China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Chinese artists and filmmakers increasingly experiment with Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to create a multisensory cultural experience. Many works emerging from mainland China thereby hint at an intriguing tendency: rather than evoking visions of the future, they deploy immersive technologies to revive Chinese history. Examples are Yu Hong, whose virtual 3D painting facilitates time-travel through the artist’s autobiography while revisiting instances of early shamanism. In the realm of AR, media artists such as Cao Fei and Lily&Honglei code apps that overlay contemporary physical space with (at times, subversive) allusions to the past. AR/VR already finds history-related applications in the educational contexts of museums and heritage sites, yet artists’ and filmmakers’ preoccupation with the past stems precisely from an urgency to redress distortions in mainstream Chinese historiography. Located at the intersection of art history, film studies and technology, this paper probes into the role that immersive interface design can play in negotiating Chinese history in works of visual culture. It looks at the strategies to create a sense of ‘presence’ in mimetic historical spaces and how user agency and interactivity are simultaneously challenging authorial control. Taking cues from cognitive neuroscience and cultural studies, the paper attempts to examine how differing degrees of immersion can translate into an embodied knowledge that persists in the real world. At the heart of the study lies the question whether virtual environments can serve as cultural experiential sites for the formation of a history-informed identity in China’s postsocialist present.