Shadow Play: Tales of Urbanization of China (Part I) (2014)

Over the past few decades, China has been undergoing urbanization at an astounding pace. In 2013, the newly inaugurated national leadership raised the process to a new gear when it unveiled its plan of converting 70 percent of the population to a city-oriented lifestyle by 2025. Such a significant change would undoubtedly transform the character of a country that has been largely agrarian throughout its millennia of history. One may wonder how, and to what extent, the landscape, culture, and daily being of the nation’s people may be altered. As artists, we are compelled to explore and reflect upon the various phases of this historic undertaking. Through fieldwork in China, we collect the ingredients necessary for a multimedia production that combines traditional artistic expressions with emerging technologies. Weaving three interfaces, namely virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and physical reality, the new media art project visualizes the metamorphosis that results from the urbanization process. With a retrospective into the past through time-honored imagery, and a reflection of the present through immersion in the realities of the modern China, we seek to present the unfolding of a monumental development to the conscience of a worldwide audience.

Full Description

Integrating both virtual reality and mobile phone augmented reality technology with traditional Chinese art and storytelling, the virtual installations of Shadow Play: Tales of Urbanization of China portray a society undergoing an unprecedented process of urbanization. The narrative of the 'Family of the Village Head' is based upon a series of real-life incidents that have taken place during this time of tumult; clashes over land eviction, kidnapping of children, suicides of migrant workers, and man-made environmental catastrophes are among them. In executing the piece, Lily & Honglei created a number of characters whose visual forms draw inspiration from traditional Chinese shadow play.

AR Installation: Utilizing the capabilities of augmented reality technology, the audience may then experience the installation in real time and space through their mobile phones. The classically-inspired shadow-puppet characters are superimposed upon real-world locations in the rural and urbanizing regions in northern China. Through phone cameras, two layers of imagery are merged; the foreground comes to life in a digital application atop the background of reality. It is this dynamic between the new and the traditional, between modern realities and the age-old human condition that embodies the implications of the work.

VR Installation: The VR installation Shadow Play is accessible through Second Life, a popular online Multi-user Virtual Environment (MUVE). First download Second Life application, then visit the installation here. If you have questions locating the artwork in Second Life, please email us at:

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Artist Statement

Integrating the emerging technology of virtual reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) with an intriguing Chinese folk art form known as shadow play, the virtual installation Shadow Play: Tales of Urbanization of China creates an opportunity for the audience to experience the changing landscapes of contemporary China. In four chapters, virtual installation sheds light upon real-life incidents such as clashes during land evictions resulting from urban expansion, children abductions, suicides of migrant workers, and predicaments involving the cultural and environmental degradation.

Chapter I. The Land: Death of the Village Head Chapter II. The Ruins: Lost Children Chapter III. The City: Into the Void Chapter IV. The Maze: No Exit

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