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    xin liu

    Photo: Rob Chron / zero g images: Steve Boxall

xin liu: exploring space(s) in art, science, and human emotion

Emerging artist and engineer Xin Liu believes that gravity is the momentum of feelings: Everyone on earth is tethered to human emotion. The momentum of Xin’s massive success in art and science, however, cannot be weighed down. Xin’s expansive, interplanetary ideas are tethered only to the stars.

Xin Liu is the current Arts Curator in the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, the recipient of the Van Lier Fellowship from Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and an artist in residence at Queens Museum, New York. Using her extensive background in tech, Xin examines the role technology plays in the human experience – not for exploitation or hegemonic control, as Xin explains in her artist’s statement – for a recovery of the joys and pains that make us human; the feelings that serve, in a sense, as gravity. Because when we collectively understand that emotion simultaneously serves to connect us and keep us earthbound, we have the potential to evolve beyond this force field.

Case in point: “Orbit Weaver”, Xin’s latest performance for MIT Media Lab, where she more or less played spider woman (not the Marvel Comics variety) in a zero gravity chamber. The artist, holding an OW-Body device that shot out string with a magnetized tip, wove an arachnid-esque web through space. In this way, despite her weightless state, Xin did not lose her agency. She defied both gravity and the lack thereof. Xin’s “antidisciplinary” creative problem solving for the future illustrates MIT Media Lab’s mission perfectly. “Humanity,” per the Lab’s vision, “stands on the cusp of interplanetary civilization and space is our next, grand frontier. This opportunity to design our interplanetary lives beckons to us—our collective creativity strives to bring science fiction to life.” As demonstrated by future-focused artists like Xin, space exploration has the opportunity to unify us beyond our pre-existing boundaries, nations, and economies… beyond, even, our bodies.

“it is time to expect an interplanetary body”

says Xin. “A body free from the grasps of gravity.” Such a body is examined in much of her work: “Tear Set”, for instance, which features a ‘crying machine’ that replicates the artist’s own tears. Here, the work addresses the tension of desiring intimacy. Observers of Xin’s work could see and touch three liters of Xin’s artificial tears, a concept evocative of that quintessential human dilemma: Wanting to express your feelings and be seen without actually having to feel said feelings.

Then there’s “Masque”, a psychoacoustic mask that manipulates the wearer’s perception of their breath. Imagine hearing yourself hyperventilating. When the “Masque” study group heard themselves breathing quickly, their hearts also quickened, and their awareness of their own anxiety levels – even their sexual attraction levels – were vastly skewed. In all of her works, Xin creates experiences and objects to reorganize and make sense of our shared “psychological, emotional, cultural, and perceptual approaches to the world”. In other words, Xin examines what makes us human.

Photo: Xin Liu, Sean Hongxin Zhang

Perspective is important when it comes to predicting this future. By providing space for diverse young artists and engineers to create freely, programs like MIT Media Lab, and studio fellowships at Queen’s Museum and New York’s Museum of Arts and Design give us insight into what the future holds beyond the slender scope of our own experience. At MAD, museum visitors have direct access to Xin’s studio, where they can engage more intimately with her process. At Queen’s Museum, Xin is one of seven supported artists from seven vastly different backgrounds. All of these programs prioritize creating spaces for women and artists of color, allowing public access to a boundless galaxy of viewpoints.

me Convention was honored to feature Xin’s perspective in Stockholm this year. In her talk “We May Be All Alone: Space Exploration and Human Perception”, the artist examined the profound loneliness and uncertainty we have always attributed to Planet Earth, and the human perceptions and experiences of our planetary condition in relation to the boundless nothingness surrounding our planet. In a deeply moving conversation, Xin argued for the immediate need for humans to feel a connection beyond earth’s atmosphere: a heartfelt presence from outer space, if you will.

On Earth and in space, our connections – to other humans, to ourselves, to the cosmos – become our future. So much mystery remains, but one thing is clear: Xin Liu’s future is one to watch.

While you’re at it, you can watch Xin’s full-length talk here:

Disclaimer: The views of me Convention speakers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either Mercedes-Benz and/or SXSW.