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Print (MA)

Xutong Yuan

Yuan Xutong is a mixed-media artist whose work has been influenced by linguistics, sociology and geography. During her postgraduate study, she used computer modelling, interviews, CCTV camera shooting, image production, printing, book production to study the spatial relationship between the virtual world and the real world, and how science and technology affect people's understanding of the world.

She completed her bachelor's degree at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts in China and later studied for a master's degree in Print at the Royal College of Art in the UK.

‘When I invited my friend to visit my “hometown,” the universities, the markets, the museums, the stadiums, she later asked: “Where is hometown?”’ Gilbert Ryle introduced the concept of “category mistake" in The Concepts of the Mind, which means that we give things names that then become alternative labels for them. As a result, the word, ‘hometown’, can come to represent something much broader than what the word itself denotes, for example, the town where someone is born.

The word ‘map’ is potentially another category mistake. No matter whether a paper map or an electronic map, a map is a meeting point of reality and fantasy. In people's eyes, it has the functions of dividing territory, strengthening belonging, pointing out direction, understanding an unknown territory, and so on. The map is also a symbol of authority.

Xutong Yuan's current research topic is about the correlation between the virtual world in the map and the territory in the real world from the perspective of technology and human beings. How does the influence of the demarcation of the real world react to and shape people? How does the development of technology affect people's view of the world?

The current project mainly explores the conceptual and political relationship between the virtual world presented in the two-dimensional map and the territory of the real world through artistic practice that includes computer modelling, interviews, videos shot by surveillance cameras, the production of printed books, and semi-fictional documentary.

HOMETOWN 1 in the CCTV webcams website — Putting virtual rivers together with real-world monitored rivers.
Sound landscape in CCTV camera — I shot my virtual river model by a surveillance camera and uploaded the live video to the website of Insecam Project, which makes my virtual river a part of the monitoring network.
Sound landscape — I collected people's descriptions of the rivers in their hometowns from different countries and made them into virtual rivers with software modelling.
Different interviewees' HOMETOWN
One of the HOMETOWN virtual rivers
Soundwaves of HOMETOWN — Soundwaves of interviews with people from different countries

Life on earth, including human beings, began with water, and the starting points for many cities have been rivers. Rivers not only play an important role in transportation, but also serve as boundaries for many countries. I want to build my virtual world from the river in order to explore the category mistake of the map.

I asked people to talk about the rivers in their hometowns or some ideas about the rivers themselves, and then recorded their voices. Using software, I transformed the recordings into a virtual river. The virtual rivers are fragments of their memories of the rivers and the places where they grew up, representing subjective feelings and emotions.

Different accents reflect the artificial boundaries that shape people in a region. In the software-modelled Accent Map, some people speak high and fast, while others speak low and flat. This presents a different topography and hydrology, the water surface fluctuates to different degrees. The Accent Map provides a visual way to understand the human effects of artificial boundaries.

I want to make a comparison between these virtual rivers and the rivers in the interviewees' hometowns, but I can't really go to these places due to Covid-19. So I searched and found an online surveillance security camera website called Insecam Project that pictures live rivers in different countries.

I realized that perhaps being monitored by humans was a meaningful connection between these rivers in real time. I shot my virtual river model by surveillance camera and uploaded the live video to the website of Insecam Project, making my virtual river a part of the monitoring network.




HOMETOWN — Semi-fictional documentary
The location of Balala River — The google satellite map of Balala River.
The location of Balala River — Cantra's maps show that the beaches are part of their own area.
HOMETOWN — The Balala border river in my semi-fictional documentary
The Balala River in Wikipedia — I tried to upload my imaginary river to Wikipedia

Rivers change course under the action of the centrifugal force of the earth. The borders between many countries are marked by rivers. Once the course of a river changes, the definition of "territory" between countries will also change, which can lead to disputes between countries. It can have an impact on the economy, politics and culture. Surveillance cameras are used to monitor smuggling as well as the changing direction and level of the river.

The course and movement of the river cannot be controlled. What humans want to control is their inner concept of "boundaries". Surveillance technologies can be used to confuse the real space of the territory with the subjective map. The map then guides and has influence on people's cognition of the world. In disputes over a border river, two rival countries may use technology (CCTV surveillance, Google satellite map search and print propaganda) as tools to strengthen the identity of people in their respective camps.

This semi-fictional documentary depicts a river that doesn't exist. I drew an official map of the river and even uploaded the river to Wikipedia. I tried to implant this non-existent river into reality and into people's impression in a way that humans consider objective. This work is a response to how technology is shaping our understanding of the world and how we are shaping ourselves at a particular time.




THE MAP OF MY ROOM — A partial map of my room’s floor
THE MAP OF MY ROOM — The scanner displays an image of the floor
THE MAP OF MY ROOM — The scanner displays an image of my window
THE MAP OF MY ROOM — The scanner displays an image of my wardrobe

“...In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it...“ 

Jorge Luis Borges, On Exactitude in Science

A map compresses the three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional plane. It is an important tool for human understanding of the world, aimed at integrating human perception, understanding, and description of a living environment with an objective reality.

Seeing that humans use technology to create a seemingly objective space mixed with subjective emotions, I wondered what it would be like to look at a territory from the perspective of the machine itself, without the label of "tool" that humans attach to technology.

When the printer scans an object, it sees the world, and the printed content is the printer's description of what it sees. For this work, I used a printer I brought over from China to scan and print out the room I was living in at full scale. Each machine has a different perception of the world: the images scanned by printers are flawed, and the colors printed are not very stable. But this work is a view of the territory from the point of view of one machine. The printed room is like a "perfect" map, with all the details and dimensions restored to reality.




13.5cm x 17.5cm