Heichi Magazine is glad to announce a new collaboration with the Hyundai Motorstudio Beijing, jointly presenting a collection of essays edited by curator Jenny Chen Jiaying. Under the rubric of her curated exhibition, AI: Love and Artificial Intelligence, currently on view in Hyundai Motorstudio Beijing, this special column presents three long-form essays by the participating artists.
Dichotomy implies not only a relationship between two poles but also a transitional space inbetween. As a participating artist in the exhibition AI: Love and Artificial Intelligence, Frank WANG Yefeng Wang reveals structural interstices through this essay and portrays the condition of inbetweeners, as well as their way of life. His work The Groundless Protag depicts the ghostly figures of subjects that reside between the real and the virtual–existing in liminal cyberspace, in the ephemeral but important space of the nomad–and try to invoke the viewer’s empathy by means of emotional outbursts that somehow salve our anxious and drifting present.
The year 2020 puts our existential condition in a state of “inbetweenness.” The viral catastrophe of COVID has forced us to lock down in fixed locations. With ongoing civil unrest and the political pandemonium at COVID’s heels, we are all caught up in this great moment of uncertainty and transition. Human rationality tends to shrink away from the future’s inherent unpredictability because it inspires great anxiety and can be perceived as a threat. Yet this year’s turmoil also provides an opportunity to reexamine our understanding of “normality” and scrutinize contemporary living in a time of contingency. The notion of inbetweenness, often subsumes, pertains to, or intersects with the term “liminality,” 1 is hereby asserted as a universal consciousness of everyday life. The existential position of inbetweeners is a consistent human condition because “cultures and human lives cannot exist without moments of transition, and those brief and important spaces where we live through the in-between.” 2
This essay delves into ways of life amid uncertainties, embracing inbetweenness as an emancipatory tool, and projecting a path to the future with new kinds of productivity and creativity. It converges topics currently being widely discussed under the umbrella term of postmodernism. Coherent intellectual movements such as post-humanism, nomadism, and affect theory, among others, accordingly address inbetweenness as a productive expression of cultural transformation and hybridity beyond an assumed hierarchy. Their overlapping scholarly interests encourage us to confront the great delusions in our current system, which are often imposed by classic social categories, a dualistic structure of thinking, the spectacle of advanced capitalism, and assorted forms of political repression. Such movements urge us to reassess our relationship to the world with the prospect of yielding a “newness” that is better than whatever we are stuck with now. In an epoch of unprecedented fluctuation, our lives shaped by unpredictability no longer coincide with familiar traditions. The inhabitation and cultivation of inbetweenness can generate unimagined revelations for a new reality.
The urgency of understanding inbetweenness echoes my experience shared with multicultural communities that have adopted liminality as essential habitat. People who deal with cultural plurality due to relocation or who have left their places of kinship are generally considered to be migrants, whereas the nomad is closer to the spectrum of inbetweenness. Migration suggests an explicit beginning and end, settling in a fixed location by way of a set path. But to be a nomad denotes an endless expedition. According to Rosi Braittoti, the nomad is “beyond classification… a sort of classless unit.” 3 A nomadic relationship to various places and people is one of constant shift and multiplicity. It forms a non-unitary coexistence where no static identity is taken permanently. The ambivalent identities of inbetweeners respond and extend to not only tangible places but also to a wide variety of other territories, such as liminal cyberspace.
During the pandemic lock-down, a show titled AI: Love and Artificial Intelligence in Beijing attended to such philosophy through a creative praxis. Exploring the influence of algorithms on contemporary models of effect, the exhibition appropriates the dichotomic structure of dating apps – swipe right/left for like/dislike – and online long-distance relationships. Its split display, in fact, reveals the inbetween spectrum of the internet community and embodies an uncanny intermediate situation of a combined reality. Liminal cyberspace is a realm for internet love-seekers to find connection and share intimacy while lacking the bodily presence. These “digital nomads” 4 conduct love in a “smart device lifestyle.” They are location-independent while their emotions pervade the network-mediated environment woven by data. My video installation project in the exhibition, The Groundless Protag, relates to the affections that linger in this space of inbetweenness. In the project, a series of digital animated characters reside in plasma screens as discarnate entities, indicating that they are beings of the virtual world. But they continuously attempt to affect and connect to the viewers through emotional outbursts built upon dramatic motion-capture data. The coded recordings of real human movements are enveloped in the polygonal virtual “bodies” of the characters. Their paradoxical forms lead to an imagination of subjectivities preserved in a complex array of ambiguous dimensions.
Characters that exist inbetween are integral to my artistic practice. In my ongoing project BIRDS, the difficult but intriguing lives of uprooted travelers are portrayed by a group of anthropomorphic characters. This series combines 3D animations, poems, and comical cinematography and was initially inspired by photos of graffiti birds I had collected in different cities over the years. In Volume I of the series, images of birds on walls are transformed into animated characters immersed in ambiguous circumstances. The project blends the street art of metropolises – where the aggregation of multiple identities and the act of shifting habitats are commonplace – with cartoon characters to explore stories of emotional transformation associated with dislocation and relocation. The experience of a constant relocation is a process of gathering, as described by Homi Bhabha: the “gathering on the edge of ‘foreign’ cultures; gathering at the frontiers… gathering in the half-life, half-light of foreign tongues, or in the uncanny fluency of another’s language; gathering the signs of approval and acceptance, degrees, discourses, disciplines…” 5 The characters decouple a fixed relationship to habitats and confront identity through self-negotiation, transmission, and transformation of diverse knowledge and affect. Their nomadic subjectivity is established from journeys through the inbetween. Their surroundings are far from their original birthplaces, while their sense of origin and kinship steadily diminishes; every trip back “home” is merely for business or vacation. No single location can be identified as a real home anymore. The act of groundless wandering has turned into a way of life.
The ambivalence of “expulsion” from one’s origin can also be viewed as an ongoing dialogue with “newness” according to figures such as Vilém Flusser, who calls this “exiled creativity.” The exile of the inbetweeners “leads to the synthesis of new information. Exile, no matter what forms it takes, is a breeding ground for creative activity, for the new.” 6 Crossing the threshold from the place of origin provokes endless curiosity in the journey. The nomadic proposition, a “moving beyond the anthropocentric assertions and certain cultural limitations,” 7 invites interaction with an array of new things (e.g., spaces, humans/nonhumans, and emotions). New possibilities are conceived through uncertainty and ultimately awaken “the need for a qualitative shift away from hegemony” 8 in various social realms. The negation of the immobile logic dominating our worldviews recalls another phrase, once again borrowed from Homi Bhabha: the “interstitial perspective.” 9 This term resonates with the inbetweeners’ engagement with difference,in a much broader sense of time and space.
Exposure to the sunlight of “newness” and difference is a defining characteristic of the inbetween. Heterogeneity is a force to mobilize innovation. Deleuze and Guattari foresaw such a pattern using the metaphor of the rhizome: a decentralizing concept with “no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction ‘and … and … and…’. This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be.’” 10 This rejection of binary logic and essentialism dwells in the semantics of inbetweenness, whereby extended vocabularies such as “inventiveness” and “ineffectiveness/chaos” show their intimate linkage to the word’s meaning. The entanglement of such vocabularies fabricates a unique model of dynamic movement, as shown in the affective transitions between bodies in various realms that capacitate real actions. The murder of George Floyd by the police and the consequent protests, in the streets and online, is a vivid illustration. These protests against social injustice emerged from the ambivalent lives of underprivileged and underrepresented groups. The chaotic police system’s ineffective response to its deeply embedded logic of structural racism triggered a wide-ranging debate, on the internet at first, then turning into a series of emotionally charged real-life demonstrations where the people called for a dismantling and reinvention of the criminal justice apparatus. Even before the street protests spread across the globe, cyberspace, itself liminal, was the frontier where accumulated agonies found expression and seeded the possibility of revolt for an alternative future (inventiveness.). The collective gesture of replacing social media profile pictures with solid black was merely one of many movements that affected and provoked others to question and reconsider their everyday reality. The protests that emerged in inbetweenness embody the innovative productivity of the interstitial space.
Liminality, a term that dovetails with “inbetweenness,” has been viewed as a “symptom of the cartographic anxiety or spatial confusion characteristic of the present moment.” 11 At the same time, it “offers a timely intervention into multiple conversations regarding space and place in literature, cultural studies, and beyond.” 12 A platform that is not formally defined is preoccupied with uncertainties, but with this anxiety comes freedom. In Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, 13 Yi-Fu Tuan defined place as “security” and space as a zone of “freedom.” As interlace of the place and space, liminality appears to be both familiar and unknown, sometimes even intimidating. The complexity and productivity of inbetweenness accord with its ambiguities, exemplified in the ecstasy of rhizomatic “non-places,” such as the transitory spaces of airport waiting areas, tram platforms, cabins in public transportation, and hotel or motel rooms. Such spaces discursively scatter around us and exist as the contemporary allegory of our stretching to the undefined future’s possibilities. Sara Ahmed characterizes such spaces as zones of comfort and security in the future’s becoming, 14 resonating with Rosi Braittoti’s description of “in-between zones where all ties are suspended and times stretched to a sort of continuous present. Oases of nonbelonging, space of detachment. No-(wo) man’s lands.” This is the very reason she considers such public spaces as “privileged sites of creation for contemporary artists.”15 Another project of mine, Moscow Has Nice Weather, is inspired by the experience of in such inbetween zones. Displayed as a dual-channel video installation, the piece comprises phone footage of in-flight screens, poems about the uncertainty of intercontinental traveling, and 3D rendered images. The repetitive audio-visuality of its animation suspends viewers in contemplation and emphasizes the process of travel as an essential spatio-temporal experience of becoming. Several lines of poetry manifest the unknown future’s mixture of anxiety and freedom: “I wish I could drive across the Pacific Ocean / Do your best to enjoy the journey / To the abyss of unknown.” Transitory spaces are not in stasis. They are a site of intriguing movement and interactivity, both of which are essential attributes of the inbetweener’s constitution.
Travel in time and space, despite the uncertainty of one’s destination, is an act that allows one to find freedom and “newness”, as well as explore the unknown. For inbetweeners, travel is not a trivial task, but rather an ontological experiment. Although movements in inbetweenness often signify a threshold between two zones, it should not be simplified to a linear traverse between a pair of locations or two anchor points. International travelers, migrants, and nomads are frequently described as bridges between cultures, nations, or ideologies. But my resistance to such a tag grows firmer over time. A bridge barely depicts the complexity of the operation inbetween. The goal of entering a bridge through the ramp from one end is to exit it on the other end as quickly as possible: a gesture of escape, to get it over with. Instead, inbetweenness is an atmosphere that enables one to move back and forth or toward various directions, to be suspended, to assimilate, interact, interrupt, intervene, to change and be changed by the transformative force it possesses. Once immersed in the spatio-temporal of inbetweenness, the motif of escape dissolves because the atmosphere is filled with curiosity, and “newness” becomes the air one breathes. The traveler’s ontology is not a string attached to two ends. Rather, it is an area of inclusivity where the multiplicity of different minds and bodies are mixed and stirred. Tim Ingold’s discourse helps us to comprehend the difference between the notions of “between” and “in-between”: “‘Between’ articulates a divided world that is already carved at the joints. It is a bridge, a hinge, a connection, an attraction of opposites, a link in a chain, a double-headed arrow that points at once to this and that. ‘In-between’, by contrast, is a movement of generation and dissolution in a world of becoming where things are not yet given – such that they might then be joined up – but on the way to being given.” 16 Inbetweenness is an unceasing act of becoming.
The potentia of inbetweenness places us in a playground in flux. It is a constant and tireless exploration of a better future. This mesmerizing word does not magically supply us with an ultimate resolution to all problems, because there probably should not be just one supreme answer to all the questions. However, within a context where future choices seem to be extremely limited, we can still search for new ways to access this future from inbetween and construct our unique subjectivity in a non-unitary unity. The atmosphere of inbetweenness does not impose any bondage of specific social categories. Thus, it encourages one to feel, connect, act, be different, be queer, have the courage to be disliked, live and love, create without precedent and, most importantly, confront things with a critical mind. If inbetweenness has a location, then the location is always here and now. In an astonishing lecture in 2014, 17 Rosi Braittoti clenched her fists and offered her encouragement to all of us to speak from where we are, act at where we are, and be accountable for our own existential condition instead of waiting for someone else to solve the problem for us. Everything seems stalled in 2020, but our intellectual experiments do not cease to move. The world is wide open for the inbetweeners, and there is plenty for us to act upon from the space inbetween.
Frank WANG Yefeng (b. Shanghai, China) is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York, NY, and Providence, RI. He works across 3D animation, video, installation, and writing. He received his MFA in Art and Technology Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011 and currently serves in the Digital Media Art curriculum at Rhode Island College as an Associate Professor. Yefeng’s work has been exhibited in numerous venues, including BRIC Biennial (USA), Gene Siskel Film Center (USA), International Festival Les Instants Video (France), Festspielhaus Hellerau (Germany), Hyundai Motor studio Beijing (China), Duolun Museum of Modern Art (China), and others. Yefeng’s upcoming events include ISCP Artists in Residency. Recently, he is awarded AFIAS 2020 at Spain Moving Image Festival and a Fellowship at Vermont Studio Center.
2020年将我们的生存状况置于一种“居间性”（inbetweenness）。病毒灾难迫使我们受困于固定的地点。紧随新冠疫情之后的，是持续不断的运动与政治动乱，我们都陷入了这个不确定和转型的重大时刻。人类理性通常会对难以预知的事物退避三舍，因为它包裹着巨大的焦虑和威胁。然而今年的动荡为我们提供了一个机会，它让我们重新检验我们对“常态”的理解，并审视充斥着偶然性的当代生活。“居间”的概念，通常从属于“阈限”（liminality）1 一词（或与之相关，或与之交叉）。在此，它应当被视作日常生活的一种普遍意识。居间的存在位置是人类一贯的状况，因为“人类生活的文化不能没有过渡的时刻，也需要那些短暂而重要的空间，让我们可以居间的生活”2 。
我的经历对这种理解“居间”的紧迫性做出了回应，也与将阈限作为基本栖息地的多元文化群体产生共鸣。我们通常将那些经历迁徙或离乡而面对文化多重性的人理解为移民，而“居间”的概念则更接近“游牧”。迁徙表明了一个明确的起点和终点，它通过固定的路径在固定的地点定居。但游牧民在进行的是无休止的远征。罗西·布拉伊多蒂（Rosi Braittoti）认为，游牧是“无法分类的……一种无阶级单位”3 。与不同地点和人产生关系的游牧以一种不断的变换和多重性作为表现形式。它形成了一种非统一的共存关系，在这种关系中，没有一种静态的身份是永固的。居间者的矛盾身份不仅回应与扩展了有形空间，也对其它多种地域（如阈限的网络空间）产生作用。
根据威廉·弗卢塞尔（Vilém Flusser）等人的说法，这种被“驱逐”（expulsion）出原点的矛盾性可以被解读为一种与持续的“新”的对话，在他的语汇中，“新”是被放逐的创造力。居间者经历的放逐“导致了新信息的合成。放逐，无论其采取何种形式，都是创造活动与新事物的滋生地”6 。跨过起源地的门槛，在旅途中激起无尽的好奇心。移动照亮了新鲜的行为和创造。它与游牧的主张交织在一起，认为一种“超越人类中心论和某些文化局限”7 的行动，因为与丰富的新事物（如空间、人/非人和情感）的互动而可以被赋能。新的可能性在不确定性中被设想出来，最终让不同社会领域觉醒并认识到“脱离霸权的质变需求”8 。对当下支配我们世界观的静止逻辑的否定，对应的是霍米·巴巴的一个词：“间隙视角”（interstitial perspective）9 。这个词在更广泛的时空意义上，与“居间者”对差异意识的契合产生了共鸣。
居间状态的重要特点，在于暴露在“新”与“异”的阳光下。异质性是一种调动创新的力量。德勒兹和瓜塔里用根茎的比喻预见到了这样的格局——这是一个分散的概念，“它没有开端，也没有终结，它始终居于中间，在事物之间，在存在者中间（interbeing），间奏曲（intermezzo）。树是血统，但根茎则是联姻（结盟），仅仅是联姻。树强行规定了动词‘是’，而根茎则是连词‘和……和……和……’。在此连词之中，存在着足够的强力，可以撼动并根除动词‘是’”10 。这种对二元逻辑和本质主义的拒绝，落脚在居间的语义上，据此，“创造力”和 “无效/混沌”等引申词汇显示出它们与词义的密切联系。这些词汇的纠缠在一个独特的动态模型中制造了一个复杂的网络，表现在不同领域身体之间的情感转换中，这种情感转换为真实的行动提供了能力。乔治·弗洛伊德的谋杀事件以及随之而来的街头和网络抗议活动就是一个鲜明的例证。针对社会不公的抗议活动，涌现于弱势和未被充分代表的社会群体的矛盾生活。混乱的警察系统对结构性种族主义的固化逻辑反应不力，这种无效化首先触发了网络上广泛的讨论，最终变成人们呼吁解除与重组执法机构的一系列情绪高涨的示威活动。即使在街头抗议蔓延至全球之前，（本有其阈限的）网络空间成为了长期积累的苦痛得以表达的前沿，并埋下了为另一种未来做出抗争的种子（创造力）。将社交媒体头像换成纯黑色图标的集体姿态，只是众多影响他人去质疑或是冲击日常现实的行动之一。在居间中涌现的抗议体现了间隙空间的革新性生产力。
阈限，这个与“居间”相吻合的词，经常被视为“当下特有的地形学焦虑或空间混乱的症状”11 。但同时，它“为文学、文化研究及其他领域关于空间和场所的多重对话提供了一个及时的介入”。12 一个没有被正式定义的平台充满了不确定性，但这种焦虑也带来了自由。在“空间与场所：经验的视角”13 中，段义孚将 “场所”（place）定义为“安全感”，将“空间”（space）定义为“自由”地带，而阈限性则是熟悉而又未知，有时甚至是带有威胁性的“场所”与“空间”的交错。居间性的复杂性和生产力与它的模糊性相吻合，这体现在对于根茎式“非场所”的着迷中，如机场候机区、电车站台、车辆或公共交通工具的舱室、酒店或汽车旅馆的房间等过渡性空间。这些空间散落在我们周围，作为当代寓言的形式存在着，使我们向着尚未定形的可能未来延伸。萨拉·艾哈迈德（Sara Ahmed）将这样的空间指派为未来生成的舒适安全区14 ，这与罗西·布拉伊多蒂的描述相呼应——它们是“居间的区域，在这里所有的联系都被悬置，时间被延伸为一种连续的当下。无归属的绿洲，分离的空间。无（女）人之地”。这正是她认为这样的公共空间是“当代艺术家创作的特权场所”15 的原因。（我的）个人项目“莫斯科天气好”受这种“居间地带”的经验启发，以双频视频装置的形式展示，由被手机拍下的飞航屏幕画面、关于洲际旅行的不确定性的诗歌和3D渲染图像组成。循环往复的动画视听内容使观众陷入沉思，并强调旅行的过程是生成必不可少的时空体验。其中的几句诗表现了对未知未来的情绪，亦混杂着焦虑与自由。“我愿驾车穿越太平洋 / 尽你所能享受旅途时光 / 去向那未知深处”。居间的过渡空间并不是静止的。它们是形成有趣运动和互动的场所，最终转变为一个居间者的基本构成属性。
尽管没有确定的目的地，在时空中旅行仍能让人发现自由和“新”，并探索未知。对于居间者来说，旅行并不是一项琐碎的任务，而是，一种本体论的实验。虽然在居间中的运动往往意味着介于两个区域之间的门槛，但它不应被简化为在两个地点或一对锚点之间的线性穿越。国际旅行者、移民和游牧民经常被描述为文化、国家或不同意识形态之间的桥梁。但随着时间的推移，我对这种标签的抵触情绪越来越强烈。一座桥难以描绘居间过程的复杂性。从一端通过引桥进入桥体的目的是为了尽快从另一端离开–这是一种逃离的姿态，是为了让它结束。相反，居间是一种氛围，它使人能够来回或向着不同的方向移动，被悬空，被它所拥有的变革力量所吸收、互动、中断、介入、转化。一旦沉浸在居间的时空中，逃避的动机就会消解，因为这气氛充满着好奇，“新”则成为人们呼吸的空气。旅行者的本体不是一根连着两头的绳子；而是一个包容的领域，在这里，多元的心智和身体被混合搅拌。蒂姆·英戈尔德（Tim Ingold）的论述有助于我们理解“之间”（between）和“居间”（in-between）概念的区别。“之间”阐明了一个在节点处被切割的分裂世界。它是一座桥梁、一个铰链、一种连接、对立面的吸引、链条上的一个环节、一个双头箭头，同时指向这个和那个。相比之下，“居间”则是一种产生与消解的运动，在这个生成的世界里，事物还没有被赋予–这样它们就可能被连接起来–但却在被赋予的路上。16 居间性是一种不断生成的行为。
王业丰（⽣于中国上海）是一位跨学科媒体艺术家，现居纽约和罗德岛普罗维登斯市。他的工作涉及实验三维动画、影像、装置以及写作等。他于2011年获得芝加哥艺术学院艺术与科技硕⼠学位，目前在罗德岛学院担任数字媒体艺术副教授。王业丰的作品曾在多地展出，其中包括BRIC双年展（美国）、Gene Siskel电影中⼼（美国）、Les Instants Video国际影像艺术节（法国）、Festspielhaus Hellerau艺术节（德国）、北京现代汽车文化中心（中国）、上海多伦现代美术馆（中国）等。王业丰即将参与的艺术活动包括纽约ISCP艺术驻留项目，最近，他被授予西班牙影像艺术节2020年度AFIAS大奖以及美国佛蒙特工作室中心奖学金。