Do you remember the hype about the first virtual alternate universe, called “Second Life”? Almost fifteen years ago, the online game was brought to life allowing users to create their own avatar, living and breathing in a new virtual world. If you missed the initial rush of enthusiasm at that time, the project “Second Life 2” by London and Shanghai based creative director Yuen Hsieh revives those long forgotten memories. After being approached by the art gallery MadeIn to curate their next virtual exhibition in 2019, Yuen came up with the idea of a reference to the famous game. Questioning the way humans will look like in the future, he paired up three 3D artists with three sound designers and let each duo create their own vision of a futuristic, virtual world. Among the participating artists were Hyph11E, Sybil Montet, Leeza Pritychenko, Tea Strazicic, Alex Wang and 33EMYBW. “I wanted to create a virtual space without gender, race, boundaries, social classes or differences between rich and poor. Almost like a club scene where everyone is allowed to dance, to enjoy, to forget and to escape the real world. That is my own interpretation of Second Life 2: An acid trip for you to escape from our hell”, Yuen tells us, “You can live anywhere such as the stomach of an alien or any other unknown location.”
Apart from “Second Life 2”, Yuen has worked in the industry for several years now, occupying a unique space in the sector of video art and direction. The Taiwan-born filmmaker is known for his dystopic, futuristic videos. Inspired by sci-fi, video games, mangas and animes, he aims to create “design fiction for a new generation with critical thinking” with many of his films shedding a light on the issues the Chinese youth is facing today. “I still remember the first 3D fighting game in my life back in 1993, called ‘Virtual Fighter’. I guess I have always been more fascinated by virtuality than the real world”, Yuen tells us, looking back on his childhood. Nowadays, he works as the creative director of the DAZED Video Lab and also DJs on the side. As he really enjoys working with other artists and having a creative exchange, he happily took the opportunity to curate the exhibition at MadeIn. “I really wanted do this sort collaboration for a long time, sharing ideas with each other without any pressure or limitation. I believe in teaming up together first and then working by myself as a director afterwards.”
After contacting the six artists on Instagram, Yuen started with gathering his visual and auditive references and provided them with one of his 3D scans as a base for their work. Apart from that, each artist was allowed to express themselves completely freely with no requirements at all. “I see myself more as a curator offering these artists a theme to play with. The main challenge is to allow creativity to flow and keep it as experimental as possible without distancing it from the aesthetics of my existing work. But I wanted to get out of my comfort zone as well.”, Yuen reflects, “From my perspective, they are all pioneers in the industry. I want to create a hybrid of visual and sound around the world.” Despite their geographical distance – the visual artists being based in Europe and the sound designers being based in Asia – the rest of the creative process came together very smoothly. Although they definitely stick to a specific design aesthetic which Yuen describes as “acid, destroyed and ugly”, each of the three animations tells their own story about the future of humanity.
“I am usually going for a mood, rather than a specific visual language. In this case I wanted to create something that feels deserted, slightly sinister but beautiful”, Amsterdam based graphic designer und media artist Leeza tell us about the animation created in collaboration with sound designer Alex Wang, “My segment was ultimately about death and after-life. Future humans in my interpretation will be able to have their consciousness uploaded to the Cloud (somewhat similarly to Black Mirror episode San Junipero) and be awakened in that synthetic space after their physical death as a digital avatar — and face their higher consciousness presented as a deity.” While the visuality is based on the classic sci-fi look, Leeza aimed to give the animation a mythological atmosphere and therefore added elements like indifferent, godly hands floating around. “I think inspiration for this specifically came from a scene in the movie ‘MirrorMask’ where the heroine stuck in a dreamworld is facing the Shadow Queen. That visual really stuck with me. Overall, I find all the creative projects that channel the subconscious inspirational in general,” she concludes.
During her studies in the Netherlands, the Moscow born designer grew an interest for digital art, 3D graphics and storytelling. Her work revolves around exploring what it means to be human through the lens of digital media and technology, “while marrying dark existentialism and the eeriness of the subconscious with nonsense and questioning the habitual reality around us.” She now works for the Department of New Realities of the creative company Wieden+Kennedy in Amsterdam, creating artful interactive VR and AR experiences for brands, while freelancing on the side. She describes her style as “constantly evolving”, with a very intuitive creative process that is never the same. “I usually don’t know until the end what’s gonna come out of the project and how it will feel visually. I rather focus on developing a certain feel – eerie, overwhelming and mysterious, something that would feel like a dream sequence, and enjoy playing with world-building through textures, characters and environments”, Leeza explains. Her work being rooted in the field of 3D art, she tries to step away from current trends, like hyper-realism or internet aesthetics and has developed a more personal, visual language.
During the work on “Second Life 2”, Leeza and Alex worked completely independently from each other. “I’ve sent the completed animation and concept description to Yuen, and he passed it on it to Alex. So in this case, the collaboration was based on complete trust — and it worked out very well I think”, Leeza tells us about the working process, “Alex was able to capture the sense of dystopian existential horror of being (un)dead and stuck in a synthetic afterlife machine perfectly — with sound which is sci-fi, dramatic, somewhat menacing, and very textural. The name he gave to the track is ‘Snow falls in the Desert’ which I thought is a very nice touch because it sounds beautiful, but also eerie because it describes an unnatural event. The project wouldn’t be the same without sound, it really tied everything together and gave the project certain consistency. In general, I think sound without visual and visual without sound don’t have the same impact as when they are together, they are meant to complete each other. That’s why a medium of music videos is so popular for example.”
What really caught our eye (and ear!) regarding this project, is not only the excellent balance between visuality and sound, but also the act of seven talents joining forces together and bringing their visions of a future world to life. If you are wondering what this crazy feeling is you have while watching the animations, Yuen easily sums it up in two words: “Unknown pleasure.”