Shu Lea Cheang is raising funds to complete her new cypherpunk film FLUIDØ, which was first conceived 15 years ago. The work has manifested and various forms from installation and performances, but not yet the film as it was originally conceived.
FLUIDØ takes place in the future in 2060 where the AIDS virus has mutated to become genetically evolved humans - ZERO GEN - who are carriers of a hyper-narcotic named DELTA, which diffuses through skin contact and is highly addictive. The drug is declared illegal and the government dispatches drug-resistant replicants. The ZERO GEN are caught among underground drug lords, glitched super agents, a scheming corporation and a corrupt government as the plot unfolds. We had the chance to speak with Cheang about the story behind the work and its relevance today in our hyper-connected society.
When did you start working on the concept for the film FLUIDØ? How did the project come about? Why has it taken so long to produce FLUIDØ since its conception in 2000?
FLUIDØ concept arrived after the release of I.K.U. in 2000 at Sundance Film Festival. While screening I.K.U. in Denmark that same year, I was invited by Lars Von Trier's Zentropa to propose a film for its ‘PUZZYPOWER’ division set to produce erotic films for women. PUZZYPOWER ceased to exist by 2001 for financial reasons. My scenario FLUID (without “Ø” at the time) went through a couple Danish producers, but failed to be realized.
Meanwhile, I started using the concept to make art work. In 2000, FLUID was presented as a casting performance at Taipei Biennale (curated by Manray Hsu and Jerome Sans). Following Taipei, the FLUID photo documentation was part of the HARDCORE exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in 2003.
Invited by Detox festival, FLUID as installation was presented at Sorlandets Kunstmuseum (Kristiansand, Norway, 2004) and Kunstnernes Hus (Oslo, Norway, 2005). FLUID casting as performance was invited but got shut down prior to its scheduled performance in three cities (Kristiansand, 2004; Berlin, 2006; Montreal, 2009). It did have two successful performances at Arteleku in Spain, 2008, and Videotage in Hong Kong, 2010. By 2012, I connected with the Berlin based German producer Jürgen Brüning to pursue the film production.
You presented the installation work FLUID in Norway in 2004. How was the work received?
FLUID as installation was presented with seven urinals, condoms, and LCDs, and two video loops in Norway in 2004. At the same time, FLUID as casting performance was cancelled by law enforcement on charge of performing public sex at Kristiansand's QUARK festival. It stirred up much debates on censorship in Norway's art scene at the time.
What are the core concepts/themes you wish to explore in the film?
FLUIDØ is virus, sex, hack, drug & conspiracy. I lived through the AIDS epidemic in the 80s in New York City. I lost many friends, I carried the virus with me. The virus mutated within overtime. I was early to homestead cyberspace in the mid-90s. By 2003, I declared the Net had crashed with the London-based RICHAIR2030/TAKE2030 project. By 2009, with the UKI project, I dumped the Net and moved onto the BioNet.
The BioNet takes human body as hostage and red blood cells as computing units. The skin as interface, the body as final frontier are the key design elements for the film. With my other concerns about bio-diversity, I also conjure up a liquid future in which farmlands have ceased to produce, the government controls its citizens via pipe-lined liquid food supply. Data hack comes into play - the bio-hackers piss to decode, the over-layered fluid as code/decode takes on cryptography as a form of resistance. Finally, a sci-fi cypherpunk film that involves the government, the pharmaceutical, the drug lords in a tangled plot.
How do you differentiate between your artworks and your more sexually explicit films?
I consider sex as a political statement, sexuality is a construct, fluid gender is the norm. My earlier work Those Fluttering Objects of Desire (Whitney Biennale, 1993) brings together multi-racial women of diverse sexual orientation to defy the imposed positioning as “objects of desire". The installation invites viewers' interaction with dial in phone sex apparatus and coin-operated porn viewing booths. From this time on, one branch of my work goes for affirmation of sexual pleasure, a self-empowering declaration.
At times, I do feel torn - the parallel development of my art work and sexually explicit films can’t seem to merge. People wants clear labels, genres, tags, keywords. I confuse people. Finally the convergence occurred when my project UKI (conceived as the I.K.U. sequel) was accepted for artist-in-residency at Barcelona's Hangar Media Lab in 2009. My sexually explicit films aim to crossover to a general public with commercial theatrical release.
Who are some of the actors / characters / people involved in the project? How have you found them?
We have done several casting sessions in Berlin, including a 'casting as performance' event at Mindpirates as part of transmediale's Vorspiel programs 2014. FLUIDØ has quite a cast - ZERO GEN at U, at LICK, the super agents, the drug Lord, the dominant, Dat Queen, hackers and junkies… Berlin's art/post porn/queer/noise performance scene is ultra vibrant charged with the border-crossing migrants' imagination. We got great responses with the open casting calls.
How your work still resonating with young people today? Is there new interest in your work with the ‘post-internet’ generation?
Yeah, when I.K.U. was first released at Sundance, an American distributor didn't pick it up for distribution, claiming it was "ahead of it's time". Overtime, I.K.U. gained a status of cyberpunk cult classic affirmed by its Chinese DVD pirates. Recently we held two screenings in Berlin, hosted by Coven Berlin's 'I'd rather be a goddess than a cyborg' festival. It did generate much interests among the young generation.
Your work plays on the idea of biological virus with technological virus in the age of digital networks and hackers in a futuristic society. What is your vision of the world in FLUIDØ?
The world of the future is packaged, compact and available for ready consumption without complications of more than minimal interaction. In the BioNet era, nourishment is a packaged liquid sliding down tubes from source to orifice. All things needed are built into the body - living apps that are injected with liquid, bypassing even hardware installation and ready to be updated and added to at will. Codes are rewritten to re-engineer human body functions.
The future here contains what is needed within and on the body, including hands imbedded with iris scanners, zipper tattoos that can actually open to become a communication medium, memory drives are teardrops encoded into contact lenses. The open conduits of tubes, not wires, compose the BioNet era. Cypher punk code hacking data hunting takes human body as battleground, the final frontier.
Tell us about the works included in the Viral Love series? How has the works evolved over the years?
I used to call myself “a high-tech aboriginie” (started with my 1995 cybernetic installation Bowling Alley at Walker Art Center). I didn’t own a power car to race on the information superhighway. I borrowed the technology and slaved by it. I could no longer keep up with the updates and versions. I turned to data trash, electronic waste to find traces of human intelligence - the self-terminated, timed for obsolete hardware parts, the contagious viral codes applied in both software and human flesh. Bio-waste, compost, code eating worms may not be picture perfect for the Bio-trendy, but they are part of the scenario. Virus is easily propagated, transmitted, thus can be mobilized for resistance, no visa to be granted. I learn to love the virus.--
Image: Installation view of FLUID at Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Norway, 2005.
Text by: Ashley Wong