New York-Based Artist Shuwan Chen Answers Questions on How She Pushes the Boundaries of Digital and Physical Art

Exclusively for ELLE.UA

In a harmonious blend of cutting-edge digital technology and physical artistry, Shuwan Chen, the pioneering co-founder of :iidrr Gallery in New York, is reshaping the landscape of contemporary art. Her innovative fusion of digital and physical mediums, particularly her skillful transformation of glitched digital data into new artistic creations, introduced fresh creative expression, mirroring the intricate interplay of today`s digitally intertwined world.

During an insightful conversation with ELLE.UA, Chen delves into her journey of artfully weaving together digital and physical art forms. She gives a glimpse into her role in propelling contemporary art forward through the platform of :iidrr Gallery and her commitment to empowering artists to explore and showcase their distinct creative visions.

Grids, machine learning, 2021

Early Inspirations

What initially drew you to the world of art, and how did your journey in the visual arts begin?

From a young age, I was enchanted by the power of visual storytelling and its capacity to express intricate narratives. This fascination sparked my journey into photography and sculpture, where I found a profound ability to capture and convey complex emotions and ideas. My passion for contemporary art truly blossomed after graduating from university in Australia. In 2017, I studied PR, Marketing, and Photography at the London College of Communication. During those transformative days in London, immersed in its vibrant art scene, I resolved to devote my lifetime to the pursuit of visual arts.

Can you describe the moment or experience that inspired you to blend digital and physical mediums in your art?

The turning point came during my MFA program, where I experimented with digital glitches in images. I was captivated by the idea of transforming these «errors» into aesthetic and meaningful art pieces, blending the precision of digital technology with the tangibility of physical mediums. I`ve always been a tech geek, eager to bring what`s behind the screen into the physical realm. A pivotal moment was in 2018 when my hard drive broke, and I lost all my photos, leaving me with only glitched archives. That`s when I started to explore glitches as a bridge between digital and physical art.

What’s your and your co-founder’s inspiration behind :iidrr Gallery?

:iidrr Gallery was born from a shared vision to create a space where the boundaries between digital innovation and traditional art forms could be explored and dissolved. We aimed to champion artists who dare to redefine these boundaries. Initially, we started as an online content and artist platform based in New York City focused on art, tech, new media, and vibrant cultures worldwide. By 2022, we had around 30,000 followers across all platforms and decided to establish a physical space to bring together the digital art community, which is incredibly supportive and collaborative.

Pixels 02 Archival pigment print, 2020

Challenges and Career Highlights

How do you approach the creative process when working on a new piece that combines digital and physical elements? What specific digital techniques or technologies have you used?

My creative process is a fusion of advanced digital techniques and traditional artistry. Utilizing a wide array of methods, including 3D modeling, Python-based machine learning, 3D printing, and silver gelatin printing, I showcase a spectrum of artistic capabilities. This diverse approach has led to my work being featured in several exhibitions. My work has been showcased at the «SITUASIAN» exhibition at the LanlanLi Medical Aesthetics Centre in Xiamen, China (September 2022), the MFA thesis show 2022 at SVA Chelsea Gallery (June 2022), and «Island of Light» in New York (April 2022). My earlier showcases include «Looking Back, Stepping Forward» at Nanjing Tech Week (June 2020) and «Consciousness of Abstraction» at ARC Gallery (March 2020). My journey in art is one of continuous learning, adapting, and applying new techniques to create works uniquely mine.

What are your biggest challenges when merging digital art with physical forms and collaborating with other artists?

Merging digital and physical forms presents its unique set of challenges, but it`s these challenges that fuel my innovation. I dedicate significant time to mastering new techniques, ensuring that each artwork I create is a testament to my ability to blend the latest technology with traditional methods. This process is not just about technical proficiency; it`s about translating complex concepts into tangible art forms.

Could you share details about one of your favorite projects or pieces that exemplify your unique approach to art?

Among my most celebrated works is a series of 3D-printed sculptures derived from digital glitches. This project exemplifies my love for artistic metamorphosis: taking 2D images, transforming them into 3D structures, and then reinterpreting them into 2D forms. It’s a process that mirrors the ongoing evolution of art, crossing boundaries between dimensions. These pieces have not only been lauded for their inventive approach but have also cemented my status as an innovator in the field.

How have audiences, critics, and fellow artists responded to your innovative digital and physical art blend?

The response to my art from audiences, critics, and peers has been both positive and validating. My blend of digital and physical art is recognized for its groundbreaking approach, often noted for its striking beauty and visual harmony. While the aesthetic appeal of my work is sometimes seen as overwhelming, it’s this intersection of beauty and unexpectedness, particularly in errors and glitches, that I find most compelling. This aspect underscores my art`s unique niche, merging the conventionally beautiful with the avant-garde.

Mold 02, Silver gelatin print, 2019

Digital and Physical Art in the Future

In your opinion, what is the future of digital art, and how do you see physical and digital mediums interacting in the years to come with emerging technologies like AI and VR?

In contemplating the future of digital art, I consider how emerging technologies like AI and VR might shape our artistic expressions. It’s a continuous learning journey to understand the role of these advancements, not just in art creation but also in how we perceive and interact with art. My reflections, shared in discussions, represent an ongoing exploration rather than definitive conclusions and contribute to a broader conversation about art’s evolution in our digital age.

How do you see :iidrr Gallery expanding in the coming years?

The potential expansion of :iidrr Gallery is an exciting yet thoughtful process. We’re considering extending our reach, both virtually and physically, to establish connections in cities like New York and Shanghai. This vision aligns with our goal to embrace a more comprehensive array of art forms and technologies, and it reflects a collective commitment, rather than personal accolades, to advancing the field of contemporary art.

What advice would you give to young artists interested in exploring the intersection of digital and physical art forms?

As someone still navigating their artistic path, I feel my experiences could offer insights to young artists. The digital art world is ever-evolving; keeping pace with its changes can be as challenging as rewarding. My journey has taught me the value of staying true to one’s passions and continuously exploring new possibilities.

How does your philosophy or worldview influence your artistic choices, particularly in blending digital and physical art?

My approach to art is guided by a search for balance—between the tangible and the virtual and between coherence and disarray. This pursuit is not about finding definitive answers but exploring the interplay between these contrasts. It’s a process that continually shapes my work and, I hope, adds a meaningful voice to the broader dialogue about the convergence of digital and physical art forms.

Lastly, what kind of impact do you hope your work will have on the art world and future generations of artists?

My objective is to make a meaningful impact in the art world by cultivating a supportive environment that champions creative exploration and challenges artistic conventions. This involves collaborative projects and partnerships with various artists, institutions, and cultural organizations. Through these collaborations, I aim to create a platform for dialogue, learning, and innovation, inspiring and nurturing the next generation of artists. My vision is to foster a diverse and dynamic artistic community, rich in its various voices and ideas, where emerging talents are encouraged to experiment and express their unique artistic visions.

Indeed, the intersection of digital and physical art testifies to the adaptability and resilience of art. Chen’s work and the :iidrr Gallery prove the power of innovation and the endless possibilities when art transcends traditional boundaries. As the digital and physical worlds merge, the vision of the 2019 International Photography Awards and the Prisma Art Prize awardee offers a glimpse into the future, where art is limitless and boundlessly imaginative, able to bring something new to the table.


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