"Trying to build something that looks real can make me feel wrong. But if I put a lot of belief in the process it makes me feel like these theoretical fictions are actually participating in my reality."
Yuxuan Wei: Congratulations on your graduation! As your degree project, how do you think The Skyhorse Project shows the medium and core ideas that interest you most at the moment?
Xiner Lan: I have to refute your question because The Skyhorse Project did not show what I am most interested in at the moment. It has a two-year delay. I find it challenging to do what I'm currently most enthusiastic about without getting caught up in a lot of doubt. That's how my junior year assignments ended in pain, so I decided to do something with a delay. The Skyhorse Project was the one I was most interested in two years ago. Of course, it's also intriguing now because I keep adding new things to it.
Wantong Yao: Just like the name of this project, it's very unconstrained. But it's not so abstract that it's hard to understand. There are a lot of very common, very subtle moments that you captured very well. But I'm curious that this is a work having a lot of versions and using a variety of media. It uses a lot of theatrical performances and plays as its cornerstone. After so many explorations, which pattern do you think is the best to present its authentic concept?
Xiner Lan: It's tricky that what I feel is different from what the audience feels. All of my expressions are different perspectives and interpretations of the same meaning. For me, the script was the closest to my original idea. Because the text was abstract as well as precise and complex enough. But it was difficult for me to convey the script to others in the same way. Text creation is a process of constantly refining itself, which is very different from other media. We need to visualize many things in the fabrication (the script) process . The performances I did, and the actors I cast, were actually a visualizer. I couldn't capture the concept at first, so I needed to use a lot of supplemented tools to present the concept. None of the tools can replace the idea, but they all allow me to see more dimensions of the idea. These means allow people to believe (in my concept) on different levels. It seems to feel a little empty to say it, but it does.
I had a lot of fun finding actors for Skyhorse (Pegasus.obj). In the beginning, a lot of people told me “You have to find someone who looks like an athlete”. But if you search for someone who looks like an athlete, that person may not look like Skyhorse. But if I said I wanted to find someone who looked like "a point in the loop", it was also very difficult to achieve. The actress I finally found I really liked. She was perfect for the role, not because she looked like an athlete or a point in the loop. Rather, I felt her autonomy when she performed, rehearsed, and sang. At that moment I felt that she (Skyhorse) was alive and living within the project itself. Unlike my literal or any kind of vision I had at the beginning, it was only after I saw this person's performance that I felt this.
Wantong Yao: It sounds like a wonderful process. As you kept experimenting and reaching out to more people and media, you also understood your original idea on different levels and in more dimensions. As a result, it grew and improved. The moment I saw the Unity interface I was immediately impressed. But when I saw the performance part, I didn't feel it as strongly. Because there are many different mediums in The Skyhorse Project, this piece has many tentacles to reach out and explore different groups of people.
Xiner Lan: I personally feel that the Unity-related part is an axis-like presence, but I think it might be grounding in different ways. Unity UI doesn't make it seem like Skyhorse is an organization or a belief that exists. But the visual design part my friend designed in this project makes me believe that way.
Yuxuan Wei: What challenges did you encounter while delivering your concepts or ideas to the audience? I know you will try to make your stuff clear and pay attention to every detail.
Wantong Yao: I'm also curious if many people can't understand your work intuitively and need you to explain it. Do you feel frustrated by that? Because there will always be misunderstandings or disconnects when the audience tries to understand your intentions. Also, I have a feeling that when I make something myself, the more I try to make something clear, the more I have to add more content, and many people, therefore, can't follow along.
Xiner Lan: In fact, I was very frustrated last year because the most common comment I received was "Your stuff is too complicated. It doesn't need to be so complicated, something simple is better." But my frustration wasn't entirely because my stuff wasn't done well or clear enough. It's because I feel like I'm actually trying to explain it. Once I have a satisfied and accurate understanding of what I'm observing and thinking about, that understanding is often very complex. I actually try to simplify it when I try to use it as a base for my work. I just haven't simplified it to a degree that others can easily access. In addition, time-based media is difficult to understand from a glance, a picture, or very short documentation. Of course, watching the whole film might help you understand its content. But nowadays it's hard to stay with a work for a long time, whether it's published online or in a gallery. I used to think that I should try to make my work clear enough that people could understand it without any explanation from me. I would even hate explaining myself because it felt like I was compensating for missing parts of my expression. But I don't think so now, because there is no difference between seeing my work and hearing me talk about it. I would definitely prefer that people read all my writing, and see everything I have to offer. But everyone's time is limited, and in this case, it's unrealistic to read all my stuff. But by talking together we were able to gain other aspects. This is my idea of self-explanation from the perspective of an artist now. Another perspective is from a production point of view. If I want to work with someone, how do I explain to the collaborator what I want? I've spoken about The Skyhorse Project so many times this year that I've been able to learn from people's reactions: if it worked well the last time, I'll do it again next time. So it's been a little bit of a workout. Now I'm not particularly frustrated because I've accepted the reality that getting my message across 100% of the time is difficult. Getting 40% across is fine. Plus it's even difficult for me to get 100% of what I want in my own work, but if I can achieve some of it, that's good enough.
Skyhorse (Behind the Scene)
Yuxuan Wei: In terms of The Skyhorse Project, it all started with writing. I'm curious if writing is your primary medium. Or is it the way you start a piece, or the foundational form of your expression?
Xiner Lan: Writing is not my final presentation medium. Although I sometimes show people pure text, I still do multimedia most of the time. Writing is really the first step in my thinking, or my sketch medium. Writing replaces my sketchbook; I don't have those hand-drawn sketches, but I have a lot of memos. It's easy to use anytime. After using it a lot, I got some grammar and even meter that is unique to me.
Yuxuan Wei: Unity's interface and features help you build part of the structure and visual elements of your work in disguise. Do you think your understanding of Unity as a tool helped you conceive The Skyhorse Project?
Xiner Lan: I got interested in Unity partly because I played some very impressive metagames before I went to college and watched some experimental plays that would break the fourth wall. In fact, both the metagame and the kind of experimental theater that directly calls out to the audience are telling you that this thing is fake and that it is made that way. This way of presentation makes it more real for me. After pointing out what the process is, I became more immersed in the whole process. It's more like the real thing instead. Trying to build something that looks real can make me feel wrong. But if I put a lot of belief in the process it makes me feel like these theoretical fictions are actually participating in my reality. I also always believed that the ideas I had at the beginning interfered with my reality. It was hard not to think about that during the production process. "It's fake, but it's real." The more you talk about it the more fake it is, the more it exists. Because the real exists between the seams. I understand things through language, eyes, etc. It's hard to say these are real. They're just rules. Unity is building another set of rules, and you're the one who writes them. These things are actually forms of presentation, and the real thing is between these forms of presentation. You create the rules to understand reality in the creative process.
With Randomness She Rules
Wantong Yao: The next question is, what is your next step? What are you working on right now? And has your primary focus shifted or changed?
Doyeon Kim: During the exhibition, there were a lot of people asking me whether the work was interactive or not. Interestingly, they felt that the motion of the video corresponded to their movement. After all, I am still interested in how I can implicate people more in my work. Interactive technology can be the answer, and I am working on it now. But at the same time, I'm still pushing it forward, making an emotional liminal space by using more sophisticated simulations and holding the virtue of meditation because I am afraid that interactivities will change the work totally. In my view, interactivity, even a very simple input and output system, demands labor to some extent and deprives the meditating essence of the work. So, I am working on two kinds of work now. One is continuing the previous work style, and the other is incorporating other interactive technologies.
Wantong Yao: That reminds me of the project you made for Jenna Caravello's virtuality class last quarter, which falls into the genre of interactivity and game and feels very playful to me, compared to your other work that is more meditative as you just described. Do you like to give the agency more to the audience compared to retaining the agency to the work itself? Will the work feel different to you? I'm very interested to see how you will continue to develop the first track you talked about architecture and space. Also, the solo show project you showed really creates a sense of illusion of interactivity, because people always tended to stand on the floor projection. With the light coming back and forth on my body that really created a feeling that I'm part of the work. So maybe that's why people ask you, oh, is it interactivity? Because it creates that sense of connection, I think. Okay, here comes our next question. As a young artist doing your MFA at UCLA, who used to work in the design industry in Korea, what is your plan after graduation? Like how do you plan to position yourself and your practice in the world, and where do you want to see your work evolve?
Doyeon Kim: I’m trying to figure out what I am and can be. Also, like, what kind of social, political, and art realm I can ground in depending on where I live. This contemplation is attributed to my career change which shifted from a 3D designer to a student in the MFA program. And also results from moving to LA from the totally different society, Seoul. This shook the whole foundation where I built my life, and the impact is even more substantial because I moved here at a relatively late age. It has two sides since it is an opportunity to expand my understanding of the world but also challenges me to redefine myself. Regardless of this question, the agitation within my new life ruptures the old ideas I relied on, and eventually, I can find some creativity growing through the fracture. To be frank, I was always struggling to get inspiration, but throughout the period of settling in, every corner of my life has been intriguing. On top of that, the conflicts and tension that occur in this diverse society endlessly give catalysts for my work, which can happen only in Los Angeles. Like, I have traveled between Korea and Los Angeles several times so far, and it actually worked well in finding the real subject that I want to deal with. By comparing the two different regions and the two differences myself between them, the difference in life becomes clearer, and it extended to the work. However, I have to find a way to sustain such a practice. To take advantage of being presented in both countries, I also have to find a way to do so. As such, I need to work for a living after all to stay in the US and Seoul, which is the most frustrating part. Nevertheless, I want to be upfront with the question. People need money, and so do artists. And I am as well.
Yuxuan Wei: Many of your works are likely exploring your understanding of your own existence, your exploration of the world around you, and your relationship with it. The core of The Skyhorse Project, for example, is that the group needed to create something that would prove that these people existed.
Xiner Lan: I read a theory somewhere that all people in their early twenties explore themselves in the world around them (laughs). First of all, I need to clarify that every virtual character I create is not a direct projection of me. I played the magician, and I played the guy in Snowmare. The biggest reason is that it is less time-consuming for me to act. I can make the result convey my concept most accurately with limited resources. These characters are not exactly my alter ego. They just happen to be played by me. The content that actually reflects my own relationship with the world is the entirety of my work. Those systems, non-human things, and rules; including why Skyhorse is running in circles; what this person looks like; what personality this specific character has. My projection is not just of a few images, but of the whole world. My experience does not qualify me to say something like "In these three years, my idea of the world has changed a bit, and the world has changed dramatically." After all, the things I've put up this time are only from the last three years. It's just from 19 to 22. (laughs)
Yuxuan Wei: You mentioned before that your work is inspired by construction spaces. I was wondering how you see these spaces or construction sites.
Xiner Lan: I'm very theoretical about things: I get homesick easily, but I don't physically think about my parents’ house now. Nevertheless, many things often make me feel at home. I have a lot of connections to urban spaces, and these connections are not the common image of a home, nor what my furniture looks like. Instead, they are factory environments, environments under construction, some weird spots like airports, and some very middle-class hotel lobbies, cafes, and bars. Anyway, they are all very urban, very artificial. These scenes feel familiar to me, or I have been there before, or come from there. These places all have the same characteristic of having parts that are completely inaccessible to me. It's mysterious, it's not open to me, but it's there. For instance, at the bar, I couldn't order all the drinks on the menu. I looked at the menu and skip skip skip skip skip skip, then water, then juice. As if looking at a construction site, skip skip skip skip skip skip, don't know what that is, then a room. I would find familiarity in that scene. As I grew up I could understand more and more how others built these things. But understanding the building process doesn't explain what they mean. Instead, I became more confused: Why did I feel like I belonged here? These structures were built for no other reason than city planning needs.
Wantong Yao: Finally, congratulations again on your next step to UCLA. Do you have any plans or goals you want to achieve in the Grad program?
Xiner Lan: I can't say I have any goals or plans, but I have some things I want to do. It sounds weird, but I want to write more essays. Because I didn't have a lot of opportunities to write papers in undergrad, I now feel that theorizing allows things that I read once and passed over to be re-understood more deeply and even repurposed. I like it that way. Also, why did I come here (UCLA) to study media arts now? It started two and a half years ago when I really wanted to make an indie game with my classmates. However, at that time I was a poor production coordinator, I couldn't manage time, and I didn't know any technical skills. In the end, I couldn't find anyone to write programs for, so I taught myself to write programs. I then fell into a very strange pit: I couldn't find anyone to work with so I had to teach myself all the skills. I took all kinds of classes in school, but in the end, I still didn't make the game I wanted to make in the beginning. However, two years had passed forever. I have a bunch of media, technology, and game-related projects in my hands. It's a kind of destiny to be here, maybe I still want to do something related to games.
INTERVIEWER: WANTONG YAO, YUXUAN WEI
CURATOR: KE ZHANG, WANTONG YAO, CHENYU LIN
EDITOR: WANTONG YAO, YUXUAN WEI CHENYU LIN
GRAPHIC DESIGNER: VIVI SHEN
Xiner Lan (b. 2000) is a multi-media artist whose work spans video, performance, poetry, and installation. Merging game design and theater disciplines, she invents executable “scripts” in a polysemous language and enacts the text into scenes. Her works explore the complexity of reality through storytelling in virtual worlds entangled with loops, contradiction, and incompletion. Xiner received her B.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design and is currently an M.F.A. student at UCLA Design Media Arts.