IN THE LAND OF EXILE:
Tianyu Qiu is an interdisciplinary artist and designer currently based in New York City. Qiu focuses on the construction of a narrative, fictional, and dystopian world which rethinks and discusses our contemporary time. Qiu received his BFA degree in theater from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and an MFA in Fine Arts at Parsons the New School of Design, where he was rewarded with the President Scholarship. Qiu participated in 33OC Art Residency in Italy in2016, he performed his piece Game at the Itinerant Performing Art Festival 2017 in both Queens Museum and Bronx Museum of Arts. In 2018, Tianyu Presented his paper Dark Matter at College Arts Annual Conference in Los Angeles. He had his first solo exhibition Pixinity: Pop Futurism in New York City in 2019.
The following is a short interview between Hongzheng Han, the curator of Standing Out, the Outstandings, and the participating artist Tianyu Qiu.
H: Drawing inspirations from the history of Chinatowns around the world, Land of Exile (2021) presents both a sense of nostalgic preservation and capitalistic invasion. Can you tell us a bit about the creation of this video piece?
Q: Land of Exile depicts Chinatowns on Satellite maps, representing Chinese migrants who have expanded their footprints to the rest of the world and built their own communities for the last two hundred years. Although they still kept their own culture and traditions after generations, the Chinese diasporas are neither “Chinese” nor fully the citizen of the country they reside. So Chinatown, as their community and land, becomes this in-between place for themselves. That’s why I call them the Land of Exile.
I often use the methodologies of mapping and cartography to explore the rationalities among those irrational things and events. In this series, I used Google’s cartographic applications, such as Google Map and Google Earth, which give us the power to unveil untouchable and unseeable places with only a few clicks of our fingers. Furthermore, the surveillance view of multiple videos on the screen simultaneously brings the viewers to a more powerful and immortal position to see and monitor multiple places at the same time. By utilizing Google as an artistic tool and a source of inspiration, it becomes part of the narrative that Google, as this gigantic technological monopoly, created a free tool, but essentially as users, Google has turned us into data points and eventually become part of their data cloud. Therefore, every single user becomes part of a bigger ecosystem. In this case, every viewer also becomes the contributor of artistic narration.
My intention is to use Google’s technology as a tool to narrate the existence of Chinatown and Chinese migrants in the Western World by revealing the location of Chinatowns in relationship to their cities, and the “fake” Chinese-looking architectures in Chinatowns represent the stereotypical Western imagery and the idea of what is “Chinese” or even “Asian” in general. The surveillance camera view symbolized the early Chinese immigrants’ communities in the West were watched and pushed to the poorer corner of the city. When the viewers watch the Chinese communities through the monitors, they realize they are in that monitoring position, a position of power. The early immigrants realized that they could only protect their communities by producing a “Chinese” image for the West to consume. All the Chinatowns have buildings designed with exaggerated Chinese pagoda, palaces, or gate décors, which quickly become exotic sites for Western tourists. Some of these architectures are purposefully shown in my work, but they are broken apart into pixel cubes. The purpose of pixelating the satellite view of Chinatown is to blur these imageries and blend all the Chinatowns together as one, that the viewers may not even think these videos took place in Chinatowns around the world, but seeing them the same as the rest of the world. The Google Earth interface is also part of the narrative tool to tell the story of Chinatowns and immigrant communities.
H: What programing software did you use to achieve this aesthetic? What is your take on art and technology in the age of unstoppable NFT hype?
Q: I used Google Earth App, Touch Designer, and Adobe Premiere as my tools to create this video series. I use Google Earth’s 2D satellite maps and then generating the pixelating effects using Touch Designer, which is a python based software that allows me to write programs to create 2d and 3d digital and interactive images and videos. I think computer programs gave artists more possibilities and more rooms to explore new ideas, in fact, they are not much different from paintbrushes and pigments. One of the differences is that digital is not tangible, unlike paintings or sculptures. They are created with intangible materials, such as program languages and computer calculations.
We are living in the age of technology, digital images can easily be transfer and circulated through the internet and digital devices. There are also a great handful of resources and materials online that digital artists can have access to. I learned the different software through different tutorials, and obtain either free or paid digital materials online. For example, in Land of Exile, Google Earth is free to use, part of Touch Designer codes I used were free open resources. As an artist making digital art, I have a lot of materials to use for my art.
These artworks created by pixels and vectors are results of our time, I was actually surprised NFT came so late into the game, compared to bitcoin and blockchain. But it does bring more possibilities for digital artists, like myself, who don’t have to only rely on commissions and exhibitions to make profits with digital arts.
H: You came to America at an early age; how did you feel as a young immigrant? Can you relate your past immigrational experience to your artistic creation?
Q: When I first moved to the United States from China, I was only 15. The first place I lived was Chicago’s Chinatown, which is one of the most iconic Chinatowns in America. But I realized that the Chinatowns in the United States are far different from China. It’s a mere Western view of what China is, the Chinatown architecture was mostly designed by American architects using exaggerated decors from Chinese pagodas and palaces as main design elements to create a Chinese imagery from a Western perspective. The western media often depicts a false image of China that can be easily consumed by their viewers. The early 20th Century Hollywood films produced many “Chinese” antagonistic characters such as Fu Manchu, who was performed by white actors with taped slanted eyes and long fake nails. This shaped how Western audiences see China. For a very long time in Western history, the Chinese or Asians were often described as a danger to western civilization. The fear of the yellow peril, or the non-white primitives. We were and still are considered the lesser men, who possess superstitious powers and skills that will take over the western culture. Ironically, in real life, the capitalistic West enjoys the cheap Chinese laborers abut at the same time fear for the lost of their jobs. From Continental Railroad construction to the death of Vincent Chin in 1982, now fastforward to Trump’s insane remarks, “China has been stealing from us for many years” in 2020. This narrative of yellow peril never gets old. A majority of Trump’s supporters believe it and love to consume these stories because that’s how they were told since they were kids, and probably these narratives were the same during their grandparents’ time.
I had to deal with the stereotypical ideology of being Asian for my whole life. My art practice has been focusing on initiating social and political matters using narration, interactions, and digital technologies. Land of Exile is a great example of my works to use Chinatown as an element to narrate the Chinese immigrants’ situation and history.
H: How are you dealing with this surge of Sinophobia due to the COVID-19 epidemic? Does this situation inspire you creatively?
Q: Both my wife and I had experienced Sinophobic hate crimes during the pandemic. I have to try my best to create a safe space for my family and try to avoid some of these conflicts, but at the same time we stood up for our fellow Asian communities, we have been to many protests to support Against AAPI Hate Crimes in New York City.
Land of Exile series was created during the pandemic, which has given me the opportunity to think about myself, my identity, my heritage, and how can I use my knowledge to stand up for our community, and how to create a safe space for us to against haters and racists. I am one of the founders of Asian Creative Foundation, a non-profit organization to support Asian creatives, where I started a program called ARTAZION that is a talk series to advocate the Asian art and design community and discuss different creative subjects. I want to build a community for Asian creators, who are under-represented in this post-pandemic time. We also hosted a few panel discussions to talk about the crisis of the Asian community. We all need to speak out and stand out for each other.
H: Standing Out, the Outstandings is an exhibition designed to amplify the long-oppressed Asian voice in America. As one of the ten artists in this show, are there any encouraging words you would like to say to our community?
Q: You are not alone in this, we are not alone. We don’t need to be afraid of standing out! We need to stand up for ourselves. We need to remember our histories and tell our stories.