Thesis 1 progress


Grid of 9

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My thesis concept is about navigating into an unusual space (high-dimensional space, parallel space, infinite space, etc) by motions. For instance, the audience could shift between different spaces by changing the direction of their movement. I want to use this experience to help people get the sense of what the real world might be and perceive things beyond human ability. Moreover, to set the audience free from the stereotype and numbness which is created by everyday routine, and question about the universe and our existence.

It will matter to others because it will give us a chance to challenge the common sense and think about the alternative world. It will be ontology related and lead to the philosophical approach to provoke people to think about who we are and how insignificant/significant we are as the existence in this universe.

I am always interested in thinking the world in a theoretical way and get my mind blown by imaging things which are beyond human imagination. The last project I did was an installation interpreting quantum physic to discuss the topic of unobservability. The initial idea was to create something which couldn’t be seen by the human. That lead me to the Copenhagen interpretation: everything will exist as possibility wave until human observation, then all the possibilities will collapse into one certain result. The sense of paradox and agnosticism is so appealing to me that we will never get to know the reality of the world without observation, but the action of observing will totally change the world itself.

So I would like to do more experiment along this path. But the problem is also obvious. I need to find a way to interpret this concept appropriately, so it won’t go to theoretical and “non-human”.

From my past works, the most successful and satisfied one usually is more emotional:

The project “Spasm Puppet” discussed the topic of the human initiative by transforming the performer(me) into a puppet and allowed the audience to control my body by pressing buttons and sending an electrical pulse from a nerve stimulator.

Another wearable installation “Her” simulates the appearance and progress of pregnancy, by placing a plant inside the belly shape container and providing the nutrients it needs from the host. It represents the communication between human and nature and also criticises the opinion of defining the success of women by their fertility.

I really want to keep the empathy and humanity inside my project. And how can I combine them with the hard scientific theories will be the main challenge. Why does it matter to a human? How can I provoke people to think about their own existence and feel the emptiness and powerlessness as I do when I think about this topic.

I am passionate about this topic because it will be a pure exploration of the truth of the world. In the path of human evolution, there will be dreamers.

Lots of science fiction novels and movies inspired me a lot. And the most appealing part to me is there are not just fantasy. Sometimes when newest science discovers supports these hypnoses in science fictions, I feel that thinking about the truth of the world or alternative is really curial to push the society ahead. And the highest science always responds to philosophy and religions, such as quantum physics totally shifted people’s understanding of the universe but it somehow responds to the philosophy in Buddhism.

The significance of the project to me the field of study will be interpreting and visualising things which meant to be imperceivable. For me, interaction is all about input, output and the interpretation in between. It will be really challenged to find the right way to visualise and materialise the concept, but it will become a thought provoking process.

The thesis goals will be using the right storytelling methods and create an immersive experience to the audience.

The design questions will be:

How to demonstrate things beyond human imagination by using methods human could understand? How to encourage the audience to think in the experience? What the interaction should be?

For the next step, I need to do is avoiding the project goes too theoretical and scientific. It shouldn’t about science and math or physics. It is about using scientific theories to support the hypnosis of the world and our existence and humanity. From outside to inside. Gain a better understanding of our life. Don’t live in blindness.

Some of the previous thesis projects inspired me a lot:

Luobin Wang

Hang Ye

Ting Zhao




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Prototype 3


Prototype 3 feedback. I discussed with Andrew Genualdi about our thesis because we have the similar domain of “consciousness” and “space”. It is fascinating to find out both of us are pursuing the immersive experience that leads the audience to a virtual space, where they can focus on their mind and sense.

My prototype 3 is about the interaction because my classmate questioned about the engagement of the audience in the performance/project. During our discussion, we both agreed that conciseness is the only thing that belongs to oneself, other people will never perceive what I feel and sense. Therefore, conciseness is subjective, personal and private. So non-interactive might be the right way to deliver the concept of

Andrew also brought up the idea of “stream of consciousness” and his experience when studying neuroscience in undergrad. The experiment asked him to sit down in front of a mirror for half an hour and write down every thought on a piece of paper. So after 30 min, the paper will be full of one’s consciousness. He also mentioned Bryan Ma’s thesis project, Definitions.  It matches the concept of active creation of consciousness.


In the NYCMEDIA Lab. I had the chance to experience the HTC Vive. Even though I think VR is not the solution for creating the sense of nothingness because of the pressure on the eyes and head, I was still impressed by the spatial immersive experience. Comparing with Oculus or other VR hardware, the user could move in a certain area when using Vive. When I could physically navigate in the virtual space, I feel more immersive for sure. And the Vive controller gives a direct feedback, that is more advanced than other VR equipment. What inspired me the most is the loading interface. It is a white wire-framed space. A floating controller is the only thing user could see at this stage. At that point, I felt myself standing in an alien space and I was the centre of this space. That matches my concept of “nothingness” and “a space from nowhere”. 1-8UkVCRt2BYB6ZLZTWMIkYg.png

One of the Vive projects I tried is about four-dimensional space. Human could perceive high dimension, they could only see the projection of higher dimensional objects in a three-dimensional space. The designer demonstrated this concept by allowing the user to create and navigate in the projections:

“This is a project in which a participant can freely walk around four dimensional objects, such as a hypercube, a 24-Cell or an aerochoron, and can rotate those objects via a 4D virtual trackball, implemented as a generalization of the 3D virtual trackball.”


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10/10 Domain Paper

The beginning of the world is chaos.

I am intrigued by the concept of chaos, when things stay in a disordered, unformed and unintelligent condition. It means randomness and probability. For my thesis concept, I would like to explore the birth moment when things get born out of chaos, nothingness and void. There are three main questions that drive my research and experimentation: What is chaos? How to define the birth moment when something become meaningful? What should be created?

In many cultures, people have their own interpretation of chaos. In Greek mythology, chaos was the first thing to exist. Taoism shares the similar idea that the universe was born from chaos and nothingness. I Ching tries to find out the order of chaos by using hexagrams. In a more practical term, chaos theory describes it as the behaviour of dynamical systems with high sensitivity to initial conditions. Therefore, one aspect of my research is understanding the concept of chaos in different cultures, philosophies and scientific explanations.

They way to set the initial condition and cause randomness will directly effect in the form of the project and the prototyping process. One way to create chaos could be a machine, such as a computer generating random numbers. Then my subdomain should include machine mechanism. Could a computer be random? Does human will in programming the computer effects the randomness? These are the questions to be answered. Another way to cause chaos is human. Twitch plays Pokémon is a social experiment that allowed participants to control the Pokémon game by sending their instructions in a chat room. If I want my project to be interactive with the audience, then the test social behaviour should also be included in the prototype.

In the Pokémon game, the birth moment is when chaotic interactivity became the instructions that control the character in the game. And the goal of the experience is to succeed in the game. For my project, there should be a certain possibility that something will be created. But it will not guarantee that the moment will happen in the project or human’s whole life. Therefore, the project is not seeking for a closure.

If it is a low chance event, then time should be taken into consideration. Since the probability of fulfilling the achievement is too low, it might take a really long time to witness its occur. The time is so long and almost becomes infinity. One precedent is the infinite monkey theorem: there is infinite monkeys hitting random keys on a keyboard for an infinite amount of time, and they will surely type out the complete works of Shakespeare. I am touched by the story about the life-long experience in Xinci Liu’s novel: when a husband and a wife were separated on the both side of the universe. One voice message will take years to be heard from another. And the husband will use the rest of his life to listen his wife said: “I love you.”

John Gerrard is an expert in long-time installation. His work One thousand year dawn is a 3d generated the world shows a man standing by the sea. The sunrise is programmed to take place over a thousand year. It means that no viewer could be able to see the entire process of this piece.

The question of meaningfulness will lead to lots of debates about existence, consciousness, free will, causality and so on. They expand my research and domains to a metaphysical and philosophical level. Dada is the precedent that following the theory of randomness into the art field. It pursuing unintentional, accidental and casual realm. And intentionally to be meaningless. It leads my research into the field of existentialism and nihilism, and the artworks that demonstrate the same philosophical approach.

John Cage is another key thinker in the domain of randomness and chaos. He applied chance procedures in his music composition, such as using coin tosses to determine the clefs and playing techniques to emphasise the randomness and accidentals in his performance. Cage also used I Ching hexagram as a tool in his music. His works have great reference value in using interactivity as a tool to cause randomness and applying it into art creative process.

My contribution to these domains would be materialising the concept randomness and chaos into an art piece. Adding my voice in the field of time-based installation. And also I provoke people to see about our own existence in the chaotic world.


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Feedback and questions from midterm critics:

  • What is the distinction and relation between “intent & purpose”? Is “meaningful” “purposeful”?
  • What is the crisis the machine direct responds to? Technology?
  • What is the impact and experience I want to create? Think about the location and audience.
  • Impetus might not be the way of making.


One answer is that a meaningful life is one that by definition has achieved choice-worthy purposes (Nielsen 1964) or involves satisfaction upon having done so (Hepburn 1965; Wohlgennant However, for such an analysis to clearly demarcate meaningfulness from happiness, it would be useful to modify it to indicate which purposes are germane to the former. On this score, some suggest that conceptual candidates for grounding meaning are purposes that not only have a positive value, but also render a life coherent (Markus 2003), make it intelligible (Thomson 2003, 8–13), or transcend animal nature (Levy 2005).

Jean-Paul Sartre’s (1948) existentialist account of meaning being constituted by whatever one chooses, and Richard Taylor’s (1970, ch. 18) discussion of Sisyphus being able to acquire meaning in his life merely by having his strongest desires satisfied.

Perhaps when we speak of “meaning in life,” we have in mind one or more of these related ideas: certain conditions that are worthy of great pride or admiration, values that warrant devotion and love, qualities that make a life intelligible, or ends apart from base pleasure that are particularly choice-worthy. Another possibility is that talk of “meaning in life” fails to exhibit even this degree of unity, and is instead a grab-bag of heterogenous ideas (Mawson 2010; Oakley 2010).

Furthermore, it seems that talk of a “meaningless life” does not simply connote the concept of an absurd (Nagel 1970; Feinberg 1980), unreasonable (Baier 1997, ch. 5), futile (Trisel 2002), or wasted (Kamm 2003, 210–14) life.

“Leo Tolstoy argues that for life to be meaningful something must be worth doing, that nothing is worth doing if nothing one does will make a permanent difference to the world.”

Carl Jung: Without the reflecting consciousness of man the world is a gigantic meaningless machine

11/1 Scenarios Prototype

Scenarios Prototypeimg_1588


  • What is the emotion I want to deliver? If emotionless, how to deal with the conflict between the goal and the process, since the process will give the project meaning and emotions?
  • “Delicate” but not “Practical” machines.
  • There are a lot “useless” or “meaningless” art pieces in museums right now, how to distinguish mine from the others?
  • If the repetitive motion makes the audience feel satisfied, does the machine still “meaningless”?
  • The definition of meaningless is relative.
  • Think about the detail of the museum. How big? Small? Where?
  • Excellent cards with drawings on the back. Something there to be explored. Maybe not say “meaningless”? Maybe explore meaninglessness by the interaction, non-interaction.


UseLess is More by JVLT

“The design system keeps producing objects the world is already saturated with, and for that reason superfluous. With “UseLess is More” JoeVelluto creates works constituted by the heart of the industrial object (functionality) that intentionally declares their partially uselessness.”

“The works of “UseLess is More” represent the essential difference existing between Design and Art. Industrial design produces useful objects with good taste. Art produces useless “things” from a functional point of view, but with meaning as its essential prerequisite.”


Perpetual Useless

Arthur Ganson: Moving sculpture

This kind of work is also very much like puppetry, where the found object is, in a sense, the puppet,and I’m the puppeteer at first, because I’m playing with an object. But then I make the machine, which is sort of the stand-in for me, and it is able to achieve the action that I want.” — Arthur Ganson


Letter of Recommendation: The Useless Machine


“There is something charming, and even inspiring, in the paradoxical efficiency of this machine that does nothing, that fulfills its entire purpose by bluntly refusing to fulfill any purpose at all. When I reach over to flick the switch on my Useless Machine and then watch it rouse itself, with patient defiance, to switch itself off again, I wonder whether this is what it might mean for a technology to be truly intelligent: to receive an order and to respond by politely but firmly declining to follow it. The plain contradiction here, of course, is that in refusing to do what it’s told, the machine is stoically following its explicit commands. In this sense, the Useless Machine is like a battery-operated koan: a playfully profound riddle on the relationship between humans and technology, and on the nature of intelligence.

To watch it switch itself off is to experience something strangely human. Arthur C. Clarke, who encountered Shannon’s prototype of the machine during a visit to Bell Labs in the ’50s, claimed to be disturbed by this spectacle. “The psychological effect, if you do not know what to expect,” he wrote, “is devastating. There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing — absolutely nothing — except switch itself off.”

There is, I agree, a certain uncanniness to the device, but I see nothing sinister about its refusal to be told what to do. We get the word “robot” from the Czech word robota, which means “forced labor.” The robot has no choice in the matter of what work it does or whether it does it: It submits, by definition, to the will of its owner. As such, the dream of total automation represents a fulfillment of the logic of techno-capitalism: a fusion of the labor force with the means of production, and the absolute ownership of both……The Useless Machine will have no part of this vision; it point-blank refuses to be a robot. And I find it impossible not to admire this defiant self-possession. When I flick its switch and watch the machine flick it back again — a process that often escalates into a kind of mechanical slapstick — I think of the enigmatic noncompliance of the eponymous legal clerk in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” I give the machine its instructions, knowing full well what its courteously unyielding response will be: “I would prefer not to.” And this is why I regard it with such a mixture of affection and reverence: It is mesmerizing, this machine, in its inscrutable and serene resistance. It’s a device that wants nothing and gives nothing: nothing, that is, but to be left alone. Minsky and Shannon themselves referred to the device as the Ultimate Machine — a name that didn’t stick, but which reveals something of the ironic self-enclosure of their invention. It’s a device, in this sense, of ultimate and perfect uselessness.


Sun Yuan & Peng Yu

Can’t help myself




欧阳潇评价得很好:“矛盾是物理关系向意义关系过渡的转折点,物体在张力的凝聚下挣脱了自身的语境,从而产生新的感知可能……戏剧化首先是一种对物的感知示范(demonstration of objects),而不是借物寓人的政治抗议(demonstration with objects)……换言之,作品的主旨不在于直接对抗权力(无论是政治的还是资本的),而是设法在自身和可以禁锢它的力量之间建立一种关系,或者说在自身中首次将该力量召唤出来;后者渴望他们的工作从潜在走向实在,从影射走向宣言,而艺术家却从未就范……一种幂戏(powerplay)……水管不是创制暴力的象征,也并非某种原始欲望的再现,而仅仅是在其物理属性允许的情况下一种可能性的演示——它不是武器,但是谁又敢进入到铁笼之中呢?”

11/13 What is my thesis.

My thesis is an art piece. I am going to make a series of machines that their ultimate goal is to achieve absolute meaninglessness. Each of the machines is a reflection of my current emotion and wonder.

I constantly doubt the meaning of everything, and be skeptical about human existence just merely “being”. But I also found it is hard to give an exact definition of “meaningfulness” because it is a relative notion. Instead of questioning the significance of life, I decided to investigate in this domain by exploring the extremely opposite direction. Using machines to see if an object could exist without any function/value/meaning to anyone even itself.

I use machines as the form because of its objectivity. Comparing with human, they are unintelligence, emotionless, no free will and non-being. People will consider a machine “useless” or “meaningless” if it is unable to follow the owner’s order and be productive or efficient. But is the repetitive and unconscious motion of the machines responding to the futile behavior of our daily routine? My thesis is about machines, but it is actually talking about humanity. It is “meaningless”, and also full of meaning.

The machines will be displayed in a gallery-like space, each of them is working constantly. I want to create this conflict and absurdity that the projects in the gallery are different from the audience’s expectation (to see something valuable or meaningful). And it will lead the audience through an experience from wondering what the machines are doing, then finding the movements are futile and wasted, and finally realize there is something inspiring in the paradoxical action of this machine that fulfills its entire purpose of perusing meaninglessness, but the attempt will endue it with certain meanings.


Thijs Rijikers – Suicide Machine

“The third selfdestructing machine of the series. These machines were made to see if we could feel anything for a machine without human features. This Suicide Machine which destroys itself using sandblasting sand. It slowly poors sand into its own gearbox which then grinds the gears until they are completely worn out.”

Jean Tinguely – Homage to New York


User Scenario

One day when professor Robert was on his way back home after his classes, he passed by a gallery located in the east village. Looking thought the windows he saw several machine-like objects, each of them was working constantly. That immediately caught his attention because he was really passionate about making little wooden machines when he was young. The title of this exhibition is “meaningless machines” (TBD). Robert remembered his student Michele, who studied in fine art, had talked with him about this exhibition. Robert teaches philosophy at school, but he is a great fan of art. So he decided to check what this exhibition is about.

Robert walked into the gallery. He found there were 6 pieces of machines being displayed, the repetitive noise coming out of the machines immediately immersed himself in the environment. Each of the machines was put inside of a glass box, with a white label describing the machine. There were more labels hanging on the wall of the gallery, looks like archives.

One of the machines caught Robert’s interest. He looked at the label, it said:

machine = !machine

steel, motor, saw blade


The machine kept balancing back and forth like a seesaw. It has a switch on the bottom, every time when the machine is on, it will lean to one side and knock the switch to turn itself off. If it is off, the machine will fall back to the position and switch itself on again. The machine is doing nothing, Robert thought. While the bouncing continues, a part of the machine will gradually cut into the machine and finally destroy itself.

After staring at the machine for a while, Robert found there was something interesting. Even though the exhibition was called “meaningless machine”, but none of the machines was absolutely meaningless. The Sisyphean motion gave the machine a strong intent of denying the meaning of itself, but that actually gave the meaning to the machine’s existence.

Robert found there was a melancholy man who was also interested in this machine. Josh is a poet and novelist, he thought the machine shows great humanity. The doubt and anger the machines expressed, gives it an emotion and personality. It seems like the machine has a free will which made it refuse to be “forced labor” of human, or even refuse the reason of its existence. Josh thought the machine was a projection to his own life. The daily routine is consuming his life. Every one of us, just like a tedious and absurd machine.

11/16 Meeting with Anezka

-What would happen if the machines break down? It leaves a pile of trash or new machines will be replaced? A cemetery of machines? Would the audience be guaranteed to see the process when the machine becomes trash?

-Is the project arguing about electric waste?

-A machine shows human emotion because they feel something of meaning.

-Talk to Kyle about his perfect machine proposal. Asian mind frame about Buddhism philosophy.

-Develop a narrative of myself. The previous practices gradually formed the thesis topic. Debatable idea. Time. Philosophical. Performativity.

-Let the audience to leave their comments about “what you think the machine is doing”.

11/17 Feedback from Interactive Prototype

“I interpret it as a piece reflecting a self-harm, futility, and absurdity. An almost whimsical exploration of existentialism and determinism”

“machine = !machine is a machine that negates itself through its own destruction. I see the presentation of a collection of useless machines as being strongly evocative of existential angst. What is a useful machine, truly, in the context of an absurd universe.”

“People’s desire is to label and define everything, put everything into a box. We couldn’t live with things without a certain meaning.”



11/19 Peer Review

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-People built it because we can, even the machine doesn’t have any meaning.

-Use timers to count down the lifespan of the machines. Manipulate the audience to see the destruction of killing itself.

-Achievable ending or Infinity goal. The machine fail to destroy itself.

-People’s mind is contradictory. If the topic is “meaningless” they will find meanings, vice versa.

-The title could be a none-defined term, like “universal machines”. Or “1000 of necessary machines”, gives them a need for their existence.

-Think about the presentation and execution. (exhibition, layout, color…)


Thesis Inspirations:

Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world

Should robots feel PAIN?