Field Trip

16 April 2021, Shenzhen, Guangzhou


Throwing a Stone Ahead

From the Tunnel to the Forest

Zhang Wenxin

In April, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are hot and rainy, and we were visiting three tech companies in those cities. The schedule for every visit was similar: We first viewed the company’s exhibition space or display wall, then we went to a conference room for a roundtable discussion. The scales and corporate cultures of the three companies were distinct, and there were major differences in the age distributions and gender ratios among our interlocutors. However, the companies’ employees generally did not know a lot about contemporary art, much less about tech-focused contemporary art. These tech companies certainly never got to the point of stopping and reflecting on the problems that tech could cause for humanity; everything was enthusiastically supported, advancing by leaps and bounds. Funding from all corners of society has poured in, and everyone wants to get on this speeding express train that is headed into the maglev tunnel of development.

At these moments, the reflections of artists seem even more untimely. Yes, contemporary artworks that focus on tech often begin with resisting capital and technological determinism and contemplating the widening rift between technology and nature. For companies that want to move bravely forward, these ideas and critiques must be jarring, and they certainly do not “add value.” For the public relations teams of major companies, craft and fine art are the same; both are used to soften a company’s image, bring the public closer, or produce tempting consumer spectacles—all issues that critical theory has probed.

Inside these tech companies, the scientists engaged in R&D often share a language with artists interested in tech issues. This is understandable because, after all, the ancient Greeks thought that art and technology originated from the same place. Both find the rules governing objects and the tension between technology and society fascinating. They are devoted to giving lifeless objects a voice, allowing people to better understand this world through these objects.

Like the organizer and my colleagues in this field trip, I believe in the necessity of deeper thought, particularly when development is going smoothly, or in industries that are esteemed in a specific time. Silicon Valley’s innovations today are closely connected to the psychedelic era’s acceptance of Zen on the West Coast in the 1960s; the collisions and fusions of different things from the same source will facilitate the next crazily imaginative outpouring of tech and art.

This field study was like throwing a stone to find out what lies ahead, but the goal was not to determine a specific direction. By listening to the echo from whatever the stone hits, we see the shape of the entire forest.

Zhang Wenxin was born in 1989 and currently lives in Hangzhou and other places. She received her MFA degree at California College of the Arts in 2013. Zhang utilizes video, CG, photography and installation, as well as combines writing and music to create process-oriented perceptual experience that usually starts from everyday experience as well as technical images and then grows into the continuous mapping on time and transcendence.

About Field Trip

Field Trip consists of a series of interdisciplinary site visits, dialogues, and surveys around the subject of research, making its report an essential part of observing media ecology.