Entering Liu Wa’s installation ‘Glimpse: A Passing Look’, one loses oneself in the silky brushstrokes. The paintings, exacting the form of invulnerable human bodies, are consummate evocations of texture and anatomy deeply understood. A pale blue moonlight swims into the movements of the figures and their silhouettes, allowing only momentary glimpses of the work.
In an instant, the scenery changes and the disaster appears to be in full blossom. As in a vanitas flower still life, the shortness of life peeks through as dead petals. The human body, one moment capable and superior, the next resigning to the inevitability of downfall. As the light shades from blue to red, the supple figures glimmer, emerging from the darkness and fleeting away, as they struggle to survive the ecological apocalypse engulfing them. Waves, lapping against piles of metal trash, turn into a bloodlike sea, a haze like flames on which the poisonous sunlight dims.
Realized via neurotechnology, the immersive installation senses and reflects the viewer’s changing attention levels. Donning an electroencephalogram (EEG) headband, the viewer enters an enclosed room with a series of color-coded paintings. While viewing the paintings around her, the viewer’s attention levels illuminate the room with blue, red, or green light. The paintings thereby emerge successively, delivering contrasting impressions. In different states of mind, one will perceive the same paintings differently.
As only partial views of the work are revealed, the real appearance of the paintings remains unknown, alluding to one’s perceptions of the external world, both subjective and fluid. Simplistic understandings of the other obscure the truth and easily lead to friction among religious groups and social classes. As one viewer controls the color of the environment through her brainwaves, others can also see what she sees, questioning the boundaries between reality and illusion as well as self and other.
Merging contemporary technology and the traditional medium of painting, Liu Wa makes use of the elemental colors red, blue, and green. While these particular colors all refer to representations of nature, they simultaneously constitute the color set of the RGB color system used in almost every display technology today. The colored light, generated by the viewer’s brainwaves, seems to blur the limits to where the analogue surface of the paintings ends and where the digital begins.
Smoothly applied through the acrylic onto the canvases and into existence by the artist’s hand, the doomsday scenario only fully appears as the digital color system is triggered by the viewer’s brainwaves, tracked by the headband. The canvas acts as a digital interface, becoming a plastic surface for human imagination and bodily interaction, letting the images take shape not only by the light entering the eye, but further inside the brain and entire body.