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Visual Arts

Insights: Huijun Lu

Delving into the ideas of circularity, movement and temporality through programmed codes, coloured water tanks, digital prints, sound and video.


Published: 20 Oct 2023

Time taken : ~10mins

Installation view of <i>loop / pool</i>, Huijun Lu, 2022.

Working at the intersections of art, music, engineering and computing, the practice of Huijun Lu culminates in kinetic installations, sculptures, moving images and soundscapes informed by the atmosphere and environment of its host site. With a similar methodology, Lu conceptualised  loop / pool  at the Esplanade Community Wall (14 May to 14 September 2022) by drawing upon the adjacent escalator bordering the site. The ambient sound and cyclical motion from this mechanical device triggered an exploration of ideas related to repetition and movement that unfold gradually over a series of four works of varying mediums, textures and layers. In tandem with the artist’s abiding interests in time and space, it is also apt to consider the impact of this 19th-century innovation on architecture, urbanisation and our built environment by creating fluid transitions and swift transportation of people in indoor and outdoor settings.

Consistent in the works—comprising LED panels embedded within digital print banners, three backlit tanks of water filled with slow-releasing natural dye from butterfly pea flowers, a moving image work of abstract insets, and an audio piece of environmental sounds—are programmed circuits coded by the artist resulting in patterned shifts and changes in lights and colours. Rhythms of recurrence are also echoed through image and materiality. For example, Lu’s altered schematic diagrams of escalators are imprinted on the banners and later viewed as moving images. In two of four works, tracing paper has been incorporated, wherein the materiality and porosity of this medium either diffused light emitted from the backlit water tanks or juxtaposed the density and opacity of the digitally printed banners. 

As the artist elaborates in the following interview, in addition to this idea of circularity and movement, temporality is another factor that undergirds all four works in the exhibition. Inspired by the phrase ‘reservoirs of time’ from the text Art, Technology, and Humanism by Boris Groys, Lu was intrigued by parallels in technology and viewing art, which interrupts the flow of time towards the future, so that a return to previous moments of time become possible. As the escalator continues to whir on in the space, Lu’s programmed codes similarly unravel in real-time.

From the onset of conceptualising the work for the Community Wall, the escalator adjacent to the space formed the nexus for ideas to germinate. Your fascination with the escalator coincides with abiding interests in the unnoticed, and creating works that respond to site and space. Why were you drawn to the escalator, and could you share your interests in sonic and physical spaces that you have also explored in past works?

What struck me when I first entered the Community Wall space was the whirl of the escalator. It is a very uncommon element that you would have next to an artwork in a gallery space. I felt the sonic influence the mechanical device had on the site aptly represented the ever-present hum of technology that often goes unnoticed in our surroundings. Further, I thought the comparison between the movement and technological presence of the escalator, and the movement and coded systems present in a lot of my kinetic work, were meaningful.

I tend to create a lot of site-specific work, as I feel the work’s spatial context cannot be decoupled from the artwork. I find this context can be quite a good starting point or anchor for conceptualising work. Site-specificity is a manifestation of my fascination with liveness, with things unfolding in real-time and artworks taking the form of orchestrated experiences, as opposed to works that exist in their own times and can be shifted around to different places and contexts freely. In my works, the viewer’s experience and the artwork unfold and exist in the same time frame in real-time. Often, these experiences are not replicable.

Installation view of <i>loop / pool</i>, Huijun Lu, 2022.

Could you share about the images on the banners? Also, why did you decide to include the LED inserts within the banners, and could you elaborate on how you coded them?

The starting point for the banners came from schematic diagrams of escalators. As I was looking into the mechanics of escalators, I thought these drawings very visually interesting. Recently, I have been playing around with modifying lines of code as a kind of linguistic experiment with computers. To create the banner, I altered the image’s code through manual manipulation, scrambling lines of code to disrupt the image. Subsequently, I tried to replicate the cyclical movement of the escalator by running the image across the surface of a scanner. That is how the images came to be: distortion upon distortion, stretching out and compressing, both digitally and manually.

The LEDs echo the pixelated noise on some portions of the banners but with an element of changeability. I wanted to create the feeling of movement through the placement of the panels as insets in the banner—to present something rhythmic throughout all three works in order to tie them together. The panels are coded with a random number generating code. Each LED is assigned a number and then randomised through a programme I have loaded onto a microprocessor. As a result, the sequences on the four panels are never repeated at any point.

How was the process of developing the idea of including the water tanks and butterfly pea flowers?

I was very much inspired by a turn of phrase from the text Art, Technology, and Humanism by Boris Groys that I was reading that talked about ‘reservoirs of time’. This phrase referred to the role of the museum or the gallery as a place where time is kind of frozen through showcasing art that is meticulously restored. While the temporal context in which we are viewing the art changes, the artwork itself is constantly restored to reflect what it looks like at the point of first creation. I found the idea of time being accumulated in one spot interesting, both as an image and in relation to the escalator’s function as a type of assistive technology that is constantly moving cyclically. The escalator continues running regardless of whether a human being is there to utilise it; much like how an artwork is stuck in a time bubble, so to speak, whether or not there is a viewer to witness it. That parallel between the two, the technology and the art both occupying the space of the community wall, was interesting to me.

Installation view of <i>loop / pool</i>, Huijun Lu, 2022.

Not to take things too literally, but this image obliquely inspired the inclusion of water. Water is a material that occupies the shape of the vessel it is stored in, a fluid substance which form is dictated by context. I wanted to use this amorphous material juxtaposed against the hardness of the technology, but also giving a nod to the idea of a reservoir, a collection point or cumulus. With the butterfly pea flowers, it was a happy outcome of experimentation. I was initially working with synthetic dyes but chanced upon butterfly peas. After observing the change of the colours of butterfly pea flowers in various concentrations throughout time, I felt that the very slow transformation of the butterfly pea flowers, and its organic material was quite apt for the work.

Embedded and consistent within all the works presented are the codes you programmed (for the lights accompanying the water tanks, LED inserts, etc.). Moreover, the artworks you conceived connect through material and image: for example, your inclusion of tracing paper and the imagery that recur in the banners and the video, respectively. For me, there is a rhythm in the way you devised the works. Was this a strategy that you employed with 'loop / pool' to further these ideas on patterns and repetition? 

When I devise multiple artworks, I never create in isolation. As the works occupy the same space, they inherently have a relationship with one another. I try to illuminate this conceptual relationship visually and formally through the use of materials. For example, the banner work utilises tracing paper, which is reflected in the frames that house the water tanks. The source videos for the moving image work were drawn from experiments that I did with the water tanks. Moreover, the insets and eyelets recur in the banners and the video work. All these elements are self-referential, and all the artworks are distilled from similar sources and overlap in the making process. This cyclical method also extends into how I create art, which I think is always a very iterative process between conceptualisation, visualisation and experimentation. The phases come together, and bounce off each other at every stage. This rhythm and repetition reflected in loop / pool  gives insight into the process.

Installation view of <i>loop / pool</i>, Huijun Lu, 2022.

'loop / pool' also reflects your interest in technology and surfaces its inherent relationship with time. Could you please share more about your thoughts on this connection?

We could talk endlessly about the relationship between technology and time. For me, in essence, technology is a modifier of time—while it can stretch and compress time in equal measure; and it can also capture and displace time for us to revisit it. The use of technology today accelerates our experiences, and through that acceleration, I think our encounter with time changes as our level of impatience increases. These changes could result in lived time feeling like an eternity. Technology also displaces time: recorded time is distanced from real-time through the process of documentation.

The video work comprises many smaller source clips taken from experimentations with the water tanks and close-ups of schematic diagrams and the banner image. Spread across five screens that run simultaneously, the work also exists as small pockets of time enclosed in their own loop. Each screen runs at a slightly different speed. As the video runs on, the images on each screen fall in and out of sync in succession. They reflect the erratic and scattered nature of recorded time.

The accompanying sound work is woven together from field recordings sourced from the Community Wall space and sonic experiments with the escalator. It is a pre-recorded piece being played in real-time for the viewer to witness it while concurrently mixed in with the sound of the escalator whirring through the space. The soundscape fills the site so that once it stops, the viewer becomes more aware of the sounds already present in the space, and engendering more attentive listening.

loop / pool was presented at Esplanade Community Wall from 13 May – 4 Sep 2022.

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