"Digitally Bloodless" The Work of Li Qin Tan
Source:Artintern.net Author:Ellen Pearlman Date: 2010-07-20 Size:
Li Qin Tan's work is best approached on three levels. The first is its technical intricacy. The second is the boldness and difficulty of implementation. The third is it's conceptual depth.

Li Qin Tan's work is best approached on three levels. The first is its technical intricacy. The second is the boldness and difficulty of implementation. The third is it's conceptual depth.

On a technical level, the 3D and animation softwares Tan uses are Softimage|XSI, Maya, and ZBrush with post-production work executed in Adobe AfterEffects, Combustion, Photoshop/CS, and Premiere/Pro . He creates his own unique special effects with these softwares emulating the decaying effects of rust, and the peculiar swirl patterns attained by knotty wood burl caused by a tree's environmental stress and degradation. A special HP Scitex P2700 printer was used to navigate the thick, rigid areas and uneven layers of the pitted metal picture surface by calibrating specialized media sensors. The timing for the micro millimeter differences when layering ink over the planar depth must be impeccable in order for the image to develop and cohere correctly.

The multi panel series of six screens, “Lava Body” uses an advanced Matrox TripleHead2Go video splitter to simulate animated lava flow that moves from one screen to the next. In order to render or process such images, up to 100 computers were put together in what is commonly referred to as a render farm, or cluster of computers. In a render farm each frame is calculated individually. The processors upload the source material such as models and textures and send out the finished image to a file which is then displayed in a mesmerizing loop. For the large metal prints in “Digitally Bloodless” between 15 and 20 computers were used to render each individual still image.

The difficulty and boldness of implementation lies in the complexity of designing, then coding a 2D image into a 3D image, capturing and outputting it on a 2D surface and in some cases such as the print series “Digital Primitive” throwing a knife directly into its surface to to reenact or suggest its inherent 3D, sculptural nature. Or it is the audacity to put a live time rolling grind stone that changes screen images underneath its trajectory helped along by a participating viewer. It also includes the idea to project directly upon rawhide skin, one of the most indigenous forms of protection and utility.

But it is in concept that Tan's oeuvre truly breaks new ground. He thinks about the relationship of this highly technical artistic medium to our place as human beings in this first decade of the quickly growing technologically literate 21st century. Not so long ago, at least in many temperate climates we were wrapped in crude furs and skins and lived in caves, (inserted a comma) a condition though rare, can still be found in the most remote areas of the planet. This approach transcends national boundaries or stylistic devices.

One of the most troubling aspects of computer art is the conceptual basis upon which the images are imagined, meaning the trajectory and ideological framework of the artist. Much of this complex work dwells on stereotyped sexual imagery, simplistic urges to wage war and elaborate cartoon fantasies. Tan has more sophisticated training that that, both in Western figurative painting as well as traditional Chinese brush and ink techniques. In “Grindstone” he draws upon his experiences as a child during the Cultural Revolution when he was forced to grind husks of grain. He takes simple visual representations that can be understood cross culturally – the burl designs in wood, the back of a head, molten lava, the female form, and a grindstone, painstakingly recreating them using elemental surfaces. He considers the natural “Five Elements” of Water, Metal, Fire, Wood and Earth as guiding principles taken directly from Taoism and the I China, or Book of Changes, highlighting the inherent tensions between technology and nature.

In the sculptural installation “Grindstone” a user driven interactive installation, he bases his experiences as a boy sent to the countryside to grind down husk from kernel. Tan re-enacts the experience using a traditional grindstone as a sculptural device that (deleted comma) when set in motion rolls over embedded video monitors producing changes in the shifting images underneath.

This is not just sleight of hand. It is a powerful discussion on the human capacity for metamorphosis and transformation, and the ability of the individual to take a representation and cohere it into another form.

This is a viewpoint of medium as a shape shifter. Shape shifting is what native indigenous individuals did when speaking with their gods by taking on the appearance or characteristics of their totem. These images are not part of Tan's direct past, and are borrowed, or appropriated for his purposes. However, since the photographic work of Andy Warhol, Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger, we are in the age of visual appropriation with any cultural signifier literally up for grabs. The title of this exhibit, “Digitally Bloodless” is chilling but apt. There is no warmth in the digital world, and certainly no blood. It is a cerebral realm of 0s and 1s, chips, electronic waves and pulses. Yet though technologically advanced, we still operate off our primitive urges – an obvious and ongoing contradiction of state.

[Editor] Elemy Liu