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Guo Yaoxian Invites You To Ponder What It Means To Be Human [Q&A]

Those who love the classic sci-fi movie Tron might daydream what it really would be like to enter the computer world and see what the heck it looks like behind the monitor’s screen. But the daydream may come to a shrieking halt once you picture your body being “digitized” by a gun. Chinese artist, Guo Yaoxian (aka Mabonona) is splitting the difference with his new interactive installation Maze, which allows people to walk inside a computer circuitry system without any harm, exposing the cold origins of the digital world we live in.

We caught up with Mobonona to talk about some of his previous work and the inspiration and concept behind the making of Maze.

The Creators Project: Where did you get your name “Mabonona”?
Mabonona
: The name originated in 2007 when I founded my industrial electronic music band with my girlfriend—now my fiance—Li Wei. Mabonona was a mix of our nicknames—mona and bona. Due to certain reasons, she couldn’t continue working on the band so it became just a solo project of mine until now.

Your work has evolved from sculpture to new media art. How did this change come about?
This evolution slowly unfolded during grad school. I studied fiber and space sculpture at the China Academy of Art. It was a non-traditional discipline that employed new creative materials, techniques, and spatial expression. During that time, we created Sonata for Light, which is my first project that used light as medium. I discovered that light merges well with sound, which then led to me creating the light and sound installation Maze.


Sonata for Light



Your creative journey seems to have taken a different direction after Explosion Experiment. It is correct to say that after Explosion your work became a lot more technology-driven?
There was certainly a change, but I’m not sure where the dividing line is since I have always been searching for ways to materialize the emotions from my music in three-dimensional space. The explosive energy in Explosion Experiment, as well as the industrial, high-tech feeling in my later works both reflect an aspect, a rhythm, or a figurative texture of my music. I was able to come into a more wholesome artistic expression when I started combining light with music, sculpting a integrated space.


Explosion Experiment


Do you think people would really be able to walk into the digital world in the future?
I think we already live in a digitized world. It’s not as flashy and cool as the movies, but when we turn and examine our lives, you realize you can’t recall phone numbers without your cell phone, you can’t work or live without computers. Even our bank information and identity have all become numeric symbols stored in the computer. In this age of technology, what does it mean to be human? This is the core question that formed concept and creative drive of Maze.


Can you talk more specifically about how you created Maze? What do the electronic circuits represent? What kind of sound did you use for the installation? What does the audience hear?
The idea of Maze was born in June 2011. After much trial and error, the first “circuit board” was completed in October. The whole installation is made up of seven panels of handmade circuit boards. When the audience is far from the installation, they can hear pre-programmed ambient music. When the audience walks closer, infrared sensors trigger strobe lights on the circuit boards that make different atmospheric noises.


The circuits in the artwork come from dissecting cell phones and computers and stripping away their shells, revealing the electronic devices’ insides and imagining their structure in space. To me, these circuit chips are not as cool as their outer appearances, but rather they spark a sense of fragility and insecurity. I hope to awaken people from their overreliance to and ignorance about electronic products. The danger of this is like a healthy person gradually relying on a wheelchair, causing him or herself to become handicapped in the end.


I spent a lot of time making the background music because it’s so different from the heavy music I use to make. It’s a bit ethereal, a bit bizzare, with layers of random atmospheric effects and error messages triggerd by the sensors. The sound aspect of the artwork is like a instrument played by the audience.


Images courtesy of Mabonona.

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