QiWu: Natural Footprint in Technological Vicissitude | Exhibition

14 min readSep 26, 2020

In 2020, the pandemic has suspended international exchange and physical exhibitions. Under special circumstances, OCAT Research Institute combines the two modes of online workshop and offline exhibition. 2020 research-based exhibition with 6 sub-divisions opened successfully in Beijing on September 12th and will last till December 6th. Continued workshop, panel and translation will happen during three months exhibition.

Exhibition is led by Mr. Wu Hong, professor at the University of Chicago, and workshop was joined by Mr. Fei Dawei, Mr. Wang Huangsheng, Mr. Guo Weiqi and Mr. Feng Boyi. In the face of the epidemic, 6 exhibitions invited international artists and organizations to form a cross-disciplinary conversation on emergent issues regarding ecology. We are glad that “QiWu: Natural Footprint in Technological Vicissitude” is included as part of the discourse.

QiWu: Natural Footprint in Technological Vicissitude

Curators: Cai Yixuan, Cao Xuefei

Curation Team: Conversazione

Curatorial Assistants: Zhang RuiQi, Li SiHan


Cities embed mountains and rivers, production activities extract energy from nature, and infrastructure transforms the geological state drastically — construction technique gradually enters the ecosystem. The modernization of technology also enables space to extend upward: sensory and interactive equipment connects human emotion and cognitive ability with network interface. And through satellites, human-being obtain planetary operation ability to tame nature. This exhibition uses “The Stack” as metaphor from Benjamin Bratton to delineate the contemporary geopolitical structure within “the numerous devices from terrene to ether”, and the “equality of things (Qiwu)” from Chuang-Tzu to elicit the unification between Chinese landscape and cosmology. The counterbalance between nature and humanity constrained by ritual-and-order(LiFa) and folklore, disintegrates gradually during the process of modernization, and has been transformed into a new treatment of conflicts and catastrophes under the guidance of technology. Starting with an atlas of emotion and perception, this exhibition adopts “natural system and technological stack” as a thread, reveals the connection between body and techniques through media object archeology, and overlays the perception of “Qiwu” with the geography, insetting the lifecycle into the geochron of cosmos.

Natural resources and typology affect the site-selection of hydraulic engineering, port trading, industrial bases, spaceports and bitcoin mines in the era of techno-industrialization. Sound and moving images transfer heat, humidity, anxiety, silence, watershed and typology with geospatial structures, displaying various moods and emotions. Research-based works trace footprints of natural elements during political upheavals, territorial expansion and economic models alteration, presenting the rivalry between scientific cognition and local embodied knowledge — — the tension between lasting geological time and narrative of individual family, the traces that transient colonialism imprints on land, and the nesting of folklore from ethnic minorities within the global capital. In hundred years, the machine operation has intervened the order between terrene and cosmos in the traditional sense, homogenizing “all things being equal“ into “all things being united.” General technological objects carrying the singular temporality invade into all directions. The perception of ethereal and predial space is constructed into the perceivable and tangible “Stack” by technological objects.

With skylight shining on ground, the humidity, virus and floatage in the air all come from ecological barriers, combustion of geological resources, or even the spatial condition of earth surface. The apprehension of industrial emission and miasma leads to spatial stratification. The streaming media is a screen of the anxiety from land disposition. Constant in a state of escape, information just like air, is a surface between land and body, immersing into the quotidian life.

The umbilical cord between geocenter and satellite is like “ the neck of moon”. Launching and signal-receiving terminals are like corporal bodies anchored on ground, while satellites orbits throw the law of geopolitics into space. As sensing devices connect to telecommunication service, they also train the body and gestures. In this journey through the atmosphere, oriental occult locates humans in the cosmos, while science endows humans with planetary-scale cognition and control of earth.

Finally, the traction that the moon functions on hydrology, is converted to energy in tide, delivered to steel pipelines and connected electronic chips or satellite networks. It compresses the sensation of undulating mountains and rivers into libido, involved in virtual investment and endless consumption.

The exhibition ends with three speculative designs on management strategy: from the perspective of judicial framework, energy flow and data distribution, they attempt to present another path to enter the ecosystem.

Concept Diagram

Exhibited Artworks, Documents and Speculative Designs

Section I: The Sky that Comes from Earth



Eli Joteva (BG / US) , Valdis Silins (CA), Evgenia Vanyukova (RU) at Strelka Institute

The New Normal, Strelka Institute for Media Architecture and Design

Project Faculty: Nicolay Boyadjiev, Lisa Dorrer, Nathan Su, Liam Young

Video | 5‘54’’| 2019

AEROFORMING speculates on the potential of air as a medium for division and design in a not so distant future. By reframing air’s read/write potential — its ability to take in information and redistribute it — the film presents air as an interface between land and bodies, one which doesn’t play by the rules of states or markets. Constantly in a state of escape, turning air into a design medium requires that it be captured, addressed, and made legible. This taming of air is illustrated through a series of speculative images at changing scales — states, markets, globes, bodies, citizens, molecules. Throughout it, the remainder, what can’t be tamed, rears its rhythmic head.

(Left) The Shrinking Land, Chen Rong Hui | (Middle) Still from Aeroforming | (Right) Gazing From Distance, RuiQi Zhang

Memory of Post-industrial Cities in Air

This series contains documents on Northeast China industrial excavation, few photographs from Chen RongHui’s Freezing Land Project, Zhang RuiQi’s Gazing from Distance which project digital mobility on a fluid surface. In northeast China, frigid winds and industrial steam enriched the land and smelted the oil. Decades later, environmental destruction and industrial shrinkage due to policy change brought a new pattern of development to the northeast: The regional relationship migrates with population outflow, and cultural activities are reflected in an unfinished post-industrial landscape.

It asks a similar question on the memory of air brought up by AEROFORMING: what does air know? Artificial gas, such as industrial steam, tear gas, mixed with fog and haze from air pollution and climate change, invades human sensations and changes our sensibility on air different from poetic air in ancient literary tradition.

In the Southern Urals, the resource extraction of metals, coal and manufacturing activities accumulate carbon in the air. Crimson air narrates the gas that stores condensed memories of natural consumption, logistic circulation and algorithmic technologies. The crude oil buried for 100 million years has been compressed in such a short history of 300 years. Individual is breathing in the geological temporality through the carbon emission.

(Left) Still from Aeroforming | (Middle) Documents of Miasma-related events, Kai Tak Airtprot | (Right) Stills from Many Undulating Things

Miasma, Plants, Land and Interior Circulation

This series contains KaiTak Airport, documents and film stills from Wang Bo and Pan Lu’s film projects. The 19th Century myth of Miasma, the bad air, related epidemic diseases with air, environment and race, which later helped to consolidate the vertical segregation on Hong Kong island. (From description of Miasma, Plants and Export Painting) This unequal right in land distribution continues in today’s real estate development, dense high-rise skyline, extension of land on water, and give rise to the anxiety and velocity in the air. Wang Bo, Pan Lu’s new film Many Undulating Things also captures the constant desire to air-condition interior space for comfort and to separate from climate. Air circulation is constructed by a set of HVAC technologies that circumscribes interior space.

To Bury the Sky

Marina Dubova, Pierce Myers, Bryan Wolff at Strelka Institute

The Terraforming, Strelka Institute for Media Architecture and Design

Faculty: Benjamin Bratton, Nicolay Boyadjiev, Lisa Dorrer

Thesis Research, Speculative Design | Digital Prints | 2020

This project envisions the pragmatic action to bury the sky in the earth and seabed. The interdisciplinary intervention recalibrates the given framework of infrastructure, governance, and ecosystems. To reverse the situation of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere and put the excess carbon back from whence it came, the project generates deep geological formations of the Earth — it aims to bury the sky.

This is an investigation of the motive, techniques, and locations that lead to a plan and a host of actors that might carry through with directing the excess carbon in the atmosphere back from where it came: the deep geological formations of the Earth. Basalt in Serbia is the kernel of the plan. In the pores of basalt, when mixed with water, CO2 is converted into a mineral rock. The region’s geological foundation was laid during a great extinction event 250 million years ago and now, in return, it might help us prevent our own.

Section II: Neck of Moon

Chinese Radio Telescope from Overview

Overview: Chinese Radio Telescope

Benjamin Grant| 2016|Digital Prints

OVERVIEW is high definition satellite photographs made from an aerial vantage point. Scientific representation as an aesthetics is installed in daily life on fictional works and digital maps, revealing a levelling-up perspective of overviewing earth — in a simulation of astronauts’ sensation. When humans on the earth envision an overview, users with electronic devices also worship technologies in outer space. More than 200 images of industry, agriculture, architecture, and nature highlight incredible patterns while also revealing a deeper story about human impact.

(Top / Left) Still and Pattern from Chen Yin-Ju Extrastellar Entropy: 25800; (Right) Liu Xiao’s Information Fantasy

Intermediate Interface between Psychic and Corporeal World

This section includes stills and excerpts from Chen Yin-Ju Extrastellar Entropy: 25800, juxtaposed with the photo(1993) from Liu Xiao’s Information Fantasy, and objects of shaman mask and military gas mask. It delineates a trajectory of the varied medium between psychic and corporeal world, from astrolabe, to mask, and information pot, which all channel cosmic energy into earthly and corporeal energy. Ritualistic Shaman masks summoning gods and ghosts connected with heaven and terrene, while modern masks are generally applied to the protection of polluted air by military gas and infections. The ritualistic symbols are secularized and substituted by the collective imagination of communication technology in information pots.

(Left) Digital in Universe: Images of Satellites from NASA, Morse code | (Right) Documents of Body and Technology: Improvisation Technologies of William Forsythe, Slate dance of Oskar Schlemmer, and Vintage Internet

Satellite in Space and Body Control

This series collages documents and film stills to depict how technology controls body and gesture, from macro to micro level. Launching and signal-receiving terminals are like corporal bodies anchored on ground, while satellites orbits throw the law of geopolitics into space. Returning satellite debris in unexpected regions destroys farmland and houses, affecting individual families when space race manifests national power in collective narrative delivered through live broadcasts and satellite antennas. On the micro level, as sensing devices connect to telecommunication service, they train the body and finger gestures.

Kosmos Law

Kosmos Law

Vlad Afanasiev (UA) ,Luiza Crosman (BR), Elena Darjania (GE / RU) at Strelka Institute

The Terraforming, Strelka Institute for Media Architecture and Design

Faculty: Benjamin Bratton, Nicolay Boyadjiev, Lisa Dorrer

Thesis Research, Speculative Design | Digital Prints and Documents | 2020

Kosmos Law is a holistic legal framework and governance model aimed at replacing an outdated space law and updated terrestrial governance. The research looks into the history of land occupation in Earth and exploration of outer space. And the proposition envisions a model through which to match planetary conditions and planetary governance as a way to reverse current climate change conditions. It is built upon the egalitarian values, which are already present in the current space law. It aims for the egalitarian use of space resources, occupation, and exploration.

Section III: Tidal Currents

Water System Refuge

Chen Jianjun + Cao Mingha|2019| Video| 17’30’

Cao and Chen present two new videos from the Water System Project, their ongoing artistic research on the Minjiang River and Dujiangyan, a water management system built 2200 years ago in the Chinese region of Sichuan. For ‘Observing Point’, the artists collaborated with farmer Wang Yizhong, who started a tree-planting project over 20 years ago in the hills around his home in Shuitian Ping village, an area of large-scale deforestation since the 1950s. For ‘Water System Refuge’, the artists worked with a community of the Qiang ethnic group, who are creating a living village museum to preserve their knowledge and traditions. Through collaborations with residents and researchers, Cao and Chen interweave questions of landscape, livelihood, climate change and the creation of alternative futures through small-scale actions. They also investigate the effects of government policy and reconstruction that followed the Sichuan earthquake of 2008.(Kathryn Weir、Zhang Hanlu)

Image Courtesy of artists Liu Chuang, Cheng Xinhao, Wangbo, Pan Lu, photographer Liu Xingzhe, Wu Yue and the project team SEICHE

Ethnographic and Logistics’ Movement on Border

This series of photos, films stills, research document and speculative design work is a miniature of how folklore and embodied knowledge situate in a trans-border management and water management system. In the pre-modern, contours of valleys were mainly shaped by the erosion and deposition by natural forces, and they also shape the local experiences of dwelling and migration with the water system and valleys. In the modern, water transportation broadens the range of logistics to bulk cargo and enables trans-region industrial material supply and construction, wherein water and mountains being the natural condition of electricity generation are used for computation power. The still of Liu Chuang’s video, the image of the changing condition of Mingjiang River provided by Cao Minghao, Chen Jianjun, and the bodily transportation of nature in Chen Xinhao’s performance work, reflecting the dialectic vissititute from pre-modern to the modern.

Citizenship and sovereignty were traditionally rooted in territorial belonging, but as transnational flows of people, capital, goods and information continue to expand, new paradigms are required. The infrastructural systems that sustain these flows present a network of complex topology. In a landscape of overlapping jurisdictions, the design and mapping of interactions among them is a crucial task. Seiche is a platform that enables the definition and management of techno-legal procedures of information exchange between the institutions that regulate those systems and the organisations that operate within them. It acts as an interface between legal and data workflows, fostering systems synchronization and mapping the dynamic network of emergent sovereignties. (Description Provided by SEICHE Redefining Sovereignty Through Systems Synchronization

The exhibition keeps tracing back to previous works, Wang Bo and Pan Lu’s film Many Undulating Things shows how labour and the body bridges the logistics system. From right to left, it is juxtaposed with a logistic analytical diagram from SEICH and the positioning law of global bitcoin mines by Wu Yue, reflecting the body’s position in the modern technology system.

Farmer, Miner, Builder, Trader: Re-humanizing the distributed infrastructures of Bitcoin

Wu, Yue

Thesis Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Digital Prints | 2019

The concept of bitcoin is powerful and charming that will lead humanity to a future of increasing extraordinary financial and spatial decentralization. However, although bitcoin has been around for 10 years, existing bitcoin geopolitics have not been significantly addressed. In Wu Yue’s research-based design, He challenges the common imagination on bitcoin through four aspects that fall under the umbrella of bitcoin geopolitics, including: algorithm modeling, computational accelerating, global positioning, and human scaling.

It reveals a more dynamic bitcoinization process which remains a fundamentally capitalist urban process from the lens of architecture and urbanism. He concludes by exploring a design question: how do designers envision a dystopia fueled by bitcoin, perhaps combating it, based on the relationship between ourselves, as humans, and bitcoin technology? With this exploration, He develops a more substantial critique of the potential paradoxes raised by bitcoin technology, in order to raise awareness of the politics of cryptocurrency mining, whose underlying desperation and hysteria are concealed by the rhetoric of liberation and decentralization.

(Top Left and Top Middle)Images of Chimes and Book of Rituals| (Top Right, Middle Right, Bottom Left) Album Covers from Musician Liang Yiyuan| (Middle Left, Bottom Middle) Album Covers from Band Scatteredpurgatory(© 山險峻 material by APRA,
稗海遺考,material by Feng.B)|(Middle) The Album Cover from Meiyu| (Bottom Right) The Magazine Cover from Gabriele de Seta

Experimental music and Field-recording

Gabriele de Seta, 10:11 (城乡结合部),2016

Liang Yiyuan, Aria Of Worldly Life, 2017

Liang Yiyuan, Radiation Haunts No Man’s Land, 2017

Scattered Purgatory, Thee Ancestral Glistening Tai-Bai, 2015

Liang Yiyuan, N5–03. Spiral Recursion, 2017, experimental music

Meiyu, Jijishi, 2019, experimental music

The series of Sound is a strand of the abstraction of the encounter among religion, industrial mechanics, and cosmos, unfolding the uncanny atmosphere behind the visible mundane. Starting from the field-recording of the 10:11 城乡结合部(2016)by anthropologist Gabriele, daily conversations of human and animals, industrial noises and the folk Buddhist music are integrated in the natural sound clip. Then come the works of Aria of Worldly Life (2007) and Radiation Haunts No Man’s Land

(2015) by Liang Yiyuan, extending the field-recording into the intone of local religions, which is further imbued with radiation from electronic devices like satellites. The modern linkage between terrene and cosmos unmasks the alteration of cosmology. Three ancestral glistening Tai-Bai(2014) by Scattered Purgatory explores the Taoist cosmos where a mythological space spin around the scientific cosmos. Meiyu’s Jijishi (2019) opens an alternative cosmos in Chinese cultures with softer and hazier tones. N5–03. Spiral Recursion (2018) of Liang Yiyuan closes the door of modernity: The alternative utopia does not exist as it lingers in the secularized space; it is repetitive in a loop.


Curatorial Team

Cai, Yixuan

Graduated from Rhode Island School of Design Architecture Department. Live and work as architectural designer in New York. Also the founder of bi-city (New York/Beijing) non-profit art organization Conversazione. Yixuan’s practice ranges from architecture design, independent film to experimental theater. She is interested in gamified theater space, spatial-politics and media technology. Her works have been exhibited in Beijing Long Gate Museum, New York Oculus, Los Angeles and etc. Her short film Poetic Gaze has won the bronze plate in 2019 MEIHUDO International Youth Film Festival. Her curatorial project “QiWu: Natural Footprints in Geospatial Vicissitude” has entered the 2020 OCAT research-based exhibition. As founder of Conversazione, she has organized nearly 100 forums, screenings and theater workshop in New York and Beijing. (www.caiyixuan.love)

Cao, Xuefei

Curator, Writer, holding a master degree in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London. Current research-based curatorial project: QiWu: Natural Footprints in Geospatial Vicissitude. She contributed to film media and assisted European Film Festival and other film festivals in 2016–2018. Recently, she contributes to the Journal of Environmental Media as writer, and is invited to China Academy of Art, Shanghai Rockbund art museum, and Manchester Metropolitan University as speaker. Her current research focuses on Chinese philosophy and its variation, history and speculative future in the Global South, geopolitical technology and cultures.(www.cherphileciao.com)


Conversazione is a non-profit art organization based in New York and Beijing, with focus on architecture, urbanism, films and media technology, theater and performance. Through forums, screenings, experimental theater, exhibition and publication, we aim at fostering discussion and research on contemporary spatial and cultural phenomenons. With practices in different axis, we hope to build a research-based community and discover ways to initiate changes in practice. (www.conversazione.org/)




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