Gallery Girl meets Sian Fan

AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) are a big deal in the art world right now. Technology focused exhibitions are taking place across the globe and the first ever solo-exhibition by an actual AI robot artist opened in Oxford this month. Digital media, installation and performance artist Sian Fan is also interested in the digital world, making work that explores the female gaze, the sublime and the spiritual self. So, Gallery Girl met with Fan to discuss nature, technology, performance and Instagram filters.

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Images courtesy Sian Fan

“What I found most interesting about AR and VR was their immersive natures”, explains Fan, “They allow the digital to seep into a physical space, be that through overlaying onto reality or allowing a viewer to move through a virtual space. Both mediums can create sublime and transformative experiences that submerge the viewer.” Within her work, Fan explores the relationship between the natural and the digital worlds through animation, virtual reality and 3D scanning. She works with movement, the female body and technology to explore and expose what it means to exist, both physically and spiritually.

The social influence of technology on our lives also has an influence on Fan’s work. Anima is a series of self-portraits made using face filters available on Instagram, warping and manipulating Fan’s image. “I think one of the vital roles of art is to reflect and critique the world around us, and social media is a pervading, inescapable element of that world”, explains Fan, “Anima in particular was meant to be a reflection of this sudden shift that I felt online. Almost overnight these ‘face filters’ became so ubiquitous and the act of digitally manipulating ones appearance went from trying to emulate nature to totally transcending it. It felt like a really pivotal development to the ideas of beauty and identity in the post Internet age.” Anima merges and morphs the effects of these face filters to create distorted portraits; creating digital daydreams of the self using the AI embedded in video transitions to morph each face together. The abstract portraits, whilst still recognisable, achieve a sense of the uncanny, conjuring visions of both beauty and the grotesque.

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Images courtesy Sian Fan

And while Fan’s work seems to look to technology, much of it examines the relationship between the digital and the natural. “I’m concerned with the tension between these too elements [digital and natural], which often seem at odds with each other”, she explains, “I’m interested in using the digital to stimulate or re-create the natural, particularly organic forms like plants and bodies that feel like the anti-digital.” In Biophany, a sculptural sound piece, Fan brings nature and technology together. The work simulates the way in which virtual worlds are constructed on game design software, contained on clear, plastic disks. Both plants and wires sprout and spill out together from electrical components, with an LCD screen embedded within them.

Despite the seemingly technology-heavy focus on Fan’s work, there is also a performative aspect to it too. In Bloom, Fan hovers in a purple world, gracefully moving like a dancer suspended in space as flowers grow out of her body. She is then wrapped in green vegetation that clings to her like a cocoon, before she is set free and another single solitary white flower sprouts out of her body. Fan’s BA was in Performance Arts, and she specialised in dance. “I’m really interested in movement as a form of meditation and expression”, she says, “Within my work I abstract, suspend and fragment the body using photogrammetry, aerial movement and digital technology.” Within Bloom, animated floral motifs are combined with movement, projecting a sense of surreal beauty in an augmented reality where the artist’s body is in a state of flux. “I teach aerial yoga as well as performing aerial silks”, adds Fan, “So movement is a key part o my own personal ethos.”

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Images courtesy Sian Fan

Among her influences, Fan cites Rachel Rossin, Ian Cheng, Alexandra Pirici, Mashmallow Laser and teamLAB. Right now, she is working on a series of 3D printed sculptures that splice together bodily forms with LCD screens. And, what does Fan think about how technology will have shaped the art world in ten years time? “I think AI in particular is going to have a huge impact on the art world in the future. We’re already seeing artists grapple with the implications of AI in their works, be that through creative coding, robotics, or even algorithmically crafted paintings”, she says, “On a more logistical level AI is also shaping behaviours, such as art buying practices, so it could have a massive effect on which future artists gain recognition – be that for better or worse.”

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She is the founder of Gallery Girl - a London-based curatorial platform and website dedicated to modern and contemporary art from across the globe. Her work is primarily focused on supporting emerging female artists from the Middle East and the Caucasus. She has written for Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, Suitcase and Vice Arabia among other publications. Her exhibitions in London and Armenia have been featured in Vogue Arabia, The Art Newspaper, The Art Gorgeous and numerous other news outlets. Gallery Girl has also spoken in the UK, UAE and Belgium about the contemporary art scene in the MENA region, and is planning further events in London and Amman.

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