing in Wikipedia, hoping to strip words completely from its raw definitions. Not satisfied with any outcomes, I moved on to multiple news websites. The differences in their use of language immediately drew my attention. I went deeper and started looking for the differences in languages used by Chinese media and the U.S. media about the same news.

Neutralizer is a python program which takes articles about the same news from two different news websites, randomizes the contents by sentences, places them side by side, and generates a visual effect where the words crash into each other.

In this week’s case, I picked yesterday’s (Feb 22, 2017) common headline (“the assassination of Kim Jong Nam may affect the relationship between China and North Korea”) from a Chinese news site (People’s Daily) and a U.S. site (Bloomberg).

The original articles:

Poeple’s Daily:




I put them through my program:

On the left side I have the article from People’s Daily, and Bloomberg on the right.

Here are a few results:

God Said, Let There Be Light (Final Proposal on Albedo Effect)

My last two posts (System Thinking and Promotion Ad) left me with Albedo effect in urban areas. Not sure how to continue from this point on, I looked back at what we’ve been discussing in class for the past weeks:

I try to ask myself the following questions:

Question 1: What part of the system am I addressing?
According to the Iceberg Model, from the events to the patterns to the social beliefs, addressing different systems bring the artist different leverages. (A vertical axis)

Question 2: Who are my audiences?
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s report pointed out the six different attitudes Americans have on climate change issues. From “alarmed” all the way to “dismissive”, different audiences respond differently to the same presentation. For example, the “alarmed” crowd are aware enough of the issues, however usually not knowing what to do; the “dismissive” ones, on the other hand, need to be convinced of the existence of climate change. (A horizontal axis)

Question 3: What tools do I have?
Analogy, metonymy, future fiction, false mythology… (A form of communication connecting the above two axises)

I find the first two questions very difficult to answer. Going in from the third question, at last, my mind expanded quickly. To me, the obvious method to address my “situation of concern” was some kind of transformation of the urban cities. How could I transform it, then? In my last blog post, I went through the options of “painting roofs white” and “building pavements with high albedo materials”, however, both seemed unrealistic for my time being. What are some practical solutions? I came up with three ideas:

1. Cover the entire city with bright-colored cloth (digitally)
2. Paint city models in bright colors, or dump them in bright-colored liquid (as a performance)
3. Shake city models to have bright-colored powders drop and eventually cover the city (like a snow globe)

I played around for a bit, found more inspirations and built some prototypes for each ideas:

Liking all these ideas, I continued asking myself: how do I want my audiences to feel? What feelings do I want to trigger?

1. Cover with cloth – It’s silent, slow, nostalgic, poignant
2. Paint or dump in liquid – It’s loud, right-to-face, even violent
3. Shake (like a snow globe) – It’s playful

I decided to go with the first choice. As much as I believe artists should be loud and bold, I was also recently reminded of the power of beauty itself, and the cloth idea is more exciting to me aesthetically. More importantly, I think its vague nature could leave my audiences some space for interpretation and imagination. A piece of white covering have many suggestions. I’m building up a futuristic world where the cities either go to sleep peacefully under the cloth, or, to another extreme, go to death like in a funeral.

So I’m going to have the city covered by a piece of cloth. But who is going to do it? Whether we are going to sleep or going to die, it doesn’t seem fitting to have human beings do the covering ourselves. Ever since last time I made my promotion ad, I got hooked on the idea between “God” and “light” in our culture and language, so the gesture of covering cloth immediately led me to the classical western image referring to God:

(One of the most influential interactions between humans and God)

I thought, if God had “said hi” to us like this, why can’t he say bye to us in the same way?

I played God for a bit myself, but didn’t like the result so much.

Eventually I decided to retrieve to my digital comfort zone..

God Said, Let There Be Light

“Good Night/Bye, New York”

“Good Night/Bye, Chicago”

“Good Night/Bye, Dubai”

“Good Night/Bye, Hong Kong”

“Good Night/Bye, Shanghai”

Object Storytelling: Her Jewelry

As someone who has moved around a lot in the past years, most things don’t stay with me for too long. Clothes, books, and furnitures are often on the cycle of buying in and selling out. When I look back, however, I found that some of my jewelries have stayed with me for a relatively long time: they are easy to carry, they are being traded as presents a lot, and they can be cheap if you want them to be.

So I wonder, are other women around me having the same experience with jewelries? What stories do pieces of jewelries carry? I asked around and documented some answers. The more I ask, the more I figure most stories we tell are about memories. Therefore, based on the pictures offered, I created a visual effect of the process of the jewelry forming into an imperfect image, like an old faded memory.

“In Chinese lunar calendar every 12 years is a cycle. When it’s our 12th year we usually wear something red as a tradition. This red bracelet was worn by my mother when she was 48 years old, and last year when I turned 24, she gave it to me as a gift.”

“I exchanged earrings with a girl from Australia who was surfing on my couch in New York two years ago. I gave her one of my favorite earrings at the time (a golden leaf) and received this one from her.”

“This was a present from my aunt when she visited Yellow Stone. It was one of the typical souvenirs you buy from the park’s gift shop, but I’ve grown to like it a lot. A few weeks ago I lost the other earring of this pair. It made me very homesick that day.”

“This was the first ring i’ve ever had. It was a gift from a friend. We bonded immediately after meeting for the first time. I started wearing rings ever since.”

“My best friend gave this necklace to me as a present. It’s from the shop where she was working at in Chicago where they sell artifacts made from women immigrants. We hadn’t seen each other for almost two years when she gave this to me. It was at Chicago airport parking lot.”

Week 2: Module

(notes from class)

A few months ago, I was in upstate New York visiting some friends. In their apartment I saw an abandoned bird’s nest collected by them. Never looked at a nest close up, I was amazed by its structure. It was made of many strange parts: branches, leaves, plastic… Yet they were pieced together in an extremely careful and efficient way that every piece grabbed onto each other tightly. The whole nest could be lifted by one finger, but it had the most fascinating structure that could keep your eyes for hours.

I was inspired. Ever since the trip I wanted to make something out of the nest’s structure: something that has a collective effort, that isn’t picky with materials, that resembles the sense of acceptance of a bird’s nest. When we were asked to make modules this week, I thought it was time for the nest.

It’s worth to mention that I also intended to make this project an opportunity to practice the method of “making something from materials to concept”. I often practice the other way around – concept first. However, I’ve realized that it is helpful as an exercise to start from the materials, any materials, and see how far I can go from there. Therefore, from the start I decided to use a collection of materials – especially the ones that seemed raw and abandoned. I found bundles of wires at the ITP Junk Shelf.

The method I chose to connect them was to braid the wires. Such a universally feminine gesture, I believe the movement is a proper reflection of a “womb”.

Week 2: System Thinking

1. System Thinking/Reflection from class:

As I dive deeper into the research of Albedo Effect, I found myself – exactly like what we discussed in class – trapped in different systems.

In the discussion of “how much light is Earth reflecting back to the space”, one can easily associate the topic to ice and snow due to their bright white color. Consequently, my first thought on the “situation of concern” is we could either stop ice and snow melting, or create more ice and snow. This was when I found myself in the first dilemma, or “wicked problem” as we call it. Neither Albedo Effect nor ice/snow melting acts on its own. Rather, they are both reacting to each other and at the same time being parts of a larger cycle:

(More ice melts, less bright surface on Earth, Albedo goes down, Earth absorbs more heat, more ice melts…)

This does not only reflect on system thinking that all systems act in loops (non-linearly), but also systems contain different cycles within them, as well as being parts of bigger cycles/systems. When talking about such big issues, I try to remind myself constantly: Who am I talking to? What systems does this issue contain? Which part of the systems am I addressing? My biggest question of all is that if there are no “solutions” to these wicked problems, and if we are only trying to display our “situation of concerns”, does this mean our art can only serve the purpose of raising awareness? Is it just another “info session”?

(Systems within systems, happening in loops)

2. Research, Citation, Experts

The idea of a participatory performance where every participant paints their rooftop white (to increase Albedo) has been planted by Marina’s joke in my head since class. Because of this idea and my everyday surrounding in a giant urban jungle, my research has eventually led me to the relationship between urban planning and Albedo Effect. If the melting of the Antarctic ice feels too distant, then what can we do to increase Albedo right around where we live?

I became familiar with the Urban Heat Island Effect from The effect of using a high-albedo material on the Universal Temperature Climate Index within a street canyon (P.J.C. Schrijversa, H.J.J. Jonkera, S.R. de Roodea, published in Urban Climate, Volume 17, September 2016, Pages 284–303), which pointed out that low-Albedo structures in urban cities do not only absorb more heat for the Earth, but also cause more heat for the residents in the city. The article also recommended the use of “high-albedo pavement as a substitution for black asphalt” will effectively counter the local heat buildup.

I found more proof of urban heat cause by low-Albedo materials in High-Albedo Materials for Reducing Building Cooling Energy Use (Haider Taha, David Sailor, Hashem Akbari, published in January 1992). “On clear sunny days, when the solar noon surface temperatures of conventional roofing materials were about 40 degrees C (72 degrees F) warmer than air, the surface temperature of high-albedo coatings were only about 5degreesC warmer than air. In the morning and in the late afternoon, the high-albedo materials were as cool as the air itself.”

However, if “painting rooftops white” sounds impractical, how likely will I get the city to paint the pavements white? This leaves me to look more into both public space in the city as well as architecture
itself. The same article also pointed out research has been done in the past to prove that different exteriors of buildings (which lead to different Albedo levels) affect the indoor air temperature (darker material raise the indoor temperature higher than lighter exterior). Then I was thinking, can we change something about the buildings (surface, structure, material, etc.) to increase Albedo and at the same time reduce heat? Interesting enough, at the end of article, the authors mentioned “it might be worthwhile to investigate artificial shading measures, which provide shading during the day but can be opened during night “.

In The impact of building density and building height heterogeneity on average urban albedo and street surface temperature (Yang, Xinyan, Li, Yuguo, published on Building and Environment, Volume 90, August 2015, Pages 146–156), I read that urban Albedo values are controlled by more than the colors of the architecture surface. The average building height, how much they differ from each other in height, and the areas of horizontal surfaces all play important roles (which mean cities like New York have particularly low level Albedo).

My thoughts were caught by the words of “artificial shading measures”. How much could shading really help with heat? I then stumbled upon Cool surfaces and shade trees to reduce energy use and improve air quality in urban areas (H Akbari, M Pomerantz, H Taha, published in Solar Energy, Volume 70, Issue 3, 2001, Pages 295–310), which suggested “incentive-based programs” need to be developed for both planting shading trees and using high-Albedo materials in urban planning. Another interesting fact from the article, however, was the relationship between smog and urban temperature. According to research, in L.A., “smoggy episodes are absent below about 21°C, but smog becomes unacceptable by 32°C”. I wonder if the same theory would work in China today, where I’ve personally experienced some really severed smog days in the winter. Now I definitely want to make something to link Albedo and air pollution together… Or is that a stretch?

3. Project ideas

Urban heat, high Albedo materials, roofs, walls, colors, trees, pavements, shading, smog… Where do all these leave me? I carried these questions into class, and had an inspiring conversation with my partner. Victoria studies sustainability and urban planning, and she told me about a case study done by Columbia University and CUNY she once read where all residents in one neighborhood in NYC planted vegetation on their rooftops and bus station roofs. The vegetation 1) absorbs air pollution 2) reduces indoor temperature.

Something like this:

(Maybe combining this with the “artificial shading”?)

Furthermore, after explaining the “dark color – low Albedo – more heat” urban effect, I was recommended by cities in Spain that are called “white villages” where people have been building white-surfaced architecture to reduce heat for a long time.

I was very much excited about the idea of “planting things” and “comparison of cities in different colors”. Apart from both, I have been thinking about art works by Christo and Jeanne-Claude which I read about a long time ago. In a few of their projects, the artists cover large space of landscape with monochrome materials:

Not sure how much this is related to my project (except light-colored materials) or how practical it is (not at all), I was simply excited about its aesthetic…

To conclude, I now have a few branches of ideas I could potentially make use of:

covering of space, surface, or landscape;
plants that can open and close during different times;
some comparison between cities based on Albedo level.

Sound Storytelling: Then and Now: the Music We Listen to

This week we were asked to make a sound piece to tell stories.

Over the weekend I was hanging out with some American friends, and we were exchanging what was the first album we ever bought. After almost seven years living abroad, I was once again reminded that my growing-up experience was very different from these friends around me. Music, especially, is a crucial piece to the big pop-culture puzzle. My questions are: how much have we changed these years, if at all? How much can the music we listen to represent the culture around us? In this sound piece, I interviewed a couple of my friends (including myself) who, like myself, were born and raised in China and moved to the U.S. for college.

This piece is titled Then and Now: the Music We Listen to.

Music Credits:

Westlife – My Love
方大同 - 三人游
Drake – Hotline Bling
Jay Z & Kanya West – Otis ft. Otis Redding
Fetty Wap – 679
我为歌狂 - 有梦好甜蜜
Jay Chou – 双截棍/Nunchuks
Backstreet Boys – I Want It That Way
Big Bang – Bang Bang Bang
陈鸿宇 - 理想三旬
Blur – Beetlebum
Suede – Beautiful Ones
Beatles – Hey Jude
David Bowie – Starman
Pink Floyd – Eclipse
Velvet Underground – I’ll Be Your Mirror
Neon Indian – Polish Girl
STRFKR – German Love
Flying Lotus – Do The Astral Plane