Shan Shui in the World · 世间山水

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本文中文版链接 (Chinese version):

Shan Shui in the World presents shanshui (山水, landscape) paintings of selected places in the world generated by a computational process based on geography-related information.

This project revisits the ideas implicit in Chinese literati paintings of shan shui: the relationship between urban life and people’s yearning for the nature, and between social responsibility and spiritual purity. For an audience living in an urban area, a traditional shanshui painting provides them with spiritual support through the depiction of the natural scene of elsewhere. With generative technology, however, Shan Shui in the World has the ability to represent any place in the world—including the city where the audience is—in the form of a shanshui painting based on geography-related information of the place.

The notion that shan shui can exist right here (though in a generative parallel world) not only underscores the contrast between the artificial world and nature, but also reminds the audience of an alternative approach to spiritual strength: instead of resorting to the shan shui of elsewhere, we may be able to obtain inner peace from the “shan shui” of our present location by looking inward.

The Generative Process

In this first production of Shan Shui in the World, the shan shui of Manhattan, New York is generated based on its building information. The generative engine was written in C++ with use of creative coding toolkit openFrameworks. The code that renders the shanshui painting was written in OpenGL Shading Language as fragment shaders.

Height and area of the buildings in Manhattan, New York plotted according to their location.

Adjacent buildings merged into mountains, indicated by colors.

Outline of the mountains generated based on building information.

Mountains rendered in the style of ink-wash painting.

Mountains rendered in the style of blue-green shan shui.


The generative shanshui paintings were printed and framed into traditional Chinese scroll paintings, and inscribed and sealed by hand.

A partially unfurled handscroll, together with a furled one in a samite box.

Details of a scroll painting.

Two seals and their imprints, together with red ink and a carving knife.

Generative Shanshui Paintings

Scroll of Shan Shui in Manhattan, New York. 2016. Handscroll. Ink on paper. (192 × 12 inch) Scroll left to see the whole painting.

Downtown Manhattan, New York, High Distance. 2016. Hanging scroll. Ink on paper. (24 × 55 inch)

Uptown Manhattan, New York, Level Distance. 2016. Hanging scroll. Ink on paper. (24 × 55 inch)

Scroll of Blue-green Shan Shui in Manhattan, New York. 2016. Handscroll. Ink and colors on silk. (178 × 12 inch) Scroll left to see the whole painting.

Blue-green Downtown Manhattan, New York, High Distance. 2016. Hanging scroll. Ink and colors on silk. (24 × 55 inch)

Blue-green Uptown Manhattan, New York, Level Distance. 2016. Hanging scroll. Ink and colors on silk. (24 × 55 inch)

Scroll of Blue-green Shan Shui in Baltimore. 2016. Hanging scroll. Ink and colors on silk. (20 × 55 inch)



(Credits: The geographical data used by Shan Shui in the World is from © OpenStreetMap contributors, Who’s On First, Natural Earth, and through Mapzen.)

WAKE-UP CALLS: Online Exhibition of Space-modification Arts

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Visit the exhibition:

WAKE-UP CALLS is an online exhibition of artworks which have the potential to stir up people’s neglected sensation, consideration and imagination of space. Spacial consciousness had once been so vital to our ancestors when the human species was spending its childhood in the wilds, and has been largely forgotten because we now spend most of our lifetime in regular-shaped artificial boxes. Are you as curious, brave and excited about your life as the child you once were? Are you still well connected to the world by persistently looking out from your headspace? The selected artworks in this exhibition could be wake-up calls for the audience’s spacial consciousness through revealing the wonders of various alternative spaces.

A total of 50 works of space modification art are shown in this exhibition. They are all explicitly created for artistic purposes—no pragmatic works, such as architecture, are included. All the selected artworks should make modification to the actual space—they can be installations which physically occupy (and modify) the space, or paintings which make virtual modifications to the space, but cannot be a painting which depicts a modified space without having a strong connection with the physical space in which itself resides.

One unique feature of this exhibition is its categorization of artworks according to each piece’s approaches to space modification. By using the word “approach” here, we don’t mean the technologies involved in making the modification—such as lighting, projection mapping, anamorphosis, etc. They are not the main interest of this exhibition, because we believe that the artist’s mind should not be too tool-oriented. Furthermore, with similar technologies, drastically different artworks could be made—this makes the comparison among the works less feasible. Instead, by using the word “approach”, we mean that we categorize the artworks according to the perceived changes in the modified space, that is, the first level of effect the space modification creates on the audience. This categorization indicates the general direction the artwork heads for; and beyond this first level of impression, various resonating effects can arise in the mind of the audience , which makes the comparison within the category interesting, meaningful and fruitful.

The approaches used in the categorization are listed below, with a brief explanation to each:

  • Augmented Depth: Making the dimension of the space larger than it actually is, usually by indicating additional space which is outside of and connected to the physical one.
  • Intruding Otherness: Basically the reverse of augmented depth. Introducing things from without the modified space, which changes the contour of the latter.
  • Empty Fullness: Filling the space with very little material. Often used together with intruding otherness.
  • Dimensional Contrast: Intriguing the audience’s perception of scale by stressing the contrast of dimension between different elements within the space, or between the space and the audience.
  • Distortion: Alternating the form of the space to generate unevenness with it, either physically or visually.
  • Displacement: Placing objects or the audience to an unconventional location, in order to reveal a new point of view or create alienness.
  • Alternative Texture: Intriguing the audience’s sense of touch by emphasizing a tactile material or imposing an alternative texture onto the space. Often used together with empty fullness.
  • Instability: Indicating the potential to change by emphasizing seemingly unstable elements in space.
  • Performative Space: Revealing time-based multimedia content to the audience.

The completeness of the above categorization has been examined in making this exhibition—every selected artwork falls into at least one category. A majority of the works actually fall into more than one categories, which makes it interesting to consider the relation among these space modification approaches. The audience need to be aware that the number of approaches an artwork involves does not indicate its level of sophistication by any means, and that the categorization of the artworks in the exhibition is inevitably subjective and can only be used for reference. Nonetheless, the categorization and comparison of a relatively large amount of artworks in the domain of space modification is intriguing and should provide insights and inspirations to both the audience and the artists interested in this field.

Oculi: A Show of Alternative Spaces

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腾讯视频链接 (video link for visitors in China):

Long after our farewells to the forest, the savannah and the cave, the homo sapiens are so accustomed to living in human-scaled cube-shaped white boxes. Having been interacting with this kind of space since birth, we take our boxed life for granted. We tend to not take much consideration of other forms of space, and even neglect our consciousness of space most of the time.

Oculi aims to wake up the audience’s sense of space. Being presented within an apartment, it consists of six installations under the name of oculus. Through the use of projection mapping, each oculus brings the image of a poetic alternative space into the exhibition venue, superimposing it onto the physical space of the apartment. These shape, scale or location alternations, in contrast to the otherwise ordinary living environment, evoke the audience’s nostalgia for their forgotten sensation and imagination of space.