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Mediating Algorithm: Immersive in the Life and Works of Paul Chiang exhibition

A person's solitary path in the world of art, how can it eventually move people? How does he inspire generations of artists, continuously creating with different media while keeping up with the times? Invited by Wang Yi-Sheng, who once won first prize at the World Stage Design, several young top teams that specialize in new media art and interactive designs, and winner of the Golden Melody Award, Golden Horse Award, and Golden Bell Award, Chen Chien-Chi, collaborated to use cutting-edge AI and generative art digital technology, with the lifelong creations of contemporary artist Paul Chiang as the core, translating his works into an entirely new technological art exhibition titled, "Mediating Algorithm: Immersive in the Life and Works of Paul Chiang."


Wang stated that the theme of this exhibition, "Mediating Algorithm: Immersive in the Life and Works of Paul Chiang," is a tribute of respect to Chiang, interpreting "Chiang's future imagination" in response to Chiang's continuous creative vitality. It aims to rebirth Chiang's art into an immersive experience. Chiang said, "It’s a bridge that allows everyone to unconsciously connect with art and music."

Art Can Purify the Soul

Chiang has dedicated his lifelong efforts to artistic creation, from the early paintings like "Notre Dame de Paris" and "Transfigured Night," which exude a grayish and melancholic atmosphere. Upon returning to Taiwan, he felt the calling of his own land and temple culture, leading to the creation of the "Hundred Year Temple" series. After relocating to Jinzun in Taitung, works such as "Pisilian" and "Jinzun" showcase the vibrant and bright colors of the eastern part of Taiwan. Throughout his journey, Chiang has transitioned from flat paintings to over 90% of his recent works being created with mixed media. He has also actively participated in the design and planning of the Paul Chiang Art Center in Taitung.


The master's life is legendary. In his early years, he isolated himself from social circles, spending thirty years in Paris and New York "painting with closed windows." He neither sold his paintings nor actively held exhibitions, consistently challenging himself. Once he embraced the world, it was like a martial arts master who, having mastered his skills, descended from the mountain, continuously producing new creations. "I am willing to devote my entire life to creation until the end. I believe that art can purify the soul."

Perseverance and Breakthroughs

Chiang's creations resonate with people's yearning for spirituality, leading to collaborations with various artists from different fields. Wang, a theatrical image design artist, served as the curator for “Mediating Algorithm: Immersive in the Life and Works of Paul Chiang” and was also responsible for one of the works. He admitted, "I encountered many challenges from the very beginning of this project. After all, Chiang's works span over half a century and are incredibly profound and intense. How can technology translate them? It's a significant challenge for young creators to transcend while maintaining the original emotional expression."


At the beginning of the task, Wang immersed himself extensively in Chiang's creations. "I always carried Chiang's art books with me, and the music playing in the car was limited to Bach, Debussy, and Mahler, the ones Chiang liked. I hoped to completely throw myself into it." He aimed to find a path to break through by following those works, the music that inspired Chiang, and understanding the mindset and life experiences during his creation. Chiang also expressed, "I know he encountered setbacks many times during the creative process, but I understand that to create a good piece of art, it's impossible to be satisfied from the beginning. One must go through many setbacks."


Living this repetitive life for two years, "It wasn't until one day when I suddenly realized I could effortlessly talk about each of Chiang's paintings and connect them that I truly felt I was ready." Wang planned the entire exhibition into chapters such as "Prologue," "Dark Room," "Purification," "Microcosm," "Land," "Silver Lake," "Musical Notes," "Jinzun," "Epilogue," and "Future." He invited top new media art and interactive design teams in Taiwan to join each chapter.


Wang mentioned that even though these teams are experts in new media art and interactive design in commercial design, stepping into the realm of creation still requires facing the challenges of starting over frequently. Particularly when dealing with some of Chiang's works that stem from the depths of life, multiple attempts failed, causing significant frustration. Recalling the past working experience with Cloud Gate founder Lin Hwai-Min, Lin's training and guidance, "Have you ever listened to the music carefully?" and "You have excellent skills, but you need to stop and truly feel the essence of the work," were passed on at this moment.

Inter-Generational and Cross-Disciplinary Empathy for Artistic Creation

Wang, from forming a team to leading a team, has overcome difficulties along the way. "Normally, everyone is involved in commercial projects that require compromises for the market. I really hope to pull everyone back to the artistic side and experience the joy of creation." The design team emotionally expressed that they, too, encounter bottlenecks in their creations. "Seeing Chiang's determination in 'sealing windows for painting,' we deeply feel that the work is a presentation of life, and there are no wasted paths."


Facing the keyword "re," the creative team is witnessing the spirit of exploration and breakthrough that Chiang had in each period. "We are working hard on our creations, and the response is precisely this." Wang mentioned that he also hopes that one day he can reach his own "Jinzun" period—free, skilled in techniques, able to do whatever he wants. However, he humbly adds, "I feel like I'm still in the 'Dark Room' stage. I don't think I can reach that point in this lifetime, but at least I know such a place exists."

Dialogue between Painting and Technology, Exchange between Master and Young Creators

At the beginning of the exhibition, the audience finds themselves in complete darkness, resembling the space where Chiang once sealed windows for painting. Suddenly, a faint light breaks through the darkness, and the audience, following Chiang's silhouette, enters his world of creation. Technology immerses the audience in the struggles, frustrations, melancholy, emptiness, sorrow, loss, searching, passion, and serene joy buried within the artist's paintings. Sometimes in awe, sometimes serene, and often moved.


In just 21 minutes, the digital immersive exhibition employs various digital algorithm technologies, some of which have been around for less than five months, including motion capture, AI generation, Gaussian splatting, TouchDesigner, and more. In the ever-changing play of light and shadow, intricate and dramatic lines are dimly visible. When Chiang creates, he loves listening to Bach's "Goldberg Variations," and Chen, with a background in classical music, believes that the tranquility and balanced counterpoint in Bach's music align well with the temperament of Chiang's works. Bach also happens to be Chen favorite musician. "Therefore, the exhibition's beginning and ending have similar warm melodies, creating a harmonious connection." The music throughout the exhibition ensures consistency and coherence among the different chapters, making them feel like interconnected parts rather than individual short films.

"In the 'Dark Room' chapter, we specially invited former Cloud Gate Dance Theatre principal dancer Tsai Ming-yuan. Wang asked him to recall the most challenging moments in his dance career, using motion capture to record his movements, presenting Chiang's struggles during the window-sealing painting period, full of frustration and restlessness, hoping to break free from the cocoon." The "Dark Room" chapter is handled by the youngest team, the Expect Studio. Faced with the oppressive feeling of window-sealing creation and the need to maintain their own style, they frequently questioned themselves and even contemplated giving up, as if experiencing the torment of Chiang during the window-sealing creation period. In response to this, Wang said, "This is great! You should remember the same feelings as the master during that time. Creators need to honestly confront their inner selves!" The team members admitted that sometimes they also doubted whether they could truly understand the weight of Chiang’s over sixty-year-old creation. "But once we started, we were filled with anticipation."

The creative team responsible for "Purification" and "Microcosm" is Group.G. In the "Purification" chapter, they use repetitive strokes and repeated coverage on old works to show Chiang's continuous pursuit of self before establishing art as his aspiration. In the "Microcosm" chapter, they use AI generation to express the core of the creation, the well-known "Notre-Dame de Paris" series by Chiang. In the mysterious and dark church in the paintings, there is a sense of serene redemption. The AI generation continuously connects and diffuses strokes, resembling the complex mindset of Chiang just before creating "Notre-Dame de Paris." "The seemingly dark space in Chiang's paintings has a unique transparency and spatial sense. The characteristics of the constantly changing and multi-dimensional transformations of AI-generated images happen to resonate," said the team from Group.G.


The team responsible for "Silver Lake," Ultra Combos, pleasantly discovered that the composition of Chiang's works has some similarity to their technological art. In the "Silver Lake" chapter, they used the revolutionary Gaussian Splatting, a graphic rendering technology that was only introduced in July 2023. This technology can turn 2D photos into an instant 3D scene through digital computation. Particularly, the Gaussian Splatting, while generating images, creates a layering effect, very similar to someone painting and also resembling the experience when a viewer enters Chiang's creation "Silver Lake." On the surface, it appears calm, but deep down, it reflects a tangled and melancholic mindset.

Wang himself also took charge of the "Land" chapter. "My favorite series of Chiang's works is 'Hundred Year Temple.' It reminds me of my experience participating in Cloud Gate Dance Theatre's work 'Thirteen Tongues.' Choreographer Cheng Tsung-lung drew inspiration from his upbringing to create 'Thirteen Tongues,' showcasing the vitality of Bangka/Wanhua, the emotions of ordinary life, and the stabilizing power of temples. Creators should always remind themselves to observe the messages and nutrients that this land gives us," he said. Therefore, he extracted the faint light of incense in the quiet and dark temples from the work 'Hundred Year Temple,' as well as the Chinese and English characters of "Love," "Wisdom," "Hope," which appear in Chiang's works. This allows the audience to immerse themselves in Chiang's love and compassion for the world.


The artistic atmosphere of Chiang's works is profound, and everyone wanted to try translating it with new technology. "In fact, the images surrounding the space are only 1% of what we've done, and the remaining 99% has been discarded." The creators are like selecting the most beautiful grain of sand in the sea of images, repeatedly wiping away and starting over, and the result of "Reborn" has delighted them.

In a pure black and quiet space, a giant frame made of white iron wire slowly rotates with Mahler's music, struggling and spreading like a life in the music. "When I saw the work Jinzun / Transfigured Night' made of metal wire in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, I was greatly shocked," said Wang. Chiang's works have a futuristic sense that transcends time and space, especially the organic growth of branches and twigs in generative art, seemingly chaotic yet full of organic patterns. Therefore, this time, generative artist Che-Yu Wu was specially invited to create "Future – Transfigured Night" to pay tribute to Chiang's unpredictable future.


In order to encapsulate what Chiang thinks in the work, Wu made a special trip to Taitung to visit Chiang, and he also integrated this journey into the creation. "I am good at using algorithms to present the eternal life and emotions in the digital world. I hope to make this collaboration like a dream, with the artist's first-person perspective looking out, with Chiang's sketches, and even the process of the two meeting, all seamlessly integrated in the digital world," he said. It's a bit like the interactive theater in the TV series "Black Mirror." Through countless dreams with different directions, the audience is led to experience Chiang's sea, his Hualien-Taitung scenery, and more, entering the generation of these artistic creations, constructing one work after another.


The exhibition will also feature Chiang's three-dimensional installation work "Jinzun / Transfigured Night," contrasting with Wu's digital version. "It guides the audience to feel its growth process and experience a slow yet profound world."

After this collaboration, Chiang praised Wang as "my spiritual double!" Regarding the process of creation, Chiang, who has devoted his entire life to art, wants to tell young artists, "Live well, go with the flow, endure hardships when necessary. Artists have no privileges. The only difference from others is that you must persist in what you originally wanted to do. Don't give up on your original intention."


Many unfamiliar terms in digital technology can be intimidating. What will the audience see when they enter the immersive exhibition? Wang quoted Lin’s thoughts on dance:


The clouds in the sky are beautiful, the wind is comfortable. Do you need them to tell you something? Just feel that they are beautiful and comfortable.


"I also hope that the audience can bring a quiet heart and fully experience Chiang. This is not just an exhibition that makes paintings come alive. What I want to convey is Chiang's struggles in his youth, his perseverance in creation, the determination to find direction, the freedom in Jinzun, Taitung, and most importantly, his ever-caring heart for the world."


The main visual designer of the exhibition, Ting-An Ho, strongly advises, "Don't use your eyes; use your whole body to feel! Open your senses. Art has no standard answer; everyone will gain their own unique understanding."


Because, art can always purify the soul.


(Interview and article by Huang Huiling. Photos provided by Wang Yisheng and CTAmbi Investment and Consulting Inc & Porrima Inc.)

Mediating Algorithm: Immersive in the Life and Works of Paul Chiang


Special thanks to Chair Stan Shih of CTAmbi Investment and Consulting Inc & Porrima Inc. for facilitating this cross-disciplinary collaboration!


Curator: Wang Yi-sheng

Exhibition Period: December 22, 2023, to March 3, 2024

Location: AMBI SPACE ONE (Taipei 101)

New Media Art Teams: Group.G | MOKRAFT | Ultra Combos | Expect Studio | PulseHyperMedia | Monoame Design | Che-Yu Wu


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