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pepi ng

nyc-based designer interested in the intersection between art and technology

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generative art
Build-Your-Own-Techno-Oriental World
Exhibitions/ Awards
"Cyborg", organized by Pixel Mouth Collective, and was held at Grace Exhibition Space, New York City.
Build-Your-Own-Techno-Oriental World is an interactive exhibition piece that explores the dangerous and hypocritical ways Western media often portrays and objectifies technologically-advanced Asian countries, specifically in cyberpunk movies and video games.
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Introduction

As our culture evolves with greater technological advancements, our perception of the “exotic” or “oriental” has also gradually shifted. Today’s cyberpunk movies and videogames tend to be set in hyper-advanced Asian countries that are overpopulated, dystopian, and polluted. Often, these societies also seem to be controlled by large, authoritative government bodies or corporations, and the civilians are passive and dehumanized. 

 

In this project, the user can create their own cyberpunk world by interacting with different large-scale sensors and controllers. These interactions are deliberately meant to problematize the common “oriental” stereotypes depicted in modern-day media or cultural references.

Design Process
1. Inspiration and Research

I first came across the term "Techno-orientalism" in one of my lectures in school. I was instantly intrigued, and started researching more into the topic to better understand the term, what it entails, its history, causes and implications. 

Techno-orientalism is defined as the phenomenon of imagining Asia and Asians in hypertechnological terms in cultural productions and political discourses.

Techno-Orientalism is essentially a branch of Orientalism that intersects technology and race and it explains how the West’s portrayal of Asia has evolved in light of changes in the global power balance, the global economy, and even cultural globalization. 

Diving deeper, I started looking into modern-day cyberpunk movies and video games (eg. Cyberpunk 2077, Blade  Runner 2047, Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, Cloud Atlas etc.) I realized that a lot of cyberpunk films and videogames are set in hyper-advanced, but also dystopian, grimey and unpleasant Asian countries. This narrative would provide a convenient outlet for anxieties and fears about a dominant Asia that was homogenous, mechanized, and opposed to the liberal human subjectivity of the West (Elif notes, 2022).

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2. (A lot of) Brainstorming

I knew I wanted to create something interactive. I wanted the user to play an active role in creating a cyberpunk city, while realizing the convenient and often reductive ways in which cyberpunk cities portray Asian societies.

I decided to combine my skills in 3D modelling, physical computing and creative coding to create an interactive exhibition piece

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Taking references from cyberpunk video games and movies, I decided to problematize five stereotypical characteristics of techno-oriental worlds and turn them into interactive components that the user can interact with:

Five stereotypical characteristics of techno-oriental worlds that I wish to problematize

(1) Cyborg

Cyberpunk fiction often reduces and dehumanizes Asian bodies to exploited machines and holograms which lack freedom and individual spirit.

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(2) High-tech surveillance

Asian societies are often viewed as "Surveillance States", where an authoritarian government employs high-end surveillance technology to monitor its own citizens.

(3) Skyscrapers & hypercapitalism

Asian societies in cyberpunk media are often shown as being hyper-capitalistic, where corporations rule and control most, if not all, of the society's resources.

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

(4) Futuristic, technological advancements

There is often a full integration of technology in such Asian, cyberpunk societies. Think: Futuristic space cars, cybernetic implants, additional "memory storage" in characters' brains. 

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(5) Asian female cyborg

Informed by the Dragon Lady or Lotus Blossom Baby archetypes, the Asian female cyborgs are often built into machines without their consent, reinforcing the notion that they lack autonomy and are unable to celebrate the multiplicity of their femininity.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

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Cyberpunk 2077 (2022)

Finding the hypocrisy: The exact same thing is happening in "liberal"/ "free" Western societies

(1) Cyborg

Yet, this representation is hypocritical, since labor exploitation is equally, or even more rampant in Western societies.

(2) High-tech surveillance

Yet, similarly, in America, users’ personal and sensitive information is often collected by mega corporations or the government to manipulate our behaviours or track our activities (see: Patriot Act, 2001).

(3) Skyscrapers & hypercapitalism

Yet, the exact same thing is happening in America, which is defined by Capitalism as an ideology. In fact, as of 2022, four out of five of the biggest corporations in the world are American.

This portrayal of Asian societies provides a convenient outlet for anxieties and fears about a dominant Asia that is homogenous, mechanized and opposed to the "liberal" human subjectivity of the West (Gong, 2019).

(4) Futuristic, technological advancements

Such portrayals of Asian futurity is often a convenient way for Westerners to express their

existential fears about a future in which Eastern dominance would threaten Western hegemony. Such a xenophobic, racialized fear is also known as "yellow peril".

(5) Asian female cyborg

Asian femininity in cyberpunk media is often dangerously seen as ornamental or fetishised.

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Ex-Machina (2014)

Interactivity: Users interact with the various physical components to make different 3D models appear in the interface.

(1) Cyborg

I 3D-printed a PLA-sculpture that recreates the famous image “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”. Americans often look towards that period with hope and optimism, without considering the human exploitation that went on behind the scenes.

Placing the 3D-printed human on the beam causes a cyborg to appear in the p5.js interface.

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(2) High-tech surveillance

Plugging the wire into the iPhone causes the word “Tapped” to appear on the digital screen, and surveillance cameras to appear.

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(3) Skyscrapers & hypercapitalism

Placing the “Buildings” labeled Amazon, Google, Meta, or Apple on the metal sheet causes skyscrapers to appear.

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(4) Futuristic, technological advancements

The 1982 murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit, Michigan, was exactly a result of fears that Japan’s then booming economy meant that country would soon take over American industries such as auto and real estate.

Dipping the wrench into the disturbing, transparent box of blood causes a futuristic space car to appear. I wanted the user to be taken aback by such ominous imagery and be reminded of the anti-Asian hate crimes that have historically, and continuously occur in America.

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(5) Asian female cyborg

Unbuttoning and unzipping the Cheongsam causes a woman to show up.

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3. Prototyping

For my prototype, I wanted to create something small and portable. I decided to create something like an Xbox remote controller, to achieve the effects of: 


(1) The user feels like they are actively building a cyberpunk city 

(2) The user feels like they are just playing a game- I wanted to problematize the reductive and often convenient ways in which cyberpunk films/ games portray and politicise such technologically-advanced Asian societies.

(3) Mimics an actual cyberpunk videogame

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4. Exhibition!

For the final stage of this project, I made everything on a bigger scale, so that the users would have an easier time interacting with the different components. The interface is also projected on a wall. 

Final 8-hr long render

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The user can use a joystick and an arcade button to move the 3D objects around in the projected interface.

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Behind the scenes:

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Behind the scenes footage

Watch the walkthrough of the exhibition piece here:

Build-Your-Own-Techno-Oriental World was exhibited in the exhibition titled "Cyborg". The exhibition was organized and curated by Pixel Mouth Collective (NYC), and was held at Grace Exhibition Space, New York.

Special thanks to:

  • Pixel Mouth Collective for organizing and curating the exhibition, and for selecting my work to be exhibited

  • Grace Exhibition Space for lending us the space for my piece to be exhibited

  • Jesse Harding, for conceptual & technical guidance

  • Magali, A Cult and Hita N A for help w documentation

  • Julia and Eloise for the best moral support

  • Everyone who supported me through the exhibition journey!

List of references

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