Iris Long (curator)
Iris Long: It is not enough to just look at the stars, but also to see the logic and ethics behind them
Interview completed on July 20, 2022
Editor: Emma Lee Images: provided by interviewee
From Iris Long’s interviews and articles, I read an old soul. Then I saw her picture and she turned out to be a young curator! I joined a digital art team earlier this year, and only then did I really start to pay attention to digital art and the meta-universe, and was subsequently fascinated by the grand cosmology it encompassed. 2019 was the year when the first black hole photo in human history was released, and Phoenix WEEKLY quoted Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" – I was then deeply impressed by his magnificent text and vast cosmology. After completing the research on Iris, I realized that what I observed before was only a one-sided and apparently superficial perception of science and the universe; there is a series of logic and ethics behind them, and they can be explored and deeply investigated in the form of art curation.
Pale Blue Dot is a famous photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe as part of that day's Family Portrait series of images of the Solar System, where Earth appears as a tiny dot within deep space: the blueish-white speck almost halfway up the rightmost band of light. (Source: Phoenix WEEKLY)
Deep Field – Galaxy cluster SMACS J0723.3-7327, the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has delivered so far. This image is the telescope’s first-full color image released. It was released on July 11, 2022 (EDT). (Source: NASA)
Q1: Do you believe in Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, or Christianity? What books are you reading lately? What music do you listen to?
A: I believe in Taoism.
I've been reading two English e-books recently: “Reactivating Elements: Chemistry, Ecology, Practice” (co-edited by Dimitris Papadopoulos, María Puig de la Bellacasa and Natasha Myers, 2022) and “The Future of Fallout, and other Episodes in Radioactive World-making" (by Joseph Masco, 2021).
Recently (or always) I've been listening to Joep Beving, Max Richter and Philip Glass.
Q2: How has the pandemic changed the way you work?
A: All my exhibitions in the first half of this year were postponed, some to the second half of the year, some to next year – thanks to the postponement, I got a lot of free time! As to how it has changed the way I work, practically speaking, is that I travel more fearfully.
The most representative cellphone photo during the pandemic:
I am the cat, the cat is me
Q3: About Richard Prince’s controversial Instagram-sourced “New Portraits” series, Nate Harrison of the photography site American Suburb X wrote a lengthy investigation titled “How to Sue Richard Prince and Win.” “[In Cariou v. Prince] the court essentially indicated that authorial intent is of lesser concern, because what ultimately yields meaning in a work is that which the reasonable viewer…brings to it." Harrison writes. As a curator, what kind of knowledge structure do you think a "reasonable viewer" should have?
A: I looked up the case. The context in which "reasonable viewer" is used is to determine whether Prince's work constitutes copyright infringement. Out of this context, I, myself, actually would never expect any "reasonable viewer", and I even feel that if I use "reasonable" to describe the viewer of the exhibition, it has the feeling of shaping the borderline a little bit. In addition, I don't really resonate with the term "knowledge structure" – I've been thinking about what "knowledge" is and what "knowledge" means in my work. What is the relationship between "knowledge" and "to know"? Is the feeling from the change of seasons knowledge? Is an image observed on a street corner knowledge? Is something that cannot be written down knowledge? Can something that is forgotten still be called knowledge? I hope that "knowledge" is not a structured output/input (I believe you can understand my fear of academic production machines), but something that is very real and concrete, something that is naturally picked up, encountered, even forgotten and misinterpreted in the course of each person's life. Back to the context of the exhibition, I do not want the audience to come to my exhibition with a certain kind of "knowledge", nor do I want the exhibition to transmit "knowledge". I want my exhibition to be communicative – to communicate with anyone.
Q4: Can you talk about the possibility/imagination of the little boy who develops human consciousness/emotion in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”, and the NPC who develops human consciousness/emotion in Shawn Levy’s “Free Guy”?
A: I actually don't think either of these forms are particularly imaginative – they are more like AI matryoshka dolls (we take the Creator mentality to imagine the intelligences becoming ourselves). The interesting part is naturally that we can draw on the experiences of these intelligences to tell stories about our own emotions and experiences; the uninteresting part is that it seems that these kinds of narratives are entwined with a kind of human ego – eventually it's all about "us"/"me", whether friend or foe, it's always about "ourselves". I'm looking forward to seeing some imaginations that untie the "self". How exactly do we imagine these new existences?
In fact, Ted Chiang's description of the linguistic/temporal view of extraterrestrial intelligence in “Stories of Your Life and Others” seems to me just did that. Although the story is still related to humans, the "intelligence" it creates is clearly not modeled on humans.
“Stories of Your Life and Others” by Ted Chiang
Q5: Nowadays, whether traveling, eating, or even visiting an exhibition, people use their cellphone cameras to "see/eat" first, and cellphones as a way of viewing seem to block the direct connection between people and nature/environment. In this context, is cellphone a progress or a regression? (Neutrality of technology, technology liberating the body…)
A: I agree with the first half of your question, cellphone cameras do "see/eat" faster than many of their owners. But in terms of "blocking direct contact between people and nature/environment", I prefer to think that this situation is caused by complex technological systems (communication, modern transportation, and more basic technologies), and it seems more obvious that cellphones or screen devices are only taking on the role of interface/terminal. So instead of questioning the cellphone, perhaps we could question the whole set of technological structures embedded in the ground – what Benjamin Bratton describes as "stack". This question can be further pursued by asking what is the view of nature behind the separation of man and "nature"/"environment" (which can also lead to different perceptions of "when the separation begins"). In the Marxist context, for example, labor itself already separates man from nature; in Bruno Latour's context, only in the pre-modern world are man and nature integrated (“We Have Never Been Modern”). Rather than attributing everything to smart devices, I am more interested in discerning how these perceptions give us ideas for understanding the planet or nature; and that a coordinate system comprised of many perspectives is important.
“We Have Never Been Modern” by Bruno Latour
Q6: Personally, do you feel that you are enslaved by your own phone?
A: No, I can always stop looking at my phone, and I am even often scolded for slow responses on WeChat.
Q7: Science is the only religion that admits that it can only explain very little and admits its mistakes at any time; science is equivalent to religion in assuming the ultimate explanation. What kind of imagination do you have about the breakthrough of art creation using technology as a tool?
A: Science does not necessarily "admit its mistakes at any time". Some arguments take decades. In fact, modern science can hardly be reduced to a set of interpretative discourses about absolute truths, and the lineage of science itself has undergone two historical trends: subspecialty (for greater efficiency) and reintegration ("grand unification"), and has been influenced by political and social forces ("absolutely neutral and independent science" is an oversimplified reading). The relationship between science and religion is even more complex, and it feels impossible to properly develop an answer.
From the perspective of the field in which I work – let's call it "technological art" – the use of technology as a tool can only be described as a beginning. Of course, the fact that a specific technical means can be used as a tool will attract the curiosity and attention of many artists at the beginning. But if it stays at the tool stage – for example, GAN is commonly used by artists – it will soon become unconstructive. My favorite artists who study technology are the ones who can get inside, ask questions, make mind-bending use of the tools, or deconstruct the tools themselves and question the social, economic and cultural situation of the particular technology itself (e.g. AI dataset bias). I choose to believe that artists are not entirely passive in the face of our current technological environment, and that it would be too passive for artists to use only the set of technological tools that are "provided" to them.
Q8: According to an article of Electrek published on June 20, Tesla fired both Bobby Berretta-Paris, the company's "LGBTQ+ community president," and another diversity and inclusion movement leader. What do you think about this? Do you think political correctness (animal protectionism, race, feminism, etc.) is a cannibalization of human intelligence and civilization?
A: First of all, "political correctness" seems to me to be a product of the trialing and pulling of multiple forces – I feel that there is no such thing as "eternal" political correctness. Many boundaries and "principles" are obtained through arguments, theoretical thinking, and even the sacrifice of specific people. And "political correctness" can sometimes be destroyed (what do you think of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, for example), it's a dynamic thing.
Regarding the relationship between "political correctness" and "human intelligence and civilization", I don't seem to understand.
Q9: In your project, how do you represent society's use of technology to civilize/brutalize individuals?
A: Eh, I find that this series of questions has an either/or approach. "Civilization vs. brutality", "progress vs. regression", "science vs. religion", I'm not very good at answering either/or questions – maybe because I'm a Gemini! From my own projects, I'm more concerned with the tension between people's perceptions of technology and the generic narratives of commercial companies. For example, in "Lying Sophia and Mocking Alexa", both characters in the exhibition title are actually the names of AI-oriented products of technology companies, but both are also criticized/controversial (accused of falsification or over-interpretation). The natural contradiction of this narrative becomes an important thread in the exhibition. In the exhibition "The Ground is Falling", I actually observed the opposite of the common discourse of "space technology" such as foreign conquest, "interstellar colonization", and the space race. My focus is on the fallen spacecraft, the parts left behind and forgotten by the conquest narrative, and the "life path" of these technological objects themselves. It is difficult to say whether these technologies are civilized or brutal to individuals, because they are often too indistinguishable, intertwined with complex threads. All I can do is to present more of this complexity.
Poster of "Lying Sophia and Mocking Alexa
Poster of "The Ground is Falling"
Q10: Back in 2007, when I was researching Second Life, I was already asking: What's next? At that time, Second Life was still a pristine online virtual world – they were struggling with whether it was a multi-player "game" or a "platform". Now, more than a decade later, AR, VR, and Elon Musk have all taken off. What is the social platform after FaceBook, Instagram and WeChat? Google Earth? After cellphone, will our whole body become a terminal of technology?
A: I am ashamed to say that I am not a social enthusiast, so my imagination of social platforms may be very limited. I was once obsessed with open source maps like OpenStreetMap, and was curious about what geographic information would look like when edited by different people.
StreetComplete asking user a question. User filled in the answer. After tapping "OK" this answer will be added to an OpenStreetMap database. (Author: Tobias Zwick, Date: 21 February 2018, Source: GitHub)
2021 "Temporal Stack: The Deep Sensor" (co-curated with He Zike), Upper Space, Guiyang, Guizhou
2021-2022 "The Ground is Falling", Aranya Art Center, Qinhuangdao, Hebei
2021 "Blue Cables in Venetian Watercourse", Power Station of Art, Shanghai
2020-2021 "The Final Prophet" (co-curated with Qiu Zhijie), Shenzhen Bay STArts Festival
2020 "You Can Say: ‘Reset the Room’", Brownie Project SH, Shanghai
2019-2020 "Mind the Deep: Artificial Intelligence & Artistic Creation" (co-curated with Qiu Zhijie), Ming Contemporary Art Museum, Shanghai
2019-2020 "Latent Spectators", UNART Center, Shanghai
2019 "Lying Sophia and Mocking Alexa", Hyundai Motorstudio, Beijing
She was shortlisted by the first M21-IAAC Award (International Awards for Art Criticism). Her translation work, “Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media”, received nomination from AAC Art China awards in 2016. In 2018, she was the recipient of Hyundai Blue Prize for curators. She has curated exhibitions around art and technology, such as “Lying Sophia and Mocking Alexa” (sophialexa.com), “Blue Cables in Venetian Watercourse” (PSA Emerging Curator’s Program) and the 3rd Today Art Museum “Future of Today”. She has curated solo exhibitions for Liu Xin, Lauren Lee McCarthy and so on. She was also the art jury of ISEA 2019 and SIGGRAPH ASIA 2020. In 2021, she initialized “Port: Under the Cloud”, a long-term research and curatorial project on the infrastructures of science and technology in China.
Iris’ research has been presented in “Art and Artificial Intelligence” (Open Conference, ZKM), “Art Machines: International Symposium on Computational Media Art (ISCMA)” (Hong Kong), Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts (London), ISEA and so on. She has also worked with tech companies such as Microsoft, SenseTime and LandSpace.