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Jewellery & Metal (MA)

Xiahan Dai

Artist Biography 

Xiahan Dai obtained her BLA (Bachelor of Landscape Architecture) from the University of  Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and worked for both Turenscape (a landscape architecture firm)  and Linxus Studio (a jewellery design studio). She is now a Jewellery and Metal MA student at the Royal College of Art. With a background in both Landscape Architecture and Jewellery, Xiahan is interested in creating interactive body installations and spatial installations. Xiahan  believes that jewellery pieces are like sculptures, and that the human body is a landscape. Xiahan was awarded a Distinction in her MA dissertation. Her academic research deals with  philosophy, psychology and current social issues, which serves as foundation for her  conceptual designs. 


Exhibitions

‘Integration: Ancient & Modern’- China International Contemporary Metal Art Exhibition,  Shanghai.

‘Beautiful?!’- Contemporary Jewellery & Object Exhibition, Beijing.

 ‘Metal Narrative”- International Metal Art Exhibition, Beijing Design Week, Beijing. 

Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Jewellery & Metal (MA)

This project started from Xiahan’s own addiction to social media. When she began to fill her spare time browsing Instagram, WeChat and YouTube; when her anxieties arose every time she exposed her life and opinion on social media; when her body started to feel pain after hours of using electronic devices, she knew that social media was starting to invade her life. ‘There are only two industries that call their customers “users”: illegal drugs and software’, as Edward Tufte said in The Social Dilemma.  

Xiahan’s practice started with the study of how our bodies engage with cellular devices. By looking at a scan of her body playing with her mobile phone, she associated it with two gestures.  One is the gesture made when people wore the stocks, a medieval punishment tool, which is the equivalent of looking at social media through a critical lens. The other is the gesture of prayer, which relates to giving the narrative from an ironic perspective. The two correlations are the two directions of research that Xiahan wanted to conduct in her project.  

Xiahan believes that comparing the gesture of us engaging with social media with the gesture of prayer creates a sense of irony. She says that the common thing about social media and religion is that they are both intangible and they both generate a sense of contentment when we become fully immersed. In religion, we practise ritual in order to acquire a sense of peaceful salvation in our hearts. On social media, we devote our time and spirit to gaining a sense of self-satisfaction.  However, the nature of the two is very different. In religion, we revere God and obey the words of God. We cultivate ourselves according to the religious doctrine. Through religious practice we obtain a kind of Apollonian completeness. Social media offers a free space where we can confront our desires. We seek like-minded groups of people for a sense of identity; we squander time and energy on virtual spaces for relaxation; we ‘shout’ out our ideas so our senses will become settled, relieved, satisfied. When we log in to these social platforms we also log in to a Dionysian hilarity. 

By looking at social media through a critical lens, she wanted to emphasise the constraining side of social media through her work. The two main elements that she chose are the mirror and shadow.  She started by creating shadow-shaped mirrors. When she put these pieces on the ground they appeared to be like swamps of water, which reminded her of the Greek mythological figure Narcissus. She also combined the project with jewellery, using strings to connect the edges of the shadow and the ‘social media gesture ring’ to create a sense of absence and control between the wearer and the installation. This became a reenactment of the bodily condition when we engage with social media. The absence created through the work is a metaphor of the virtuality that social media brings to our contemporary world.  


Morning Prayers I
Morning Prayers I
Morning Prayers I — The use of metal creates a contrast in weight comparing to the original iPhone box. This contrast in weight is also a narrative of the weight difference between religion and social media. Religion is considered as a serious, structured subject, while social media is much more light-weight and remote.
Morning Prayers I
Morning Prayers I
Morning Prayers I
Morning Prayers I
Morning Prayers I
Morning Prayers I

16-24-year-old adults spend an average of three hours on social media each day. App designers make use of the smallest details of our lives in order to make us become more engaged with our mobile devices. Smartphones are not just a tool that connect us to the virtual society, they have become the place where our security settles and anxiety arises. The amount of time we spend on these devices creates a kind of virtual intimacy that could not be replaced by anything else.  When people are constantly bombarded by the iteration of new information; when we can’t justify real news and fake news; when there is no point for us to take a stance in politics, cyberspace, this boundaryless, ‘free speech’ zone offers a platform for people to present individual beliefs without being coerced. This virtual space has become something more than just an electronic tool: it carries our secrets, our identity, our beliefs. The ‘internet’ of AD 1019 was the church bells for communal services (Coupland, 2020). This gives an indication that religion and social networks are always in parallel. We check our phones ritually when we wake up and before going to bed. Social media has become a kind of contemporary religion that we all believe in. 


Medium:

Silver plated copper, silver, African black wood, resin

Size:

161 x 170 x 50mm
Morning Prayers II — I used flocking process to make the outer layer of the box into a velvet texture in order to mimic the texture of a jewellery or rosary box.
Morning Prayers II
Morning Prayers II — Each bead is about 4cm long, together the 108 beads rosary is about 4 meters long. The extreme length creates a sense of immersion.
Morning Prayers II
Morning Prayers II

"We’ve come to live in a culture in which we consume content via the screen at all hours of the day and night, and our every interaction is tracked, mined, and predicted”, Stated Sarah Cook, the curator of 24/7: A Wake-up Call for Our Non-stop World suggested.

Apple watch has embedded the “Close Your Rings” concept to its product. The three rings are: move, exercise and stand. People need to complete a certain amount of these actions in order to close the three rings. It keeps track of your body, your health, your wellbeing. The postmodern society is turning every inch of the world into products, even our own bodies. Like the Jane Fonda phenomenon, she sets out the message that we should treat our bodies as our possession, our product and our responsibility. (Bauman, 2000) People believe in the feedback of Apple watch the way they believe in the Bible and the rosary. They are seeking a guidance, an individualized standard.

Medium:

Black chromium platted silver, Apple watch case, flocking process

Size:

60 x 300 x 25 mm
The social media gesture ring
The social media gesture ring
The Circular Ruins — Through experimenting with the hand gesture of how people engage with social media, I developed this social media ring.
The Circular Ruins — Being inspired by puppetry, I want to use strings to connect the ring and shadows in order to create the sense of absence and control.
The Circular Ruins — Instead of making this piece into a wearable peace, I want to create a sculptural installation. I want to use the two-way mirrors to create the shape of these shadows. The two-way mirrors will appear differently due to the light difference. When the light source is bright enough it would appear like a mirror, when the light source is not as bright it would appear like glass.
The Circular Ruins — Beneath these two-way mirrors are cameras and a screen. The camera will be capturing people’s reaction when the light is turned on in the room. When the light is turned off, the screen will be showing the replay of people’s reaction to the mirror.
The Circular Ruins — Speculative proposal for creation.

Social media is like stream of water that feeds into our lives and connects everyone into the boundaryless ocean of information. Compared to the traditional, solid, architectural, industrial world that we lived in, we now live in a lightweight, fluid, horizontal, globalised liquid modernity. We seem to have the freedom to choose what we engage each day in social media. However, there are still invisible boundaries that are formed initiatively and passively in the way we engage with this software. From an initial perspective, social media gathers data about our interests through the information that we put into our digital devices each day. According to this data, the software recommends similar kinds of information to you. This ultimately forms an endless narcissistic cycle that narrows the spectrum of how we engage with the world. We look into these ‘mirrors’, double-clicking to affirm the affection for ‘ourselves’. From a passive perspective, the big hands of central power behind social media are pulling the strings of the society, keeping everything in balance. The ‘mirror’ that we look into offers an infinite vision. However, we will never be able to make actual interaction with the other side of the mirror. It is infinite yet at the same time fixed. The nature of social media, being an object of contemporary society, is invading our lives. It is turning from being a ‘shadow’ of who we are to the dominant identity of contemporary society, like the wizard in Jorge Luis Borges’s The Circular Ruins, who endeavours to protect his conjured-up son from knowing that he is a phantom instead of a real man. In the end, the wizard ironically finds out that he himself is also a phantom. We all become performers with no audiences.