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  • Art on Screen

Huang Ziyue: Embracing Old Media to Challenge New Realities

Updated: Apr 28


Ziyue Huang is an artist whose practice traverses the intricate landscapes of identity, trauma, and the digital realm. Huang's artistic journey embarks on a dual exploration—delving inward into the intricacies of personal experience and outward to unravel the complexities of our digital society.
Inwardly, Huang embarks on an exploration rooted in the paradoxical conflict of my identity—being a lesbian with an Oedipal complex.This introspective journey takes Huang through the labyrinth of LGBTQ experiences in East Asia, where Huang delves into the trauma and profound impact of existing as a marginalized identity. Additionally, Huang explores the intricate tapestry of East Asian mother-daughter relationships, shedding light on the emotional dynamics woven within.
On the outward trajectory of Huang's artistic exploration, she specializes in crafting 'Internet Personas' within her works. These personas are integral to narratives that expose the harsh realities of internet politics, particularly their impact on marginalized communities. They also serve as a reflection on the colonization of people's imagination by capital. Rooted in extensive research across various media, Huang's works invite the audience to contemplate the construction of individual online identities. Huang navigates the realm of internet politics, exploring the boundaries between reality and virtuality.


Why do you call yourself an old media artist and what is the difference between new media and old media?

New media uses digital, network, and computer technologies to distribute and present information. Examples include the NFT metaverse, brainwave technology, AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), motion capture, AI, and more, all falling under the umbrella of new media. Although these technologies may sound novel, over time, they have become common forms within the media field. Over a thousand years ago, books and paper were once considered very new media. Similarly, radio and television were also once considered new media. Therefore, new media is a relative concept, and there is no media that remains perpetually new.

During my undergraduate studies, I delved into what seemed to be cutting-edge new media technologies and regularly followed developments in new media art. I observed that new media artists often compete to showcase the technologies used in their works, such as biometric data, dynamic capture, and others. It appears that the more innovative the media used in the works, the more popular they become. Many individuals are eager to employ new media technologies to present their works. However, for me, the media used in a work should be closely related to its theme. I prefer to choose media that aligns with the themes of my creations rather than simply opting for flashy technology. Therefore, I humorously refer to myself as an "old media" artist.

You mention the paradoxical conflict of being a lesbian with an Oedipal complex. How does this personal experience influence your artistic exploration and the narratives you create?

If there are dramatic conflicts in people, I think the dramatic conflict in my life is about my relationship with my mother. It's hard not to discuss my own dramatic conflicts in my work, and I think that's probably my motif

Your project "Tulpa" delves into the concept of spiritual companionship and the impact of maternal relationships. How did you approach the intertwining of these themes in the context of a virtual conference?

Tulpa, Video Online drama, Huang Ziyue, 2021-2023

This film is a story about the six Tulpas who accompanied me during my formative years and I. The concept of Tulpa (िनिमर्त in Sanskrit), which originally meant "to build", is one of the teachings or practices of Tibetan Buddhism, and is different from schizophrenia in that Tulpa is consciously created by the individual, and has been translated into the term "spiritual companion" (tulpa). It has been translated as "spiritual companion. As an child matures, they may develop numerous spiritual companions akin to the Tulpa phenomenon, offering companionship and interaction. With the advent of the Internet, the manifestations of Tulpa have evolved into various forms, including linguistic role-playing, fictitious online personas, virtual relationships, and the creation of Fan Fiction. Those who grew up without exposure to the Internet were primarily influenced by traditional media such as books, TV, and radio. During their childhood, expressions of Tulpa behavior were limited to imaginative play, such as pretending to be characters from movies or writing stories with pen and paper. However, as they matured, the concept of Tulpa faded, and these forms of expression diminished.

I have found that my Tulpa's have left their mark on the web. So I speak of Tulpas coming together in cyberspace, under the form of a virtual meeting, to talk about the tokens I left them from the perspective of a spiritual partner. This extends the discussion about the damage suffered in maternal relationships, social identities, and physical violence.

In "Sister Star Storytelling," you explore the themes of sibling dynamics and societal expectations through children's literature. What inspired you to use this medium, and what do you hope viewers take away from this work?

"Sister Star Storytelling" reflects how China affected literature in when its one-child policy was in place. Ten years ago, I bought China's most famous magazine, Children's Literature, in a bookstore, and every book had a story like this: "I now have newborn younger siblings, and my parents don't love me anymore." But in the past few years, since China has canceled its one-child policy, and so now in Children's Literature magazine, every month there is a story like this: "I am the happiest person with a younger sibling." There are many such similar phenomena. For example, in Chinese TV dramas, if a 50-year-old woman gets pregnant, the women choose to have the baby.

Sister Star Storytelling, Video, 24’7", Huang Ziyue, 2023

You have also engaged in curatorial projects and organized feminist art organizations. How do these roles complement your practice as an artist, and what impact do you hope to achieve through these initiatives?

I curated an exhibition titled "Are There Ten Handsome Male Artists in the Contemporary Chinese Art Industry?" The motivation behind this exhibition stemmed from the male gaze phenomenon, where most female artists are perceived as beautiful, slim, and highly educated, while male artists in the art industry often don't meet the same beauty standards. While hundreds of female artists could be found who meet criteria such as being over 175cm tall and not overweight, very few male artists meet these standards. The selection criteria for this exhibition included being over 180cm tall, producing works related to contemporary art, and not having a beer belly. Despite receiving numerous submissions from male artists, we encountered significant harassment through emails.

"When Yellow Huang Not Cry" addresses idol culture and the construction of virtual identities. Can you discuss the challenges and opportunities of portraying virtual characters in your work?

I couldn't find an actor to play this role, so I ended up playing it myself. A lot of my friends call me Yellow Huang, and the background of my work started when I wrote a little dark fairy tale that mentioned the persona of Yellow Huang. The original Yellow Huang is a cold-blooded doctor who kills without blinking an eye, but after meeting me, the chemistry changed. This is a story that I wrote, directed, and acted out, a series of stories about the virtual character "Yellow Yellow" in cyberspace, incorporating real-life encounters with "confusing events." He seems to live in cyberspace but also exists in the real world, and he is in a world that does not discriminate between genders, nationalities, or political positions, and everything that exists is reasonable.

When Yellow Huang Not Cry, Video, 5’39”, Huang Ziyue, 2020

You use a lot of keying and collage in your video work, as well as a lot of pure colours in all your work, do you think this colour palette helps your narrative? How do you approach the issue of visual style in your work?

I consider the use of pure colors to be a visual challenge because it may cause some irritation and discomfort to the viewer's eyes. Prolonged exposure to this color may lead to eye fatigue and discomfort, thus affecting the viewer's experience. The reason I chose to use this color is because I want the audience to feel the seriousness and violent nature of the social issues I am exploring through this visual discomfort.

The reason for using collage comes from my personal experience. Ever since I was about ten years old, I have been using design software such as PS and AI to design advertisements for the advertising agency my family owns. Graphic design and collage have thus become one of my most familiar mediums. In addition, I used to help some online literary authors create covers for their works online for free, an experience that lasted almost seven years and involved over a thousand people, from 2010 to 2017.

Your video installation "The Goldfish Girl Only Lived for Seven Months" critiques the culture of deformed fans and the relationship between capital, idols, and fans. How do you see your role as an artist in challenging these societal norms?

I think the role of artists is not to solve social problems directly, but to provoke reflection and discussion on social problems through their works. The responsibility of directly solving social problems should be taken up by professionals such as social workers and government personnel. Artists' works can be a mirror reflecting the reality and problems of the society, thus provoking people to think and act. Therefore, artists play an important role in society by stimulating ideas, conveying information, and triggering change.

The Goldfish Girl Only Lived for Seven Months, Video, 3'11", Huang Ziyue, 2020

Your participation in residencies like the Young Artist Residency Program of SCFAI and the Lonely Land Residency Programme seems to have been significant in your career. Can you share some key takeaways from these experiences?

As an artist who uses video as a medium, I don't rely on a traditional studio to create my work. Instead, my computer is my studio, and it can accompany me anywhere, anytime. I like to participate in residency programs in different cities, which exposes me to different cultures and environments and inspires new creations.

Finally, looking ahead, are there any new themes or mediums you are excited to explore in your future work?

Yeah, maybe. We'll talk about it tomorrow.

Art on Screen

Editor: Christine Lee

Christine Lee is a freelance art journalist. Lee earned her M.A. from Saint Martin's School of Art. She has been a leading journalist for Art On Screen and a number of other journals.


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