Unwind and meditate in cyberspace. New Media artist Sian Fan explores virtual embodiment, giving us time to breathe in our hyper-connected world.
Sara L. Roberts | Ed. Peter Traynor | 10 October 2021
Sian Fan is an interdisciplinary artist who works in London as a resident of the Sarabande Foundation. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from Central St Martins, where she received the prestigious Mona Hatoum scholarship. Previously, she graduated from the University of Brighton in 2014 with a BA in Performance and Visual Art Dance. Fan’s varied artistic practice incorporates sculpture, performance, animation, moving images and virtual and augmented reality. Combining a rich vocabulary of contemporary and aerial dance movements with New Media, her work explores embodiment, spirituality and human experience in the digital age.
29 September 2021—1 July 2022: Digital Wonderlands Residency at Victoria and Albert Museum
Artist, Title work (yyyy) © Courtesy of the artist.
Fan is currently completing an artist’s residency as part of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) Digital Wonderlands programme, coinciding with the gallery’s Curiouser and Curiouser: Alice Revisited exhibition. Fan hopes to explore the evolution of spirituality as symbolised in the tapestries, sculptures, and paintings within the museum’s East Asian Collections. This is a recurrent theme in Fan’s art, often incorporating floral and botanical imagery, like lotuses, in connection with her heritage as a half-Chinese artist raised in the United Kingdom. Fan plans to use interactive technology as a medium for exploring the spiritual connections of bodies in virtual space. During her residency, she will also host regular Open Studio sessions to engage with audiences.
Did you know?
Born and raised in Chelmsford, Fan was recently selected to work on the Essex 2020 Artistic Commission, a collaboration between Chelmsford City Council and the Essex Cultural Diversity Project. Fan created Current, a web-based work that connects virtual users to a map of Chelmsford’s waterways. The virtual piece recreates the tangible experience of walking along the city’s riverbanks. The lived environment is translated into a virtually mapped waterway, extending the physical journey into cyberspace. It’s a familiar course to Fan, whose memories of exploring the river’s edge are deeply embedded in her memory. Significant waypoints along the river are marked for visitors by digital artefacts, including photogrammetric scans of botanic life, 3D scans and testimonies collected from residents. The piece invites users to bask in this virtual experience, meditating and enjoying the calm of the waterways. Fan’s collaborations with locals call attention to the communal significance of these spaces, while using technology to immerse visitors in the environment and discover deeper perspectives.
Sian Fan, Current (2021), Virtual Reality and Web Art. Commissioned by Chelmsford City Council and Essex Cultural Diversity Project. @sianfan. Courtesy of the artist.
Sian Fan, Spore (2020), Moving Image, 2min40secs. @sianfan. Courtesy of the Artist.
Spore forms part of a series of digital sculptures created using photogrammetric scans from nature and botanicals. Our online lives are often associated with frisson and a frantic pace, marked by endless messages, updates and emails. Yet, Spore offers a contrasting approach to our technology-mediated lives. Fan uses animation loops to create meditative Digital Art. The artist describes the work as “a deliberate counter to the often chaotic and overwhelming nature of digital space”.
According to the NFT platform, Foundation, Spore uses organic yet algorithmic movement to remind us that “the world works best when the natural and digital co-exist harmoniously.” Staring into the orb-like form of Spore brings a wash of calm over the viewer, foregrounding the healing properties of nature. Staring into the centre, one can mimic the inward and outward motion with a gentle breath. The digital bloom opens and closes, reminiscent of a flower bud opening into the sunlight.
The photographed blooms take on a glitch-like quality as sharp digital lines burst, emerging out laterally from the form before dissolving into a gentle, blurred image. The cyclical motion highlights the mechanics and predictability of natural cycles, which shift gently with seasonal change, connecting virtual artistry to organic motion.
Sian Fan, Phantom (2021), Digital Performance, Duration Variable. Commissioned by Site Gallery. @sianfan. Courtesy of the artist.
Commissioned by Site Gallery in 2020, Phantom combines Fan’s aptitudes for embodied performance and technology. Using Motion-Capture (Mo-Cap) technology, Fan choreographed motion sequences that are performed by ghost-like avatars. The artist used indie game software to develop a digital environment where users encounter these uncanny, phantasmic creatures. The digital expanse is filled with virtual plant life, appearing almost lurid green against the dark background, rendered smooth – a texture reminiscent of early PlayStation graphics.
In behind-the-scenes footage of Fan’s creative process, she combines her expert vocabulary in contemporary dance, combining gentle gestures and pirouettes with the disjointed, manufactured gesture of video games. She produces organic motion – portraying the organic heaviness of human limbs. She sways, Bambi-like as if learning to negotiate their weight, before suddenly jerking into rigid t-shapes of a video game avatar. It is an expert study in the translation of human motions into the gravity-stripped realm of cyberspace.
During a podcast with Agora curator Adrian St.Clair, Fan refers to Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism – a manifesto that uses the technological glitch to challenge the idea that bodies should conform to heteronormative standards and desires. The glitch, often thought of as a technological error, has become a visual tool for contemporary artists that explore the hierarchy between our ‘IRL’ (in real life) selves and virtual lives. Fan’s work uses the feminine body in virtual space, calling attention to the connection between digital and real-life existences. She considers the way human spirituality and fallibility intertwines with the lives that we live online-bridging the divide between the glitch and the ‘human’ body.
These themes appear in Phantom – Fan creates bodies that do not respond to our whims – asking if digital lives exist purely for our pleasure? Their almost-human, feminised form suddenly twists and contorts in a grotesque manner. According to Site Gallery, Fan could not have perceived the glitch-like errors when creating this work, adding unpredictability to the digital world. Phantom shows us the possibility of Digital Art that exists outside of ‘human design and intention’.
Sian Fan, Downtime (2020), Interactive Environment. Commissioned by Phoenix Leicester. @sianfan. Courtesy of the artist.
In Downtime, Fan creates an immersive virtual space where viewers can become users, but not in the active sense they may expect. Commissioned by the Phoenix in Leicester, Downtime is a muted digital environment, a paradoxical world where users have freedom to do…nothing.
She invites the viewer to “explore the aimless world and discover aural sensations”. The viewer navigates through a sandy landscape, moulded in soft pastel pinks and powder blues. Minimal instructions appear in an acid yellow, but it is not affronting to the eyes, rather calmingly glitchy – as if plucked directly from the early dotcom era.
The work is a digital environment that is fully accessible via a web browser, and offers an artistic viewing experience that calms the senses. The ethereal, low-key atmosphere that Fan produces echoes the peaceful meditation you might encounter when you step off a busy city street and into the revenant, tranquil space of a gallery. On the artist’s website, Fan refers to the piece as a ‘virtual sanctuary’– an invitation to disconnect and just be. The piece contains digital artefacts: forms created by Fan that emit the soft chilling sounds of ASMR, a phenomenon that creates gentle spinal shivers by connecting to the nervous system. Fan sees the possibilities of Digital Art to unwind and produce deeper meditative sensations.
VR Exhibition in Hubs Mozilla
Fan’s digital and performance art has been displayed by galleries worldwide, including the Tate Modern, Institute of Contemporary Art and festivals such as CADAF and the London Design Festival. Her pieces have also toured Europe as part of British Council exhibits. Her animated short, Spirit Corp, was featured on the BBC4 and Arts Council documentary New Creatives.
Fan has also completed commissions for Site Gallery, Essex 2020, and collaborations with Google, Channel 4 and the BBC. Fan received a first-class degree in Performance and Art Dance from the University of Brighton in 2014, where she was awarded the Seoul University Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement.
While completing her master’s degree in fine arts at Central St. Martins in London, she received the prestigious Mona Hatoum Scholarship and was nominated for the Nova Award.
2021, Cyborgian Bodies, Virginia Bianchi Gallery, Chiasso.
2021, Essex Cultural Diversity Project, Chelmsford.
2021, The Sublime 3.0: Fear and Awe, Agora Digital Art x thewrong biennale nr5, London, UK
2021, Finally — Central St Martins Graduate Show, Ugly Duck, London.
2021, Staring and Morphing, The Minories, Colchester.
2021, Served, Sarabande Foundation, London.
2021, Corpus Mentis, The Vov x Sarabande Foundation, Online.
2021, Arte Na Quarentena, Mostra Museum, Sao Paolo.
Museum Shows / Festivals
2021, Digital Art Month, Contemporary and Digital Art Fair, Paris.
2020, Digital Art Month, Contemporary and Digital Art Fair, Miami, Online
2020, Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, London.
2020, Off-site: Designing at a Distance, London Design Festival, London.
2020, 15, Online Performance Art Festival, Online.