Inspired by BioArt, Natural History, and the inflatable dummies used by the U.S top- secret "Ghost Army" in WWII, Pool's interdisciplinary works combine VR techniques and inflatable PVC to create installations & digital pieces. Kalman uses mechanical reproduction knowingly to question the authenticity of the original, whilst the vibrant aliveness of the sculptures themselves go beyond the mundanity of simulacra. "Despite being an artwork made using a mechanical reproduction method and a simulacrum stimulated through utopian VR, each of my inflatable sculptures gives life in virtue of its physically inflated body with the possibility of interaction with its natural surroundings"
HOW DID YOUR PASSION FOR ART BORN? WHERE ARE YOU FROM, AND CAN YOU TELL LITTLE ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY IN ART TILL NOW
I would say my real passion for art exploded when I was 18 years old, during which I went to New York for college. It was indeed explosive growth as that was my first time encountering a different art scene that was unique and inspiring. I remember the awe when I first saw Pollock's drip paintings in MoMA, and I understood that art didn't have rules at all. That's a mind-blowing experience: if they can do that, why I can't?
I was born and raised in Guangzhou, China, close to Hong Kong. However, I was not trained as an artist at a younger age. I was yet trained to be a badminton player. This outsider perspective might be beneficial and might have given me a sense of uniqueness in art making afterward. Well, I didn't stay in New York for too long. I dropped out of Parsons, a design school, and spent a whole year traveling and figuring out my lifelong mission. And being an artist was my voice. Later, I moved to Chicago and studied fine arts at SAIC, in which my artistic senses unlocked, and I started to create my signature inflatables. Following was my MA at the RCA in London. Recently I went back to China as I was invited to a year- long artist residency program in a non-profit art museum in Shenzhen, China, in which I'm preparing my largest solo show at the end of this year.
CONSIDERING YOUR WORK IN VISUAL ARTS, WHAT EXACTLY IS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR ART?
My real inspiration often drew from my personal experiences: drama, trauma, accident, love and hate, desire and disappointment. My artistic career started with photography. However, today I only focus on painting and sculpture as they are truly autonomous: you can build your own universe in the studio without a model I guess.
WHAT IS THE CONCEPT OF BIOART, NATURAL HISTORY, AND THE INFLATABLE DUMMIES?
These are keywords of my current practices. I was lucky enough to study BioArt, animal behaviour, and natural history courses in Chicago. Regarding BioArt, I experimented with fluorescent E.coli, and I placed the bacteria in the Petri dishes. They would glow under UV lights. Yet they only have a three-week life span. Later, they will die and not glow anymore. Utilising living organisms to make works of art is the key to BioArt.
The living quality of the artwork influenced me. I was inspired by the unpredictable progress and evolution of organic beings from Natural History, which serve as the fundamental value of my VR-made new creatures. Lastly, the Inflatable dummy tank is my research topic for the MA dissertation. I was researching the history of the inflatable sculpture and its artistic application, and I was surprised to discover the US "Ghost Army" in WWII—a secret troop that consisted of many artists. They deployed a substantial amount of inflatable dummies in Europe around 1944, aiming to deceive the German Army. That was the earliest artistic application of inflatable sculptures used by artists despite its non-art purpose.
Overall. That's the summary of my current artistic practice: I use VR software to create imaginative new creatures, bringing them to life using the form of the inflatable, yet my inflatable creature has a kind of aliveness—leaking and requires care and attention. The overall physicality gives it a sense of livingness, breathiness, and aliveness, similar to the purpose of deceiving the enemy, making it unique and organic.
CAN YOU TELL ABOUT YOUR ART AESTHETICS WHICH ARE BASED ON VR TECHNIQUES & INFLATABLE PVC? WHAT WAS YOUR THOUGHT BEHIND YOUR MECHANICAL REPRODUCTION OF ART INSTALLATIONS, AND WHICH DIRECTION IS THE CREATION DEDICATED TO?
I initially used VR sculpting software to create 3D models. Then my fabricator, based on the model, will redesign the whole structure and use printed PVC fabrics to develop the inflatable sculpture. It seems like the process of 3D printing, but in fact, it's like creating a garment. In terms of mechanical reproductions, it's the philosophy behind the reproduction logic. While having a 3D model, you can create multiple and infinite copies deprivation of the original. This is the crucial idea in Walter Benjamin's famous essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." However, he refers to the age of mechanical reproduction in relation to the photography and film industries. Today, we are in the age of 3D. With a 3D model in your hands, you can create infinite possibilities in shocking but attractive directions.
HOW DO YOUR INFLATABLE SCULPTURES GIVE LIFE TO VIRTUE & THE MUNDANITY OF SIMULACRA?
When I was writing my MA dissertation, I addressed this exciting concept of the aliveness of my inflatable sculptures. It's a simulacrum, simulated from the virtual reality world, a copy without the original, almost like the Castle of Disneyland, you experience the dream-like scene in person. Yet, the materiality of inflatable sculpture is intriguing, because of air and care. For all inflatable, it leaks due to entropy and exchange of energy. My inflatable sculptures are more complicated as there are numerous conjunction parts, so they are genuinely unpredictable. As a guardian, you are responsible for taking care of them.
You have to inflate it every day or a few days. Perhaps you need to find the leaking parts and patch them. Unlike a permanent bronze sculpture or a canvas painting that gives you a sense of permanence, the inflatable sculpture is fragile but also vividly presenting, as if it is breathing and as if it is living with me.
ARE THERE ANY FUTURE ARTWORKS YOU WANT TO SHARE WITH US?
My recent interest is to create a series of conjoined creatures, such as a five-headed swan lake and a three-headed parrot. These inspirations originated from our current crisis, pandemic, mutation, and diseases and what the future will be like. I will show these new works in my upcoming solo show in Italy and China.
WHAT DOES "DARE" MEAN TO YOU IN THE SENSE OF YOUR BOLD ARTWORKS?
DARE means to create your own rules. Ultimately, I think a good work of art is a medium to transcend time and space, connecting the past and the present. In that sense, I only make arts that I like, even though the market does approve it yet. I challenge the impossible: I create sophisticated inflatable sculptures, paint super large-scale paintings, and invent my languages and signs to develop my fluorescent universe. I dream of the future.
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Images provided by Kalman