Above the Rut is a virtual reality video installation composed of VR and Three channel video, in the Three channel video part, the real on-board monitoring is juxtaposed with the virtual driverless system, and the truck driver and the programmer are trapped in different fields and have a dialogue. In the VR, the viewer is placed in the driver’s seat, following the truck in a closed-loop driverless virtual system, and the gaze flows between the window and multiple mirrors, as if a reproduction of the driver’s labor process.
Born in 1995 in Deyang, Sichuan Province, Studying at the Experimental Art Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts.Her works focus on personal perceptions and dilemmas in the intertwined environment of social reality and computer technology, and often unfold in the form of dialogue and narration, Creative media include video, virtual reality, installation, computer programming, etc.
Sehsuchte International Student Film Festival, Filmuniversitat Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF, Brandenburg Germany
VRHAM Virtual Reality Art Festival, Oberhafen Quartier, Hamburg Germany
Infinite Limited — RESTART International Contemporary Art Exhibition, RESTART Project, Hangzhou China
Harmo Power — Jinan International Biennale, Shandong Art Museum, Jinan China
Bauhaus — German Academy of Art and Design Series exhibition, Xu Liaoyuan Museum of Modern Art and Design, Chengdu China
Artist of Gen Z, Guangzhou K11, Guangzhou China
iSTART “Do It” Contemporary Art Theme Exhibition, Luxelakes. A4 Art Museum, Chengdu
Ice Breaking Art Program 2020 — The Befallen Future , Fermentation Art Center, Shenyang
Researcher Bruce Bo Ding (DB) In conversation with Artist Hu Xin (HX)
DB: You mentioned that this work was inspired by a social news story: a truck driver decided to commit suicide after he was fined for losing communication with the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System during his trip. In my opinion, this case is a profound reflection of an unfolding reality: that technology has become a new paradigm of governance and is drastically changing the relationship between people and technology. What’s your take on the case in this work?
HX: The impetus for making Above the Rut was indeed to explore the deeper structural factors behind this tragedy through a specific case. The conflict between the driver and the BeiDou vehicle monitoring system, in this case, is, in my opinion, an unintended result created by the combined forces of technology, market, policy, and society. To put it in a broader perspective, in the current context, we are all forced to face such a complex reality, which is interwoven by multiple forces to varying degrees. Whether it is the specific case of truck driver suicide or the plight of this entire labor force, it is only a slice of the larger systemic environment. Therefore, I chose to start with the group of Chinese truck drivers facing not only the onboard BeiDou monitoring system but also the market pressure from the freight platform and the rise of driverless truck technology in the future.
DB: So what materials were used in this work?
HX: In addition to the VR component, I added a Beidou in-vehicle surveillance video provided to me by one of the interviewed truck drivers, recording many drivers’ labor in real-time. I extracted some of this footage and incorporated it into the dialogue between the truck driver and the programmer through a three-screen editing process, juxtaposing the “real” in-car surveillance with the “virtual” VR images. While the driver in the surveillance video is dozing off, the truck in the VR video is still moving forward, making it difficult to distinguish between the real and the virtual at that moment.
DB: Speaking of the real and the virtual, I remember seeing this experiment on the Internet: first, the experimenter would touch a fake limb in front of the participant while hiding the participant’s real limb; then, as the experimenter smashed the fake limb, many participants would jump up in “pain”. Such a process is not so much about “simulating” but rather “fabricating” reality, and it also reveals the multi-dimensional relation between the virtual and the real. What does it mean to talk about the real in the virtual? And why don’t we talk about reality directly?
HX: First, the reality of the external environment already includes the “virtual” to a large extent. As I mentioned earlier, a large part of the environment we are in right now is constructed by technology. For example, the driverless training highway system created by VR technology in this work is already an essential part of the development process of the trucking industry. How to deal with this part and let the viewer enter this virtual digital environment is a question I thought about in the early stage of conception, which naturally influenced my choice of medium for the work. The panoramic and immersive characteristics of the medium seem synonymous with the closed truck cabin and the closed-loop simulated highway space, where the viewer is limited to the small driving space at the consciousness but the physical body is limited to a VR headset.
Secondly, as a video creator, it is hard to ignore the psychological reality of my work. This part of me also explores how I can better represent it through textual dialogue or virtual technology. For example, the truck drivers I interviewed for my research would mention their hallucinations while driving with fatigue, the dreams they had while resting, the memories of their hometowns and childhood, etc. These parts existed as perceptual facts. I would like to restore it through virtual technology, but of course this part of the process would involve the experiment you mentioned. Virtual reality technology will have such cognitive risks, requiring the creators to have specific ethical requirements, especially when dealing with non-fictional subjects with a basis in reality. How one uses this technology to represent reality and grasp the degree of the “virtual” is worth thinking about for the creators.
DB: I’ve always found VR very interesting as a medium: it claims to create a sense of immersion, but at the same time, it constantly reminds the viewer of the falsity of what they are seeing. Will this contradiction interfere with the narrative that the creator is trying to build? Even if such “interference” sometimes appears as “engagement”? As an artist who works with VR, can you tell us about your understanding of the medium?
HX: I’m actually in the process of exploring VR as a medium, and I think the contradictions you mentioned are what I need to discuss in my work as an artist to avoid amplifying the viewer’s immersion through the pursuit of realistic images or the rendering of a storyline as a matter of course. I remind myself to always think critically about the medium in the creative process, to bring in my discussion from the characteristics of the medium, and to create a connection between content and technical reflection. For example, in the dialogue, the programmer asks, “Isn’t your car window also a screen?” This question is thrown at the driver and the viewer, similar to breaking the “fourth wall,” hoping that the viewer will discover their “presence” in the virtual environment.
DB: As to “Art and Technology” in general, we’ve seen lots of works using technology as media but rarely as the subject. But in your work, technology serves both as a tool and as the subject of your thinking, and the term itself has very different connotations in each case. I find your approach to such issues wasn’t argumentative but incorporated more sensitivity, making it elusive the actual relationship you have with technology.
HX: It’s hard for me to analyze technology as an object in a rational way. Perhaps because I grew up with various technologies and media, I want to emphasize human perception in the technological environment. I am more inclined to place myself or the audience in the environment built by one or more technologies and set up information feedback and interaction to achieve self-viewing and self-examination. Like in the early days when video art first appeared, artists were both using and exploring new creative mediums and thinking reflexively within them.
DB: You seem to like the dialogic form, and that might entail a “role-playing” process. Could you talk about the way you “get into these characters”？
HX: I’m generally interested in a situation or a state of being first, and I want to enter it through the research process. Then I get to the people or objects in that environment and wonder about their state of being and feelings. In other words, projecting myself onto the object to think and reflect is like role play.
Bruce Bo Ding
Bruce Bo Ding is a curator and researcher based in the PRD region. His practice revolves around embodied experience, technological mediation, and alternative modes of organization and production. Recently, he has been particularly interested in how the development of technology has changed the course of our narrative and wants to re-instigate discussions on the politics of technology and the legal nature of code.
Ding’s writings have been published by Artforum China, Fortune Art, The Art Newspaper China, etc., and his works have been exhibited at various institutions including the 11th Shanghai Biennale, Theory Opera, Shenzhen New Media Art Festival, and Ming Contemporary Art Museum. His recent curatorial project Fun Palace examined the “problems” resulting from the “solutions” provided by modern technologies as well as the ethical predicament associated with such mechanism.
As someone who runs a one-person institute pivoted on discussion, he’s always thrilled to talk with more people.