Blog, TC 2017

Inside Out – A Conversation with Zhang Riwen

A conversation with Zhang Riwen on Artificial Intelligence and different ways of getting to an artwork.

Mathis Neuhaus: Can you tell a little bit about your own artistic practice?

Zhang Riwen: I just graduated from the School of Creative Media, a Master of Fine Arts program at the City University of Hong Kong. These last two years were the first time making art as a full-time thing. Before that, I studied journalism.

Mathis Neuhaus: Did you, in these two years, already develop some main topics or interests for your artistic practice?

Zhang Riwen: I would say that I have a video arts background, because I did documentaries before starting to study at the School of Creative Media. So, when I entered the MFA program, I continue with that media, but at the same time trying different form, like sound art and installation. Most of my work focuses on the topic of identity. I think that people’s identities are fluid and nothing stable. For example, if a person moves to another city, like me moving from Mainland China to Hong Kong, that affects my identity and forms it gradually. Sometimes, when I go back to Mainland, my identity will switch back to that mode it had before. Fluid identities is a concept that I really like to think about and work on. It is also a topic that stuck with me over the years.

Mathis Neuhaus: Is it important for you to see this interest represented in the final project?

Zhang Riwen: Not really. The project we are working on focuses on Artificial Intelligence – maybe you could argue for seeing identity-related topics in that, but I did not really think about it.

Mathis Neuhaus: What were the most decisive factors for you in searching out your group?

Zhang Riwen: I think it was mostly based on the people. I worked with some of them before and there it was already a good experience to work with someone who has a different background that is stronger rooted in theory. I am a practical working artist and it is refreshing to work together with someone who puts theory first. I am also keen on working on technological-related topics, even though I was not really familiar with the topic of Artificial intelligence before starting – all this future stuff. Joining this group was a good starting point for me to get into it though, because Artificial Intelligence is a big thing and it will not suddenly go away in the next couple of years. I think it was worth a try to join this group and go with this specific topic.

Mathis Neuhaus: You settled on the topic quite early, how did the rest of your project develop from there?

Zhang Riwen: For our project, we did a lot of research first. Like I said, we have two theory based persons involved and for this topic it was good to adapt to their practice. Artificial Intelligence is quite a new thing and it is about the future, about what is going to happen. So, you cannot really work based on your own experience – yet. Therefore, we did research by looking at how experts think about this and formed our ideas based on that. We started very broad and then consequently narrowed it down to what we are working on now: the future of work.

Mathis Neuhaus: Has collaboration been important for you before this program?

Zhang Riwen: Yes. I collaborated with students on quite a few projects during my Master program. I think, it is nice. If I do my own thing and work alone, it is hard to get out of own comfort zone. I have to be very upfront and seek people out to ask them about it, or I get the feedback after I have already done the work. In a collaborative process, you will always get the feedback immediately, while discussing things. I think this makes me more critical about my own work or ideas.

Mathis Neuhaus: Do you think it is making it easier or harder that you are all from different disciplines in this project?

Zhang Riwen: In the beginning, it is harder. Like I said, a theory approach is not something I was used to. I always did projects based on my own experience. So, I wanted to represent what I was feeling at a certain moment. For this project, I had to force myself to do a lot of research which was quite a challenge at first.

Mathis Neuhaus: The collaborations you did before were mostly with people who had a similar background?

Zhang Riwen: Yes, mostly with my classmates who are from various artistic backgrounds, but still all connected to Fine Arts. The approach was quite similar between all of us. Compared to this project, the collaborations I did before were a bit smoother, this time it is more challenging.

Mathis Neuhaus: What role does Hong Kong play in your project?

Zhang Riwen: Hong Kong is not that important for the project. The topic we are dealing with is quite universal and not necessarily based on one city. If we’d been doing this project in a different city, the inspirations would have been different though, so maybe that would have affected the outcome. In the beginning, for example, we talked about the MTR in Hong Kong and how Artificial Intelligence is involved in that specific system. Or about how big the topic of Artificial Intelligence became in China in general, but gradually, our project started to become more universal.

Mathis Neuhaus: Final question: why did you apply for Transcultural Collaboration?

Zhang Riwen: I knew about this program for the last two years, through friends that have been participants. I listened to their feedback and especially the collaboration-part interested me, because I really enjoy doing it. That was my initial motivation to apply. I graduated this summer, so the opportunities to work in such an environment, without pressure, are getting fewer and fewer. Especially finding people to work with from different disciplines is not that easy – but really interesting and fun.

Zhang Riwen just graduated from the School of Creative Media at the City University of Hong. In her project, she examines together with Ozan Polat, Max Wild and Ramona Sprenger the future of work and the role that humans are going to play in an automated society.