Currently studying Fashion Communication: Image at Central Saint Martins, Reiki Zhang (@reiki.77) uses 3D digital images as a creative medium to deconstruct reality and recreate it in the virtual world. The work focuses on exploring new expressions of Eastern culture and socialist identity in fashion imagery.
Her work has been featured on NOWNESS, Vogue, LABELHOOD, Nasty Magazine among others.
Good morning Reiki, for a start I have to admit that your body of work is quite impressive and I’d like to start from your latest work “Faerie” which involved Virgen Maria (@imvirgenmaria), an artist well known for her constant shapeshifting and her technology-infused approach to body identity. Since the distinctions between physical and virtual are blurred (and luckily so), what you achieved through the use of 3D photomontage shows us once again that embodiment, subjectivity and character design are equivalent. How was the experience of working with Virgen Maria?
Working with Virgen Maria has been a truly inspiring and exhilarating experience. Her remarkable talent for embracing transformation and her inventive approach to the fusion of technology and body identity deeply resonated with me. This collaboration was initiated when Bea, the art director based in Paris, approached me, recognizing our shared aesthetic and inviting me to participate in the project. Together, we pushed the boundaries of 3D composite photography and character design.
Bea provided me with the stylistic theme and concept for the shoot, tasking me with the challenge of transforming Maria into a fantastical hybrid creature, a blend of human and insect. To achieve this, I meticulously sculpted her otherworldly limb using ZBrush, ensuring it was rich in detail and exuded a sense of power that distinguished it from natural skin textures. As with character design, I emphasized a sense of internal consistency, ensuring that the newly grown organic components of her hybrid form harmonized seamlessly with her clothing, accessories, and overall characterization.
What drew you towards 3D design?
I was attracted to 3D design because of its remarkable potential to create immersive, dynamic and interactive experiences. Initially, I studied visual communication design, focusing mainly on graphic design. However, I soon realized that designing books or typography did not fully satisfy my creative aspirations. This realization led me to explore various tools and forms of artistic expression.
I then began to experiment with developing surreal props and physical installations in collaboration with photographers and I was drawn to the concept of transcending the limits of the physical world. Three-dimensional design offers the freedom to create images that would otherwise require a large team and resources to produce in reality.
As a digital artist, 3D design allows me to bring my visions to life in a way that transcends the traditional medium of art. It offers an incredible opportunity to delve into an alternative reality that challenges traditional artistic boundaries and allows me to express my creativity in a unique and innovative way.
One of the possibilities opened up by 3D art is the reenchantment of our physical world. With the rapid technological advancement unfolding before our own eyes, the physical world becomes just another interface traversed by material and immaterial fluxes. Is there a specific goal driving your artistic practice?
At its core, my artistic practice aims to establish the distinctiveness and irreplaceability of my work. I strive to break away from established rules and systems, seeking innovative ways to produce images that deviate from traditional photography and transcend clichés and mundane routines. While it can be challenging to balance creative and commercial demands, I remain committed to my artistic vision.
My work is driven by a desire to explore and understand the relationship between the physical and digital worlds. I'm particularly fascinated by digital technology's capacity to recreate reality, allowing my creations to defy not only physical boundaries but also those of time. This journey encourages me to delve deeper into my own personality and cultural identity. In the future, I plan to produce more content inspired by both traditional and contemporary Chinese culture.
Through my art, I aim to spark conversations surrounding the intersection of technology, my personal cultural experiences, and fashion. By doing so, I hope to contribute to a broader discourse on the evolving nature of artistic expression and its connection to our rapidly changing world.
Many of your projects are presented as collaborations with fashion designers: what kind of relationship there is between fashion and technology?
Fashion and technology share a symbiotic relationship, as both disciplines thrive on constant innovation and pushing boundaries. Fashion continually seeks fresh and relevant visual expressions, while technology propels new possibilities.
There's a popular saying that "fashion is a cycle," exemplified by the resurgence of the Y2K aesthetic. This cyclical nature suggests that fashion can occasionally face innovation bottlenecks without revolutionary technological breakthroughs. However, as the metaverse concept gains widespread recognition and AI technology continues to advance, the impact of technological changes on the fashion industry becomes more apparent.
These changes bring more diversity to fashion media and have the potential to transform how fashion design and runway presentations are conceptualized. For instance, at this year's London Fashion Week, digital designer Taskin experimented with real-time virtual composite shows using a green curtain backdrop. In China, businesses have leveraged UE5's digital production technology to create virtual live rooms and avatar anchor content on Douyin. These developments illustrate the growing influence of technology in fashion.
In summary, the relationship between fashion and technology is dynamic and interdependent, with each discipline fueling the other's evolution and growth.
The Digital Ritual, one of your latest projects, revolves around the transmigration of nature in the digital realm and its eventual unattainability for digitally native species: to connect with an unreachable nature, digital altars are needed. Is the process of building a digital altar still a collective one?
The Digital Ritual project primarily highlights the possibilities of symbiosis between humans and digital beings in the future. It delves into how we can preserve and pass on humanity's social and cultural assets before complete digitalization while also embracing a world where tradition and the future coexist harmoniously with digital entities. The altar serves as a metaphor for our shared human culture.
Beyond the act of sacrifice, the project examines the transformation of life's milestones, such as birth, marriage, and funerals, as well as our evolving forms of attire in a digital world. These rituals, which we currently take for granted, may become entirely unfamiliar in the future. Traditional institutions and relationships could be upended, but the question remains: will our millennia-old cultures and rituals vanish, or will they unfold in a new way?
AI technology gives me hope for a new world – a digital universe built on the culture and experience of all human beings. However, in the future, a digital utopia cannot be built by humans alone. AI will stand on the shoulders of all humanity to help us break through boundaries. This complex relationship between humans and digital beings is the deeper point I want to convey through the project.
How does a ritual change when it migrates to the digital realm?
When a ritual migrates to the digital realm, it undergoes a transformation that encompasses the unique characteristics of the digital environment, as well as the diversity of participants involved in the ritual. This can be best understood by those familiar with open-world games, where players can freely change their biology, gender, and age.
For example, the birth ritual in the film borrows from the game's character presentation, allowing for multiple digital identities to coexist without starting life as a baby. Regarding wedding ceremonies in a digital world, I believe that the traditional institution of marriage may become less prevalent, as the future of intimacy will be more diverse and encompass a wider range of experiences.
The essence of the ritual may remain the same, but its expression, interactivity, and accessibility are altered. Digital rituals enable broader participation and a more diverse expression of the ritual itself. They also open up the possibility of engaging with traditional practices in new ways, making them more relevant and accessible in our increasingly digital world.