The landscape of digital art is continuously evolving, propelled by artists who dare to question and challenge our perspectives. One such artist is London-based Yilin Du. With a background in Theater, Film, and TV Character design, Du applies her understanding of character and narrative to the digital space, exploring how our identities are shaped and reshaped in the technological era.
Du’s artistic practice stems from her curiosity about human identity. As a character designer, Du became increasingly interested in expanding traditional narratives beyond their conventional boundaries and into a digital environment. She explains, "The more I explored storytelling and character, the more interested I became in expanding the world. Virtual space was the answer." This interest led her to transition into digital art, leveraging various digital tools to present different perspectives of personal representation.
Make Man Up, Video Still, 2022
In her body of work, Du often engages with the impact of artificial intelligence and technology on our sense of self. She believes that our interactions with these digital entities are shaping our identities in ways we are still uncovering. In her project, "Make Man Up," she delves into the concept of the 'digital self' through a series of design provocations set within a digital chat room. She notes, "The final video is an outcome of the impact of technology on our sense of individual and collective identity."
"Make Man Up" is a series of design provocations intended to explore how our identities are continually being shaped through our interaction with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and technology.
Make Man Up, Video, 2022
Chapter 1 I See You - Understanding As the first attempt to interpret human cognition, chapter 1 sets the focus on human appearance. It traces back the history of makeup. By designing a series of makeups that will exist only in the cyberspace Metaverse. Researching how AI understands the world, by analyzing the designer’s face and collecting the data, the research started with the exploration of our perceptions of one's appearance affected by technology. To explore the meaning of makeup in the digital space.
Chapter 2 Talk to Me-Learning In the second stage, designers began to design an AI avatar online chat room. Try to give the virtual AI the ability to learn and think by itself, train the algorithm through constant communication with her, and gradually let the virtual self have a personality. Language is data. The machine is medium.
Chapter 3 I Am Thou. Decision Making At the end of the project, the designer needs to present the ultimate visual story, that is, how to visually express the AI algorithm learning process through the plot form of the story, which will become the focus of the next design. Through discussions with Prof. Edward Schiappa on semantics and text, the principles of narrative and the methodology of storytelling are clarified. Thus chapter 3 is a practice of answering the question from the perspective of AI. It set the premise of AI has a desire that wants to become human. What if digital DNA combines with Digital Brain and Digital heart? The living individual being generated has reached a new status of life already? After AI tries on human mimic tools, is it ‘human’ already?
"Make Man Up" provokes an uncanny reflection on our digitally-constructed identities, where the line between the artificial and the real blurs. This audacious exploration begins by forging a digital persona that engages in a dialogue with its human counterpart. In an intense orchestration of training the algorithm over several weeks, the ensuing video serves as a chilling testament to the profound influence technology wields over our individual and collective identities.
Make Man Up, Design Process, 2022
The neuron-shaped sound speaker, the linchpin in this cognitive system, emulates the complexity of human cognition. Encoded with pre-recorded instructions, the AI adapts, learns, and evolves - advancing towards an eerie imitation of human existence. The question becomes inescapable: "In adopting human-like nuances, has the AI transcended its code to achieve an unsettling new status of life? After its theatrical performance in the human mimicry, can we consider the AI 'human' already?" This compelling inquiry underlines the entirety of "Make Man Up," pushing the boundaries of our understanding of life, existence, and identity in the technological age.
In a similar exploration of the influence of technology, her artwork "Jello, Swallow Me" presents a digital human trapped in a sea of jello, a metaphor for the overwhelming effects of fast-paced technological advancement on individuals. Du's intention with this artwork is to encourage reflection on our relationship with technology.
Jello, Swallow Me, Digital, 2022
Du’s interest in digital technology doesn’t disconnect her from the physical realm and extends beyond digital art into the fashion industry. In her project "Fluidirty," Du combines traditional craft techniques with digital technology, exploring fabric sustainability and the concept of 'upcycle.' Here, clothing is seen as a kind of packaging for humans. Using the fading Gambiered Guangdong dyeing technique, Du seeks to unite the past and the present, tradition and modernity, and physical and digital elements. She explains, "The project focuses on uniting craft and digital technology. Those elements that are often seen as abandoned or long-forgotten are revived and transformed into societal 'problems' through the power of art. I aim to connect these materials to a bigger narrative."
Fluidirty, Gambiered Guangdong Silk, 2019
"The relationship between fashion, identity, and technology continues to evolve," Du states. "Advancements like 3D printing and smart textiles have expanded design possibilities, while social media and digital curation are also influencing how individuals form and express their identities. These intersections offer exciting new avenues for self-expression and innovation in the fashion industry." She believes that art will continue to evolve in response to changes in the socio-techno landscape, and sees her work as part of this ongoing transformation.
Looking towards the future, Du reveals she is working on a phy-gital character design project that marries artificial intelligence with beauty. She intends to delve deeper into how human identity evolves through interactions with digital tools and virtual spaces. "I aim to build a powerful narrative and interpret the storytelling with ethereal visual languages that convey my aesthetics," she shares.
Gong Ghost, Digital, 2022
In response to the rapid changes in technology and society, Du sees her art evolving in various ways. "Art will continue to embrace new technologies, create interactive experiences, reflect societal impacts, integrate sustainability, and facilitate global collaboration," she predicts. "Art will push the boundaries of mediums, invite viewer participation, and address critical issues in response to these changes."
Yilin Du's body of work stands at the intersection of traditional and digital art, physical and virtual realities, and individual and collective identities. With each project, she engages her audience in a dialogue about our evolving relationship with technology and its impact on our sense of self. As she navigates this ever-evolving landscape, Du continues to redefine digital art, one innovative project at a time.
About Yilin Du
Yilin Du is a London-based digital artist and character designer with a diverse background in creating multimedia content. Her creations aim to provide insight into how digital technologies, new materials and aesthetics could change our approach to design and thinking.
Employing versatile methods, Du's artistic practices seamlessly merge the physical and digital realms, exploring a broad range of subjects, including the digitization of traditional craftsmanship and the evolving nature of identities in our constant engagement with media platforms. After graduating with a MA degree from Central Saint Martins in 2022, Du's works have been showcased at Tate Britain, Dutch Design Week and London Design Festival in 2022. Additionally, her creative endeavors have been prominently featured in the esteemed ELLE UK magazine's June 2023 edition. With a BA degree in Theater, Film and TV Character design, Du sees make-up as another means of identity expression. Having been active for years in the fashion industry, her innovative make-ups have gained media attention from Vogue China, Harper's Bazaar and more.