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In Conversation: Aijia Wang, Bridging Technology, Nature, and Culture

Aijia Wang is an interdisciplinary artist originally from China currently pursuing an MA in Information Experience Design at the Royal College of Art. Aijia's unique artistic approach revolves around collaborative interdisciplinary techniques, employing various media and sensory channels to craft experiences that foster empathy for diverse human emotions and stories. Utilizing advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, Aijia delves into the symbiotic relationships between humans and nonhuman species, with a focus on nonhuman-centered design and speculative design practices.

Aijia’s versatile practice encompasses interactive installations, sound design, graphic design, projection art, and writing. Her art-making philosophy centers on a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach that uses different media and sensory channels to design experiences that foster empathy towards various human experiences. She is interested in exploring the relationship between humans and non-human species, and often incorporates technology, such as artificial intelligence, into her artistic practice.

Her stop-motion experimental film Centaur Symphony, which she art directed in 2020, NetEase Cloud Music “The Power of Music”, Best Creative Award. The short film was sealed in a time capsule chip and launched into space aboard the Shen Gu Xing I rocket(2022). Her feminist VR experience and sound art piece, Artificial Dream, premiered at IRCAM in Centre Pompidou, Paris, France in 2023, and was one of the ten finalists for the inaugural Immerse UK Awards(2023).

In this exclusive interview, Aijia reveals her artistic journey, life philosophy, and the inspirations behind her groundbreaking projects.

Aijia Wang

Q: To begin with, tell us about your background and interests! What inspired you to become a new media artist?

I was born in the same year Windows 98 was released for manufacturing. As I grew up, I often felt that my generation was destined for a unique relationship with technology, new media, and internet culture. As a result, it's not so much that I actively chose to pursue new media art, but rather that new media art chose me.

The healing power of art is frequently seen as a personal journey that offers temporary relief for viewers and lasting solace for artists. To me, new media art resembles a vast jigsaw puzzle, where each creative endeavor adds a new piece, expanding the puzzle and broadening my perspective on life. This enables me to surpass my own limitations and connect with various aspects of the world.

New media art is situated between design and art, necessitating extensive rational research to bolster artistic expression. Throughout my research, I have encountered diverse individuals, such as a lead singer grappling with bipolar disorder due to her sexual orientation and family background, a girl unwilling to cut down a tree outside her room as it reminds her of her late father, and a girl traveling far to chase a romantic interest. By empathizing with their stories, I've crafted meaningful artistic expressions enriched by their experiences.

Furthermore, technology has empowered me to develop more immersive experiences. It's rewarding to know that my audience can explore these new realities solely through my artistic creations. In this way, I view my work as offering a distinctive gift to the world.

Be Ankerwycke Yew, Mixed media, 2023

Q: In your diverse artistic practice, which includes interactive installations, sound design, graphic design, projection art, and writing, how do you approach the process of selecting and combining different media to convey your ideas effectively?

I firmly believe that the media used in my artistic expressions are merely tools, and cannot be the centers of my projects. In my artistic practice, the accumulation of artistic works allows me to gradually identify my individual preferences and gain a deeper understanding of them, even when the works share similarities. I tend to follow a linear approach, whereby I begin with a source of inspiration and then conduct thorough research and reasoning to determine the most appropriate medium for the final product. This method enables me to avoid similarities with the work of others and provides ample support to validate the originality of my creations.

Q: How do you think the experience of engaging with nature through sound differs from a visual or tactile interaction? What unique aspects of our relationship with nature do you believe are revealed through auditory experiences?

My first encounter with sound design occurred in 2020 during a live online music performance by Ryuichi Sakamoto. This performance featured a departure from the traditional melody-based sound performance and instead utilized various physical media to produce seemingly disordered sounds by means of rubbing and collision. Such a performance entirely overturned my prior understanding of "sound art". In the past, I categorized sound as either 'melodic music' or 'noise'; however, I now realize that all sounds should be treated equally.

When viewed through the lens of sound equality, our everyday lives transform, unveiling sound as an invisible medium. Unlike seeing or touching, we subconsciously perceive sound without necessarily being aware of it. Sound fills our lives, creating a remarkable and utterly immersive experience that evokes a sense of clarity and sacredness. Similarly, nature is an intangible force, much like sound. Despite its power and chaos, it remains difficult to define, leaving me to ponder whether nature is a plant, a human, or even the universe. Ultimately, I have come to see sound and nature as comparable entities, both possessing an unseen yet profound influence on our existence.

Inforg1.0, 2023, CrptyGallery London

Inforg1.0 is a part of the body of work, Anthropomorphism (Mixed Media, 2023), which refers to the process of assigning human characteristics to nonhuman objects so that they are perceived as living, sentient, and thinking beings (Epley, Waytz, & Caciop- po 2007). Research has surfaced that the more sensitive non-humans are to nature, the more they can feel (Gray, Gray, & Wegner, 2007), and that anthropomorphism makes individuals feel closer to the anthropomorphized object and thus more likely to behave emotionally protective of nature (Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy, 2011).

Q: In your project "Anthropomorphism", you use GAN code techniques to create a hybrid dataset of trees and human images. How did you choose which images to include in the dataset, and what were the most interesting or surprising outcomes you observed from the AI's interpretation of the images?

In my view, "Anthropomorphism" is one of my visual experiments. In many contexts, AI is utilized for programmed tasks such as detecting lung cancer in X-rays, identifying key content in images, and enhancing facial recognition for human users. However, what will happen if we introduce chaos into the so-called "clean dataset" and observe the world through the lens of AI? In my exploration of this concept, I have experimented with various approaches, from upgrading my code from DC-GAN to StyleGAN to generating outcomes using diverse datasets. Through this project, my perspective on AI has evolved significantly, from viewing it merely as a tool to now considering it as a collaborator. I have begun to comprehend its world and the reasoning behind its logic, and this shift in mindset towards AI is perhaps the most mind-blowing result of my AI training.

Q: "Anthropomorphism" has been shown to make individuals feel closer to the object and more likely to behave emotionally protective of nature. How do you think your art projects can contribute to raising awareness about environmental issues and encouraging a deeper sense of responsibility towards nature?

I once talked with two experts from the Xishuangbanna Academy of Sciences in China who specialize in environmental education. This field utilizes educational tools to enhance people's understanding of the environment and raise their awareness of environmental issues. Environmental education fosters accurate comprehension of the interrelationship between humans and the environment, and it mobilizes society to cooperate in protecting the environment. In this field, the definition of nature leans more towards non-human, non-artificial aspects. Although art is not their primary focus, they have previously organized painting activities to facilitate children's connection with the natural environment. Therefore, I believe it is an optimistic direction for new media art to engage in environmental education.

Through my current research, I use artworks to explore the relationship between 'technology-nature-culture' rather than providing solutions. Instead, I present questions that allow the audience to form their own judgments and understandings by experiencing my artworks. This approach is more about attempting to change the way of thinking. By conveying my ideas, I aspire to impact the audience, which I believe is already a satisfying achievement.

The AI Arithmetic Generation of Anthropomorphism, 2023

Q: As an explorer of new media art, how do you envision the role of technology in shaping our relationship with nature, and how can artists facilitate a more symbiotic relationship between humans and nonhuman species?

In contemporary society, "technology, nature, and culture" are intertwined. As stated by Luciano Floridi in Turing's Three Philosophical Lessons and the Philosophy of Information: "We are not separate and distinct entities, but rather information-embodied organisms (inforgs), interconnected and embedded in an information environment, the infosphere, which is similar in many ways to nature and artificial agents." Technology has become an essential tool for challenging established knowledge systems and understanding humans, society, and culture. My current research aims to use technological tools as "spectators of the world" to provide a spectator's perspective on our entangled world. I believe that humans and the world are inseparable, and everything exists in an entangled state. Hence, through my project, I express my views and offer the audience a fresh perspective on symbiosis.

The work of artist Katie Paterson also means a lot to me. Inspired by her, I started to try to talk to nature and get in touch with it, and because of the presence of natural objects and these reflections on nature, my whole being became more gentle, tolerant, and positive.

In The Art of Love, Fromm says: "If I truly love one person, I love everyone, the world, and life. If I can say 'I love you to another person, I can surely say: 'I love everyone because of you, I love the world through you, I love myself because of you.'" Fromm's 'art' has a more primitive meaning of 'skill'; love is a skill that needs to be understood and practiced, in the same way as carpentry, painting, or playing a musical instrument.

Since love is a skill, one needs to learn it as much as one learns it. I hope that through my expressions and creations, I can make people fall in love with themselves, with species other than themselves, and with the world.

I have always believed that love is the driving force behind all change, and that love makes us all better.

In the work ‘Be Ankerwycke Yew’ (Mixed Media, 2023), the author has created a Quadraphonic sound space consisting of four acoustic devices and invites the viewer to enter the room and experience the living environment of the Ankerwycke Yew tree in South West London through the sensory channel of sound. The project aims to allow people to have a ‘nature connectedness’ with the tree and to re-examine their relationship with nature through an immersive sound experience.

Q: You have mentioned that love is a driving force behind change and that it makes us all better. How do you incorporate this philosophy into your artwork, and how do you hope to inspire love for oneself, other species, and the world through your creations?

I have tried to simulate the response of the sea to those who cherish it through my project MR.VAST. In this process, I interviewed individuals who had mixed feelings towards the sea and wondered if the sea could feel their love. What would the sea say to them if it could sense their love? Would the people who love the sea be more willing to live well in the world if they could also experience the sea's love in return? I used code computing to visualize the ocean's internal wave data, combined with the human heartbeat, to create an anthropomorphic expression of the sea's emotions. I am still very fond of this project, and whenever I discuss it, I am struck by the beauty of the emotional expression it conveys.

I strongly believe that the artist and their work are inseparable. Therefore, I aspire to be as kind and patient as possible with everyone and cultivate more love for the world. I value the love that others have for me and strive to create with greater patience, energy, care, and attention, infusing my works with love in the process. My aim is to become a gentle person and to create positive and gentle works that reflect this.

Q: As a designer and artist, how do you stay up-to-date with emerging trends, technologies, and techniques in your field? Are there any specific resources or methods you find especially helpful for staying current and inspired?

Read more, think more, and discuss more. For several years, I have made it a habit to explore new works and read articles every day. As I acquire more and more information, my mind integrates these ideas into my own worldview. I firmly believe that great ideas are not born in a vacuum; rather, they are built on what has come before. In order to develop our own ideas and insights, we must gather the knowledge and wisdom of previous thinkers and strive to become giants ourselves.

Q: Lastly, what are your future plans as an artist and explorer of new media art? Are there any specific projects, collaborations, or themes you would like to explore in the coming years?

I have long been interested in a particular field and am working hard to secure a job in this area. However, I won't give up my passion for new media artwork.

Recently, while re-watching a cartoon I enjoyed in my childhood, I was struck by a line that said, "A fallen leaf may appear lifeless, but as it falls to the ground and is absorbed by the earth, it becomes nourishment for the tree. The next year, new leaves will grow on the tree, and the old leaves will live on in the new ones. This is the gift that the leaves give to the world." This echoes my life philosophy. For me, being a kind and gentle person comes before anything else. My goal is to continue creating and sharing gifts with the world.

'Mr. Vast' (Mixed Media, 2021) is a projection art project about the visualisation of wave measurement data within the sea. It combines the scientific survey data collected from the South China Sea with real human heartbeats through a processing code algorithm and calls the anthropomorphic representation Mr. Vast.


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