Challenging Conventions

Angel Qin is an interdisciplinary artist, fashion stylist and posthuman image weaver based in London. She weaves patterns of imagery from a non-human-centric perspective, questioning the ontological nature of humanity and its relationship with ecology.

A: How does your art practice and research explore the relationship between humans and the environment?
My art practice has been hugely influenced by my time at the University of Rochester. There, I delved into Environmental Humanities under the guidance of Cary Adams and Leila Nadir, and I was deeply inspired by Guattari’s idea of the three ecologies, which cover the natural, social and mental realms.

In my work, I’m always trying to expand and rethink what we mean by “environment.” I do this by creating interventions that shake up our usual contexts, pushing us to reconsider the definitions and our place within them.

For example, in my performance piece In the Garden I arranged traditional Japanese ikebana on a toilet, which really challenges conventional ideas about beauty and function. Similarly, in my interactive project Humanware I turned human chromosomes into binary codes to explore digital gender identity, looking at how technology, biology, and personal identity intersect.

A: What role does technology play in this exploration?
In the Anthropocene, technology and the environment are intricately linked, with technological advancements both shaping and being shaped by our interactions with the natural world. Our bodies, embodied experiences and ecological environments are all intertwined with technology to some extent and are continually transformed through our interactions with it.

In my exploration, I view technology as an intimate and inseparable symbiotic entity. Through technology, I am able to explore and reveal different dimensions of time, environment and nonlinear narratives, expanding my perception of existence as a biological being. Technology allows me to delve into and expose the layers of reality that are otherwise inaccessible, enriching my understanding and experience of the world.

A: Why do you think that experimentation with installation, moving image, games, VR photography and performance are used to express your ideas?
Each of these mediums possesses its own unique characteristics and, to some extent, embodies media purity. They can be static or dynamic, flat or three-dimensional, inviting or rejecting the audience. My experimentation with these mediums is akin to selecting the most suitable soil for nurturing my ideas. By leveraging the distinct qualities of each medium, I can find the perfect way to express and cultivate my concepts, ensuring they resonate deeply and effectively with the audience.

A: In Issue 119 of Aesthetica, we feature work from the White Euphoria series. Why are white goods such as washing machines and air conditioners used and what role do they play?
Home appliances are like the vegetative nervous system in our domestic living space. They function independently of consciousness and regulate the basic physiological activities of the body’s internal organs, such as breathing and heartbeat, to maintain the most basic instincts of life.

For this reason, I always think they trigger the feeling of sexual frigidity. Unlike tables and chairs, they do not directly triggers sensory intimacy. They are “white”, keeping the balance of life silently. They are mass-produced goods and functional. Their surface are straight, smooth and flat. They have no folds.

Their presence is an underlying tone. It is the instinctive breathing and heartbeat of the domestic space. For me, in domestic appliances there are mental traces of individual inner experience under the influence of instinct. Designing underwear for machines is in itself a vibrant creative impulse.

A: Who is the subject – is it you as yourself? Or is it you as a character or as a representative of humans?
I prefer to think of the subject as closer to a representative of humans. In this work, I invited models of different races, skin tones and genders, and created headpieces for them made of various mineral materials.

My aim is to minimise the personal characteristics of each model and appreciate the material and texture of different human skin tones from an inorganic perspective. This approach allows me to focus on the universal qualities and inherent beauty found in the diversity of human skin, transcending individual identities.

A: What is the production process behind this series?
In the design, I used lace and classic sexy lingerie colours to generate a fetish feeling, while retaining the original straight and square silhouette of the appliance’s body. In addition, in each lingerie, I have integrated the partial erotic elements of the human lingeries, such as bras, waistbands and suspenders for stockings. In order to deliver a feeling of post-human hybrid, a mishmash between a human’s curvy body lines and a machine’s straight and clear contours.

A: Why is it important for you to explore disruptions in otherwise straight, smooth and flat narratives? Would you consider creating work that has a straight, smooth and flat narrative? Could this in itself be perhaps considered disruptive?
It is important for me because I want to break the burnout I feel in this smoothness. From my perspective, capitalist society produces smooth and straight frames while resisting the generation of folds. It minimalises individuals to a basic level of functionality, de-personalises them, and puts them into clear frames as resources that can be better employed.

Our everyday life is also alienated and colonised by consumerism. It becomes a linear rhythm, the product of homogeneous and quantified repetitive quotidian, which in turn breeds a sense of burnout. For me, this impacts vitality. Therefore, in this project, I want to offer a joyful offence to the burnout quotidian.

I believe I would create smooth, straight and flat narratives because I think the essence of straight lines is curved. Things that appear smooth on the surface may actually be composed of countless fine folds. All straightness is deceptive; truth itself is nonlinear and circular.

Therefore, smoothness and straightness might be generated concepts. When I create smoothness, I am also creating folds. This smoothness is a form of absoluteness, and absoluteness inherently raises questions, fostering disruption and promoting the creation and revelation of more folds.

A: Which avant-garde ideas do you incorporate into your work?
I delve into the bold imagination of the spirituality and corporeality of intangible objects, or rather, I empower them with materiality. I question whether straight lines can be curved, whether smooth surfaces can be folded, and why humans cannot have sex with inorganic matter. In my dress-up game Humanware I also explore whether video and digital items can have gender. How can we use gender to classify an .mov or a .jpg? She or he?

A: The I + 0 = I series was created in collaboration with Hanni Huang. How do you find collaborative work versus working on your own?
I believe that all artistic works possess a certain collaborative nature. Even when I am creating alone, I rely on critiques and suggestions from others. The process of solo creation often involves doubt and uncertainty, as I strive to transcend my personal preferences.

In contrast, collaborating with another artist generates a “resonance” that extends beyond individual experiences. This is a kind of energy resonance that I highly value. It brings a sense of certainty and confidence in decision making, enhancing the creative process with a shared energy and assuredness.

A: Is the use of copy/text a guide for the viewer? Is it a kind of poetry?
This booklet serves as the script for our recitation performance. It is a poem composed of arithmetic equations beginning with 1 and 0, connecting these numbers and other symbols through poetic language. The booklet not only acts as a guide but also as an intimate way to connect with the audience. It allows our performance to be carried away, serving as a tangible archive of memory, waiting to be triggered in the future. This makes the booklet much more than just a guide; it is a means of creating a lasting, intimate bond with our viewers.

A: You note: “We explored the process of self-construction with the use of the mathematical equation 1+0=1” The number zero it itself a construction, and relatively recent in terms of human history – what do you think about this?
Zero is a fascinating concept. Its introduction has allowed for more complex and abstract mathematical ideas, playing a crucial role in scientific computation, engineering, and computer science. For me, zero is a symbolic representation that rationalises abstraction.

In our equation I + 0 = I zero represents a null set rather than a single number. It is a set of “the set of all triangles with four sides, the set of all numbers that are bigger than nine but smaller than eight” a set of all items not identical with themselves. Thus, I view zero as an enclosure, encapsulating all paradoxes, otherness, and the ineffable within a symbol, serving the scientific operation of the “system.”

What I aim to do is to expand the definition of zero, diverging into various symbols and continuously linking it with different sub-symbols. This process, in turn, combines with the real number one. Zero becomes an expansion, a constant self deconstruction. Through this dissolution, existence becomes complete.

A: How is Digital Shrine different in approach from, for example, White Euphoria and I + 0 = I? What is the intent behind asking the viewer to “Please click your mouse to sincerely perform the virtual worshiping ceremony”?
Aside from encouraging them to infuse their thoughts into the electronic device and project them onto the screen, my intent is to collect and visualise the viewer’s electronic traces of worship. These traces will be displayed as 3D particle trails entwined around the Buddha statue. Through these mental traces, I aim to explore the temporality and historicity of the digital world.

Each click represents a specific moment in time, creating a digital timestamp of the viewer’s interaction. These timestamps together form an interactive timeline, capturing the flow of time within the digital space. As these traces accumulate, they create a historical narrative of digital worship. Each trace is a marker of an individual’s presence and intention, forming a collective history preserved within the digital environment.

A: You’ve noted that you are “an ecological being with numerous digital identities.” What are your thoughts on technological singularity?
In my imagination, the technological singularity will lead to the fragmentation of individual experiences. This fragmentation manifests as the dispersal of identities. After the technological singularity, individuals may possess multiple digital identities, each operating in different virtual spaces.

The experiences and memories of each digital identity might be independent and difficult to integrate into a unified individual experience. This multiplicity of identities makes personal recognition and experience more fragmented, hindering the formation of continuous self-awareness.

At the same time, interpersonal relationships will also become more fragmented. Multi-platform virtual social interactions will lead to superficial and transient relationships. People will focus more on individual needs and experiences, neglecting the values of collectives and communities. This individualised lifestyle will result in smaller social circles and more isolated relationships, making connections between people more dispersed and solitary.

A: To what extent are In the Garden and Enzo a departure from Digital Shrine?
In the Garden and Enzo are grounded in the physical application of Zen principles to modern life, Digital Shrine is rooted in the digital realm, focusing on the intersection of technology and spirituality, and the preservation of digital interactions over time.

A: Your fashion photography work features a sense of movement; is this inspired by your performance work?
I believe it is, to a certain extent. My exploration of performance and photography both stem from my curiosity about the nature of stillness and movement. Performance, as a time-based medium, inherently possesses fluidity, and this fluidity can also be found within still images. I aim to capture and convey movement within stillness through my still images.

A: What about the use of texture in your photographs?
The use of texture in my photographs is integral to my work. I focus on capturing and emphasizing the tactile qualities of my subjects, whether it’s fabric, skin or natural elements. By highlighting texture, I aim to evoke a sensory experience for the viewer, allowing them to feel the materiality and depth of the image.

Texture adds a layer of realism and tangibility, making the photograph more immersive. It also helps in conveying the underlying themes of my work, such as the interplay between the organic and inorganic, and the juxtaposition of smoothness and complexity.

A: What projects do you have coming up for the remainder of 2024 and throughout 2025?
I’m currently developing a series of video-weaving swatches. This project is also my ongoing disruption of flatness. In this project, I repurpose “digital waste” from discarded smartphone images to craft a type of electronic video fabric.

I treat the videos as sculptures or fabrics of time by applying wrapping distortions, thereby attempting to reveal their textures and emphasise the fetishisation and destruction of the smooth surfaces of digital imagery.

The act of making images move is akin to sewing moments together. Recording is like manually cutting out a piece of fabric from the world, while editing is like continuously adjusting images wrapped around a loom. These processes expose the threads beneath the smooth surfaces, pulling an event into strands of yarn and then re-weaving them into a new form. 

The events are deconstructed by the framing of camera positions, timelines, edits, and screens. This deconstruction also breaks down the attention and scrutiny they are subjected to. Focusing on the frames causes the original boundaries to dissolve while simultaneously creating new ones.

The emphasis on deconstruction serves as an emphasis on creation, reflecting on the very state of existence of the images. A segment of the video is sealed, containing a segment of “dead” time. Through weaving, I aim to open up its closed nature, inviting a reconsideration of time and perception in our digital age.

All images courtesy of Angel Qin. White Euphoria photos: Xinyuan Yan and Xiao Guo.  |  Instagram: @qinjiaqiangel

The work of Angel Qin appears in Issue 119 of Aesthetica. Click here to visit our shop.