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In Conversation: Xinyi Wu

Xinyi Wu is an interdisciplinary creator who works at the intersection of art and science. She graduated from the School of Design and Innovation at the China Academy of Art and is currently pursuing postgraduate studies. Wu's work focuses on topics related to personal perception, including the relationship between individuals and the environment, covering fields such as behavior, ecology, and interaction. Through a blend of speculative thinking, scientific knowledge, and technology, she frequently works with media such as illustrations, tangible objects, photography, experimental film, and others.

Q: Your work covers various fields such as product design, architecture, fashion, photography, etc. What motivates you to be a cross-disciplinary and cross-media designer, and what do you think is the biggest challenge for you?

When I create, my primary concern is finding the best way to express my ideas and determining the most suitable medium for showcasing them. These different creative fields share a common foundation in visual design, and by incorporating a small spatial dimension, they can delve into product design. By further expanding this spatial dimension to include the element of time, they can be developed into spatial installations and even architecture. While it's not necessary to be an expert in all fields, it's crucial to collaborate with partners in related areas when faced with professional difficulties. The dynamic exchange of ideas in a productive team environment is a source of inspiration for me. That being said, there are certainly challenges involved in working across multiple media and disciplines, such as communication misunderstandings and the difficulty of classifying works that defy easy categorization. The most significant challenge is expressing my ideas effectively and finding the perfect balance between over- or under-expression.

Plants Playground, Face Masks for Insect-pollinated Plants, Xinyi Wu, 2022

Q: In your work, Plants Playground, you designed four ways for humans and plants to interact, allowing humans to entertain while also helping plants spread pollen and seeds. Where did you get the inspiration and ideas for this project?

I've always been fascinated by nature and have spent a lot of time watching nature documentaries. There's one scene in particular that I remember vividly, even though I can't recall the title of the film. It was about an expert who created small "seed bombs" made of nutritious materials wrapped around seeds to help restore the vitality of an ecologically damaged area. He discovered that local children loved playing with these seed bombs like marbles, so he distributed them to the children and encouraged them to play and scatter the seeds while having fun, thus protecting the land they depended on for survival. I was deeply moved by this and believe that by utilizing people's daily habits and behaviors, we can make protecting nature less burdensome and find a way for humans and nature to coexist and thrive together.

Plants Playground focuses on the needs and contradictions of symbiosis between humans and nature, from a non-anthropocentric perspective. Plants have different pollination media. Through the observation of the interaction between humans and plants, four types of wind-borne, water-borne, insect-borne, and animal fur-carrying media have been selected. We developed and explored an experimental field for them to co-exist with plants, that is, while playing, people can help plants spread pollen and seeds by wearing props. As a result, a plant playground that advocates equal coexistence, mutual benefit, and common entertainment and living conditions between people and plants came into being.

Plants Playground, The Dress for Wind-pollinated or Wind-dispersed Plants, Xinyi Wu, 2022

Plants Playground, The Furball for Fur-dispersed Plants, Xinyi Wu, 2022

Q: Could you introduce the creative process behind Plants Playground?

In the early stages of my creative process, I like to start with a logical organization to create a mind map that helps me clarify my main focus and the connections between different elements. By observing the interplay between humans and plants, I established an experimental space where people and plants coexist as equals. I came up with the idea for a series of wearable interactive props that people could use to interact with nature in new and fun ways. For example, one of the props is a wearable accessory that can be worn around the nose to help spread pollen when people smell flowers. Using custom-designed tools as playful intermediaries, such as wind, water, insects, and animal fur, people can help plants disseminate pollen and seeds.

I want people to be able to use these props without an instruction manual, and the props themselves will guide them to interact with nature spontaneously and even unconsciously. This behavior is different from the deliberate and artificial process of pollination and is created spontaneously when users are playing in a playground, utilizing various natural elements to interact not only with plants but also with different members of the ecosystem. This approach results in the creation of a plant playground, which advocates a harmonious coexistence, mutual benefit, and shared living conditions between humans and plants, reflecting a non-anthropocentric worldview.

Plants Playground, The Flippers for Water-pollinated or Water-dispersed, Xinyi Wu, 2022

Q: How do you see the concept of de-centering humans, including what you called "the entanglement of all living beings," in terms of its significance to design and art?

In my design process, I always pay attention to human needs, but I believe that humans should no longer be at the center of everything. Rather, we should coexist with all living beings in a harmonious and comfortable way, striving for a mutually beneficial state that supports the development of both nature and humans. Without respect for either party, it is difficult to achieve sustainable development.

The same principles apply to the fields of design and art. By integrating different disciplines, we can create more innovative and streamlined ideas that are full of vitality. In the early days of human civilization, people needed more comprehensive knowledge to solve practical problems. Therefore, cross-disciplinary perspectives are particularly useful in practical creative disciplines. For instance, instead of relying on high-tech machinery to keep birds away from crops, a more prominent hat for the scarecrow may do the job just as well.

Q: In addition to these concepts, in your team's work, Irrational Standards, we can also see your return to human perception and awareness. What made you interested in this area?

I have a great interest in exploring the connection between body, mind, and spirit. However, with the growing influence of technology and science, we are seeing an overwhelming number of technological products that have taken over many of the physical tasks that our bodies used to perform, resulting in a reduction of our body's natural functions and senses. In essence, we have become like patients with a limited perception of the world around us.

To address this issue, I delved into the history of human perception, from measuring and perceiving the world through our own bodies to using external objects or animals as references, to now using some very abstract formulas, such as the unit of distance becoming the distance that light travels in a certain amount of time. This has made our perception of the world more elusive.

In response to these problems, I have developed a new concept of embodied perception, which I believe will usher in a new era of perceptual rehabilitation. To achieve this, I have created a set of new unit standards and measurement methods, as well as a series of "non-rational artifacts" that can help train and restore the perceptual abilities of patients. These artifacts may seem abstract, but they can be physically felt even in a way that is challenging to articulate in words.

Irrational Standards, Ambience Prototype, Xinyi Wu, 2021

Q: Your works are speculative in nature. In what ways do you believe your creations can shape and inspire your audience, potentially leaving a positive impact on society?

While speculative design can come across as preachy and challenging to comprehend, my design and artistic works are typically light-hearted and enjoyable. Rather than directly preaching big truths to my audience, I prefer to cleverly hint at them through my creations, allowing individuals to arrive at their own understanding spontaneously. By doing so, I aim to encourage a playful and pleasant mindset, which can inspire action and practice.

Beautiful Dream Unlimited Company, Plantain in the Rain, Xinyi Wu, 2021

Q: What issues and phenomena do you think current designers and artists need to pay attention to?

In modern society, I observe three prominent topics that have captured popular attention: "hyper online", "hyper offline", and "social identity". The "hyper online" revolves around technology and digital mediums, encompassing virtual networks, artificial intelligence, and even the metaverse. The "hyper offline", on the other hand, is centered on physical experiences, such as physical theater and self-exploration through the body, mind, and spirit. The third one, "social identity", emphasizes identity exploration within a social context, encompassing issues such as human rights and feminism. This unique situation sparks numerous topics of discussion and raises various concerns.

Q: Finally, what are your plans for the next three years?

In the realm of life, I hope to maintain a happy state, meet more interesting friends, and participate in or organize more fun activities. In the realm of creation, I hope to continue to maintain my passion for creation, while also planning to delve into the field of embodied perception and maintaining a cross-disciplinary, multi-domain, and category-independent creative mode. In the realm of learning, I have plans to pursue a second master's degree abroad, to understand the true face of people of different cultures and ethnicities around the world, and to gain more diverse knowledge. In the realm of work, I hope to have the opportunity to participate in work that is beneficial to the world. Perhaps interning at a suitable position at the United Nations while studying would be a good choice. However, the most important thing is to continue creating and be a creator who consistently updates their work, while gaining a broader perspective and more practical experience.

To end with, Xinyi Wu's work as an interdisciplinary creator offers a refreshing perspective on the intersection of art and science. Through her focus on personal perception and the relationship between individuals and their environment, she showcases the power of speculative thinking, scientific knowledge, and technology to create unique works of art.


Group Work Information:

Irrational Standards, Xinyi Wu, Yi Hu, Yifan Xu, 2021

Beautiful Dream Unlimited Company, Xinyi Wu, Jiahui Huang, Ying Huang, Xin Zhuang, Hanwen Cheng, 2021

Special Thanks:

Institute of Science and Creation

Chuan Ma, Yi Xiang


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