“I feel like it was the first time during the pandemic that thinkers or writers from all over the world were talking about the same issue at the same time,” Sukanya Deb profiles artist Ziyang Wu and his artwork Where Did Macy Go for Stir World.
Discovering the use of Instagram filters in the artworks of Ziyang Wu
Looking at the 11-episode video project, Where Did Macy Go, by artist Ziyang Wu, who archives and speculates around the COVID-19 global pandemic and its societal implications.
By Sukanya Deb
Where Did Macy Go? is an 11-episode animated video work by artist Ziyang Wu that looks at the conditions that have been instituted on a global scale as a result of the COVID-19from 2020 onwards. In the artwork’s recreation of the societal implications and repercussions of the pandemic, Wu documents political events and para-societal processes that are simultaneously at play, while investigating ideas around ‘post-truth’ narratives. The video work focuses on episodic news reports that supposedly document the figure and character of Macy’s interaction with the pandemic, his eventual contraction of the virus, his isolation, death, and further speculations by the media. An important dimension of the work outside of the animated videos are the Instagram face filters that Wu has created as an extension of the project.
“I feel like it was the first time during the pandemic that thinkers or writers from all over the world were talking about the same issue at the same time,” the artist tells STIR over a Zoom conversation. This was a starting point for the conceptualisation of the project, where the global scale of events and televised news is a reflection of our current societal structure.
Macy is an elusive figure who is being tracked by media reports in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, where it is eventually unclear as to the actual series of events that took place. The artist reflects on the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ and media hype that surrounds any particular event. Following media reports that consisted of unverified sources and information, Wu considers the nature of a global system of misinformation in the real world after the outbreak of the virus. There are recurring elements that are identifiable as a part of the post-COVID era, such as working from home, isolation, face masks, conditions of hospitals and more, reflecting on a seemingly new world order which is said to be occurring through Macy’s laptop, in the artwork. Notably, Macy is seen in a Hugh Hefner style bed adorning his bathrobe and slippers, in a reference to the famous photograph of the latter with magazines and print material strewn across the bed. In a comic reference, Wu describes this as one of the most famous examples of historically working from home. In the project, this was conceptualised as the Telerepublic of Home.
After contracting the virus at a Black Lives Matter protest in Seattle, the media report follows the quarantining of Macy, after which he is said to have disappeared from the hospital. Archiving contemporary events, Wu has recreated the Robert E Lee statue that was defaced and graffitied as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. The figure of Macy is an almost Messianic figure where, according to the fictional television news reports, the most common opinion in the narrative is that he comes back to life on the third day.
In reference to theorist Paul B. Preciado’s reading of writer Roberto Esposito, Wu says, “It was one of the most important parts conceptually that comes back to the idea of ‘immunity’ and ‘community’. In order to be part of a community, you have to be immunised.” The artist speaks further about the connection that is drawn out by Preciado between the concepts of ‘community’ and ‘immunity’ through its common Latin root word ‘munus’ that refers to duty. While the connection between community and immunity reminds us of the controversial conception of ‘herd immunity’ at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis blatantly exploited by politicians, the artist explains in reference to Preciado who speaks about the racial, sexual and socioeconomic exclusion in society based on the ideas of disease and immunity, looking at homosexuality (in reference to the AIDS outbreaks), immigrants, sex workers and more. In the work, another point of reflection for the artist was the precarity of labour conditions. With the omnipresent nature of delivery services across the world due to the proliferation of corporate interests such as Amazon and Uber, the service industry reflects class and racial privilege. Working from home becomes a privilege that is not extended to all sections of society.
In relation to the face filters, the artist tells me about his initial hesitation around making virtual or augmented reality works due to specific applications required in order to interact with it. But due to the ubiquitous nature of Instagram, he was able to use the medium as a way to extend his artwork. At an initial stage of the project, Wu also released the video works over the social media application TikTok, where he even bought ads. The networked nature of his intention is revealed in the way that Wu makes his works available.
Wu says, “The concept mainly comes from this collective narrative. If someone is using one of the Macy filters, they become part of the narrative or the whole project.”
The idea of a collective society that is supposedly connected via Macy’s laptop is further explored through the Instagram face filters, where a user is able to embody the fictional, elusive figure, stepping into the narrative that is not too far from our own. The ‘Macy (Split Face)’ face filter splits one’s face into four sections while a masked face emerges from behind the mask. This can be read as a reference to the face masks that are used in the work Where Did Macy Go? Episode 8, where philosophers’ faces are adorned on face masks. Reversing the conceptual premise, it is the user’s face that comes off to reveal a masked self, referring to collective human existence transformed by the outbreak of COVID-19, where everyone’s identity, marked through the face, becomes irrelevant.
Were the artist to make the face filters available within an exhibition or gallery setting, Wu says that he would create a mobile application for visitors or users to download, expanding the possibilities of the experience. He refers to them as ‘image triggered’ where this hypothetical application would be an extension of the artwork into the ‘real’ world or perhaps the corollary where the user is inserted into the artwork. The future of exhibition experience and interactivity of artworks becomes a point to consider in the future of art, where the exhibition goer becomes the ‘user’ incorporated into the ‘user experience’, extending from exhibition logic to digital interface logic.