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  • Writer's pictureJingyi Wang

Build your city, choose your weapon

Updated: Apr 22

The bedrock of collective human memory and consensus rests upon the ever-shifting tapestry of human nature. In the realms of computation and artificial intelligence, investigations into fuzzy cognitive mapping have frequently been harnessed to transmute the cognitive and semantic fabric of spatial understanding into the rigidity of mathematical or logical constructs. These constructs, in turn, have been instrumental in guiding our terrestrial journeys and prognosticating our behavioral trajectories.  Yet, I seek to suspend mathematical models and focus on exploring whether our subjective cognition of space holds the key information that defines contemporary humanity - our commonality.


My research had started unconsciously since I was still an illustration student making experimental animation about urban spectacles. All I know is that I was enchanted by the concrete jungle: the complexity of cities, and emotions, and love, and violence of social tragedies.


In this blog post, I wanted to record my enchantment of this complexity from that narrative origin, to an exploration and experimentation in computational aspects of emotions and complex systems, which might be modified and augmented in the continuation of these research. I'm restructuring my thoughts into three parts:


  • Us: Posthuman Conditions

  • Cities: Mental & City Structures

  • Love (& Violence)



Us: the Posthuman Condition


Good Old Days(GOD) is an ongoing experimental media project that explores film and its extended forms, examining the rebellion of psychic structure against its environment in digital space. More specifically, what I aim to investigate is not only the relationship between urban life and humanity under the technological advacnment, but also the (post)human condition. Humanity's definitions are continually challenged. I seek to understand the posthuman condition through our bodies (and thus our consciousness) amid these shifting conditions. Because the body affirms human biology and signifies the space occupied by humans.


This project specifically focuses on cities as the habitat environment for humanity. (It's important to note that when I refer to 'cities,' I'm actually referring to inhabited environments where people gather, rather than the traditional divisions of urban, suburban, or rural areas. Therefore, the concept of 'cities' here encompasses various environments distinguished by regions. )


Thus, my reflections help me observe non-traditional concepts of cities, such as virtual cities or posthuman cities. A significant reason for my choice of this term stems from the fact that under the advancement of technology, all aspects of life are becoming increasingly "urbanized". Even in remote mountain villages, with the introduction of network communication technology, and especially with the incorporation of algorithmic neural networks into production, they exhibit characteristics akin to living in a true megacity.



Good Old Days Part.1, 2023, Poster

Good Old Days Part.1 is an initial exploration of this child-like curiosity about emotion and mental structure in relation to space and residential environment, while the subject being myself. The result is an internally circulated fictional world, manifested through visuals, audio, and text, which evokes empirical responses in all realms.


This film may not be a perfect sample that elicits reactions from everyone, but it at least provides a testing ground. The process of making the film is an opportunity for me to examine my own responses.




If we all can elicit certain reactions to the same object, does it not at least indicate one commonality: that we all respond emotionally to certain abstract and concrete things? If this is the only relatively certain conclusion we derive from this testing environment, then the next step is to examine the origins of these abstract and concrete things(in order to understand the mecahnism) to find the human condition our emotional responses inform.




Cities: Mental & City Structures


Build Your City, Choose Your Weapon, Concept Image

The sources of emotional reactions from different agencies must be discussed separately. Extracting characteristics of agencies can yield different categories for examination. Due to my personal experiences and preferences, I prefer to focus on the habitat environment of agencies for examination because it best reflects the activity and passivity of agencies in relation to all others: communities, societies, buildings, and environments. Cities, as a system, exert military-grade temporal control over our bodies. Therefore, I want to explore how our bodies' agency, and whether it can resist the city's control over our bodies, is a topic I wish to delve into, particularly through the lens of love and emotions.


The issue of how cities control our bodies was subtly addressed in GOD Part.1. Because Part.1's medium is limited to visuals and auditory, all I could do in the limited time was to evoke memories of subjects (such as cities, families, flesh, etc.) through sensory channels and partial textual symbols. These memories evoked by watching the film may become new memories, implying what might happen in posthumam cities.


I contemplate the relationship between residents and cities from several aspects to examine how cities control bodies, our possible resistance, and the activity and passivity of agencies. These includes the volume of the other(The population and quantity of cities as economic entities, as well as the differences between areas within and between cities, determine the dynamic distance between us and the other, urban planning, and various types of loneliness, alienation, and differences), Abstract systems (existing to maintain urban operations, such as education, economy, and politics. (Habermas)), and the extension of spatial relations in cities to mental consciousness (How public and private, others and I are divided; my freedom and the freedom of others, my domain and the domain of others, my power and the power of others). Specification and more to addon in progress.


  • In GOD Part.1, I divide all spaces into three domains: Mall+school (Publics), home (Intimate), and lab (Unknown). In an urban environment under technological dominance, these spaces are intertwined, exploring how public and communal spaces bridge identities, how private spaces are etched with memories and latent violence, and how the encroachment of technology creates absurdity and disconnection.


Good Old Days Part.1, 2023, Concept Image

Good Old Days Part.1, 2023, Concept Image

I cannot explain the reasons behind this, but I always imagine human minds as some kind of colossal structure, and I find myself endlessly wanting to visualize or perceive it. Here, I draw a preliminary yet brutal conclusion only for clarification: the structure of cities and the structure of human minds mutually influence each other.





【Case Study: Build Your City, Choose Your Weapon】


I know that, at least for me, visualization, experientialization, and perception of complexities can help me understand them and guide my life. At the same time, within this vast system, I see people speaking different languages than mine, yet experiencing similar love and pain as I do. In BCCW, I began my inquiry into whether our subjective perception of space contains the crucial information that defines contemporary humanity — our commonality.


BCCW, Concept Image

Such commonality may exhibit certain characteristics (capriciousness), typically intertwined with the silent authentication of entities (collective memory); it may reflect the foundation upon which consensus can still be achieved in the development of technology. How does our perception and recollection of space reflect such capriciousness? 


I embark on research propelled by the use of brainwaves and computation, with the aim of resurrecting the subtle subterranean process of recalling the perception of space and memory when prompted by symbolic stimuli in the human mind, along with its topological relationship to collective memory.


BCCW, Concept Image

Build Your City, Choose Your Weapon(GOD Part.2) is a multimedia project that weaves an apocalyptic narrative through film, EEG brain activity, visual generation, GPT, immersive installations, and a web-based platform. It extends the interactive storytelling of my film, "Good Old Days Part.1," an experimental animation exploring an apocalyptic futuristic city and personal memories — a collective memory of a past era when the world was tangible, shaped by human hands, versus an alternative reality with a redefined humanity. 


As this project is still a work-in-progress, this post only outlines the basic idea of my current methodology without finalization. Essentially, it involves extracting brainwave responses from subjects to visual and auditory stimuli and using emotion recognition to understand their reactions to the stimuli. As mentioned earlier, the structure of a person's experience in the city interacts with their mental structure. In GOD Part.1, I explored how I transform my mental structure into visual images. In BCCW, I aim to experientially understand the interaction between mental and city structures by converting emotional responses into 3D city structures within a game engine and generating corresponding visual images. However, as an art project, this mechanism cannot directly guide the production or lives of others besides myself, thus limiting its potential to alleviate suffering. This process is solely my own experience, and it's still a work-in-progress as I continue to explore the meaning of art.




Through emotion recognition, the CONDENSATION model adjusts city structures and game engine camera parameters to influence city imagery. It is inspired by Sigmund Freud's concept of condensation in dreams, which describes how distinct elements merge to form singular dream images (Freud, 1900).


BCCW, Condensation
BCCW, Development Process

See more and watch demo of this project here.




Love (& Violence)


What role does love play in the relationship between cities and their residents? While discussions about rationality(logos) can lead to various classifications and debates, abstract concepts about love(eros) have become my focal point of interest when discussing what influences human's decisions. I'll set aside the definition of love for now and consider subjects as residents of the city to examine what I observed and feel about love.


So, I created Good Old Days Part.1 and attempted to understand love and its complexities in relation to urban structure during the making process.


It is a short experimental film that tells a story about a city with a collective memory of a bygone era and its tangled residents. It’s done through a series of absurd cinematic shots, pixelated spatial transitions, scenario-based sounds, and symbolic graphical repetition. 


Watch the film here.


Good Old Days Part.1, 2023


Incipiently, what excited me were the metaphorical connections between urban living spaces and our mental structure—the angles of walls, the lines of buildings, the spatial relationships of objects—and how silent they were as stages for the potential violence of love. The way each of us perceives one’s topological relation between ourselves and other individuals/objects formed the foundation of our mental architecture.

If we were to imagine the intricate relationships of all things in our cognition as some colossal structure (perhaps infinite, beyond our imagination), the shifts within that structure would appear violent, and the leaps between nodes would seem absurd. We tend to interpret this force that generates structural shifts as love. When it happens, an undercurrent that can destroy life and imply death surges around.

 

This is our life, and this film signifies this kind of life.



Good Old Days Part.1, 2023


My instinct compels me to constantly envision the places I habit in as metaphors for such structures, but I cannot ignore the impact of these spaces and objects on my physical being. I can interact with them, and I can undergo spiritual transformation through them. My living room (or all spaces) is no longer just a living area; it's a crucible for my thoughts and practices. In an era without the internet, everyone could become a life meditator because we would inevitably engage extensively with environments, existing in thought and practice. However, in the digital age, the internet and technology enable us to access the possibility of being gods.


By establishing a non-physical network of relations and visualized virtual places, we seem to gain overwhelming control and dominance. The power to imagine topological relationships becomes a daily, legally commonplace mental "drug," and even a tool of consumerism. Online gatherings, chat rooms, comment sections, and such places don't bring us closer but alienate us more. I hope I'm wrong. I hope technology broadens human boundaries, unlocking the potential for humanity to become godlike. If destiny has led us here, I hope "we" can become benevolent and wise deities. "I" want to understand how to let tendrils grow into the pipelines, to focus on how these structures are specifically constructed.

 

The affirmative side is a city that can be touched, while the opposing is a city with redefined humanity, and between them lies a clearing (of pixels); or an empty mall lounge, a classroom haunted by whisper, and family hallways where blood and flesh are connected ---- places of our roots and memories.










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