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In Conversation: Time-flux, reimagining the form of time by Zhao Jiajing

Time-flux is a generative audio-visual installation reimagining the form of time as a free flux of chaotic experiences, inspired by Henri Bergson’s concept of duration.


Time-flux, 2022
4-layer transparent OLED display and 4-channel sound installation, synthesiser
Infinite duration

Since modern time-keeping technologies emerged, humanity has created an artificial time environment punctuated by mechanical contrivances and electronic pulses. Obligated to live within the standardised time system has become a common struggle. How could one ever equal ten seconds of delights to ten seconds of suffering? Henri Bergson addresses this problem with the idea of duration (durée), which focuses on the overlooked experiential dimension of time. He describes the form of time as “a bottomless, bankless river, which flows without assignable force in a direction which could not be defined.”


In the same spirit, Time-flux captures the fluidity and chaoticity of subjective experiences of time. The installation features 4 layers of transparent panels and a 4-channel sound collage. The fluid particles on the screens act as snapshots of the virtual entity of time. Benefiting from the transparent panels, the generative shapes can pulse through the space at various paces, creating an experience of the flowing continuum between screens. The sound collage utilises granular and time-stretching audio processing to recreate the distortion and non-linearity experience of time perception.


The core of the work is a probability system of controlled chaos, created by modular synthesisers and a computational algorithm based on the Lorenz system. It sends combinations of constantly morphing signals to influence the visual and sound generation, resulting in drifting visual and sonic outcomes.


Time-flux is an existential anthem to the overlooked experiential dimension of time beyond mechanical measurements. It is also a call for humans to look at time in another way and rethink our relationship with it. Let's dive into the conversation with the artist Zhao Jiajing!


Time-flux, 2022
4-layer transparent projection and 4-channel sound installation, synthesiser.
Infinite Duration

Q: First of all, tell us about your background and artistic approach!


I am Zhao Jiajing, a Chinese musician and interdisciplinary artist currently based in London. I graduated from the Royal College of Art, Information Experience Design in September 2022.


Most of my projects initiate with sonic ideas. I think of sound as seeds that sprout in unforeseen variations. With chaotic algorithms, I build generative systems that sounds can grow freely within. With recorded sound materials I create acousmatic compositions where many sonic possible worlds may be generated. This open-ended approach to sound also applies to other mediums I engage with: new media art, installation, and performance. The kernel of my works is uncertainties and possibilities that can result in plural forms and experiences. I think of it as a curated journey that contains many possible paths, instead of collapsing into a fixed route. This allows me to survey metaphysical concepts including experiential time, dreams, and spirituality. The magic is revealed during the process of entanglement: the possibilities of the work being realised and combined with the active imagination of the spectator.


Zhao Jiajing and his collaborator Bryan (Yueshen) Wu
LUMINOUS, Old Street Gallery, London, 2o22

Q: In your work, you wanted to challenge the western, modern, and linear notion of time using expressions of fluidity, chaoticity, and emergency, is that correct? What do you hope your audience can get or feel after viewing your work?


Absolutely. I believe time should be imagined differently. Obligated to live within the standard time system has been a common struggle for generations. Modern society regards time as equal units of extractable value. However, Henri Bergson’s idea of durée suggests that time is experienced as a fluid and emergent matter on the individual level. During recent years, I keep asking myself, what is the purest form of time look or sound like? What if we do not compare our experience of time with the movement of clock strikes? With these questions in mind, I developed Time-flux, an ever-evolving, time-bending installation.


With the immersive audio-visual experience of Time-flux, I present to the audiences a reimagined form of time. I would like to remind people about the overlooked experiential dimension of time beyond measurements. Further, I hope that the work could be a relief to the rampantly spreading time-related anxiousness, especially among young Asian people.


Time-flux, 2022
4-layer transparent projection and 4-channel sound installation, synthesiser.
Infinite Duration

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for you when creating this project? And what do you like most about the process?


I grew up in a culture where punctuality is valued as essential. The biggest challenge for me is to imagine a time without referencing time-keeping methods. Therefore, I conducted an experiment to live without looking at the clock for several days. These days were very relaxed and full of happy accidents. My routine went incredibly wrong, and I was surprised how much time is distorted when I don’t fit it into the tiny grids on the clock. I came up with a modular synthesiser patch that generates time-stretching sound collage, which later became a crucial part of the installation.


The four-layer transparent projection was challenging but also fun to develop. It took a long time to find the best combination between projection materials and projectors. It won’t be possible without my collaborator Bryan Wu. He was in charge of creative coding for the generative visuals with his extraordinary skills. We installed and calibrated the installation together. In the end, we managed to realise the installation with our self-built transparent projection screens, as well as transparent OLED displays sponsored by LG Display. The moment we see the generative shapes starts dynamically moving through the space was incomparably satisfactory.


A compilation of generated visuals in Time-flux

Q: What are the goals you hope to achieve in the future?


My short-term goal is to set up my own studio in London and keep practicing with multi-layer projection techniques and time-bending sound collages. I aim to show my works at the world’s leading galleries and festivals for new media arts and new music, in order to influence more people across the world.


Meanwhile, I will keep developing my channel Secret Base for Sound Experiments (神秘声音实验基地) on Bilibili for promoting experimental sound practices and new media arts in China.


 

About Zhao Jiajing


Zhao Jiajing (b. China) is a musician and interdisciplinary artist based in London. He graduated from Information Experience Design (Sound Design) at the Royal College of Art in 2022.


Zhao Jiajing’s practices spread across the spatial sound composition, performance, and new media art. His approach to composition, sonic world-building, focuses on crafting immersive cross-sensory experiences through sound. He works extensively with chaotic algorithms and generative systems to create uncanny aesthetics. Key themes of his works include time, consciousness, nature, and spirituality.


The appearance of his works has been made at Old Street Gallery, EiS Immersive Audio Conference, IRCAM, and more. Since 2019, he has been collaborating with pioneering theatrical groups, performers, and installation artists to produce music and sound.


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