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BOD [包家巷], between visual design & building digital utopias

Interview by Anastasia Niedinger

Nicholas Zhu, aka bod’s [包家巷] music operates as a visceral leg of an oscillating whole. After punctuating last year with two prior EPs, Zhu emerges into 2019 restored from a series of physical and psycho-spiritual ailments while living in LA, expressed in the third of an unfolding audio narrative, ‘Recurrence of Infections’ [复发感染] (December, 2018).

In a mindful, but temporary, departure from institutional art, RoI is aptly nestled under Aïsha Devi’s self-described ‘ritual music’ imprint, Danse Noire. Profoundly cognizant, the EP is a dual exercise in self-spectatorship and conscious catharsis. Building on its predecessors: Limpid Fear [清澈恐惧] (August 2018); and Advent of the Silicon Rain [硅雨来临] (April 2018) —  RoI utilises interstitials of field-recorded sampling and digital artefacts (autotune, computer-generated speech) carried by classical, lilting phrases of Chinese instrumentation.

Moving between moments of melodious tranquillity and anxious dissonance, through soft to severely melancholy, anecdotal waves of ambient composition, the EP’s eponymous track ‘Recurrence of Infections’ documents “the quiet hours of laborious coping that fall into the areas between work and sleep” — Zhu, Kaltblut Mag. Appealing to dissociative states, the 37-minute track is characteristically, and intimately voyeuristic.

Together, Zhu’s releases paint an architecture of their life; an intersection of online immersion, interpretation of Chinese identity, and the sheer peculiarity of offline experience in a frail, corporeal world. As harmonic as they are dissociative, Zhu’s audio pieces translate like phenomenological lullabies.

Zhu’s musical limb soundtracks a simultaneously collegial and subversive relationship with the art world. In 2016, Zhu and a cohort of like minded peers congregating on Facebook Groups’ idiosyncratic underbelly released the Museum of Virtual Art (MoVA), a Unity engine built gallery. Housing digital art submissions, its cybernated halls are reminiscent of the pomp, clinically displaced art fair. Expansive, it offers a stoic venue for unadulterated viewing, and like most digitally muted spaces, evokes a uniquely solipsistic shade of experience.

Supplemented by its own manifesto, the gallery embodies online collectivism and its ability to carve out democratised, autonomous zones. But despite the potential idealism of virtual realities, Zhu is more holistic towards the semantics of ‘computerised’ and ‘real’: I’ll go further to say that a vast majority of work that I’ve seen which takes the concept of “virtual” for granted becomes masturbatory and fails to acknowledge the ability of supposedly outdated methods of creating a multiplicity of realities.”, “I think there isn’t and never has been a distinction that necessitates the “virtual” as a concept.

Despite renouncing accelerationism, Zhu alludes to a camp of post-digital thinking: “Technology, Nature, and Humans are often mistaken to be distinguishable from each other, as are the concepts of “natural” and “artificial.” This interlocking of modes can often be felt in Zhu’s graphic design, featuring cybernetic wreath-like textures, beneath organic curvature typefaces, or logo motifs.

A noticeable visual language unifies Zhu’s Instagram, using a blend of native Chinese and futuristic aesthetics to convey neo-cultural concepts and personal mythologies, a common feature of the burgeoning Chinese artist underground, including peers like Tianzhuo Chen (Asian Dope Boys) and Lu Yang.

Informed by their metaphysical and ethnographic interests, It’s no surprise Zhu’s audio-visual artistry allies with Danse Noire’s pan-tribal and ritualistic sound, who with Aïsha Devi’s assembly stands at the vanguard of a post-rave, experimental scene. Rendering gigs at Berghain’s temporary ice rink and sell out shows with Aïsha, Zhu’s move to Europe as bod [包家巷] continues to nourish their eclecticism and fame.

Musician, artist, designer, you work in a variety of mediums…what is keeping bod busy at the moment?

I’m working on a lot of graphic design/video editing stuff (most of which I can’t talk about) to pay rent, playing some shows here and there. It’s all been very casual but accelerating quickly. I’m kind of worried, kind of stressed, but this is the life I asked for, and now I’m beginning to receive it, so I think I’m enjoying it. Not sure yet. It’s amusing but alienating to have monetized my artistic practice into a source of (still minimal) income. Everyone hit me up for work! I have a lot of skills!

Last December saw the release of your latest last album as Bod, The Recurrence Of Infections, an oniric production, sometimes delicate, sometimes more abrasive, also feeling very intimate and personal. What was the intellectual process behind it?

I’m coming to this point right now where music has served the purpose of giving me relief from theory and art as the guiding parameters for how to see the world. Music has a much older place in my life, going back to when I was a child doing the Hanon exercises. 

It was easier to have a direct relationship with music than my theoretical writing, which, even until recently, always written in a spiteful form of International Art English. The Recurrence of Infections was the sort of culmination of the effect that living in the heart of institutional art and the toxic beauty of Los Angeles had on my body, as literal recurring staph infections and as metaphorical uncontrollable psychological spirals into dark, violent parts of my mind.

It’s why the music changes so much, shifting under the constant stress of thinking as many steps ahead as possible in a chaotic, unyielding rat race. However, I’m now at a point where I’m ready to fall into the stack of art theory again. I have a lot of ideas, most of them reformed versions of old ones, all of them situated in a new context I’m trying to build in the attempt to simultaneously resist ethnography while clarifying my position to the active generation of my history. Something big will bloom this summer.

In your previous productions, you’ve used field recordings and all sorts of samples, usually with strong cultural and personal references. What have you used for the Recurrence of Infections album?

I have to say; for this question, I’m going to be kind of an asshole and not really answer it. Instead, I’d like to point out that technology has brought us to a point where the lack of a defined line between construction and documentation has evolved into a network of defined relationships that make the two virtually the same.

In addition to the fact that sounds can be engineered to be any other sound, the very nature of how data is interpreted by machines rides the (also permeable) boundary between the Objective and the Subjective. There never was an anchor that tied language or thought to reality fully, but now there are a variety of wings, leaving people like me, who try our best to see the world literally but fail, in a state of constant failure when attempting to address what is real, sourced, or authentic.

One of your artistic projects, MOVA (Museum of Virtual Art), is a virtual museum which doesn’t have a spatial limitation that you launched in 2016.  How has this project evolved since its creation? 

I actually went hands-off after MOVA was released, and the community that formed around it was developing a second version that was non-planar, even bigger, and also had social network functions. Since then, I haven’t really kept in touch, partly due to me “quitting” art but also partly due to me just not being the right person to run something so ambitious.

I’m still the kind of person who really believes in the power of contemporary technology, but recently I’ve been working on stuff that is more descriptive, work that tries to show that all the new things we see are actually different versions of the same thing, repeating over and over again through time.

There’s a growing number of artists nowadays who ponder between spirituality and technology or even go a step further into a sort of techno-spirituality (artists like Aïsha Devi and Tianzhuo Chen); What is your relationship with technology and how Orientalism (something you’ve mentioned in few interviews) challenges it?

I have a lot of ideas, and I’m trying to keep them all organized and kind of hidden before I drop a large portion of them this summer. What I can say now is:

1. Technology, Nature, and Humans are often mistaken to be distinguishable from each other, as are the concepts of “natural” and “artificial.” Intention and consciousness aren’t sacred in an untouchable sense.

2. Orientalism is the glaring piece of evidence that shows how blinding the expansionist worldview is, and how subconscious toxicities drawn from imperfect systems of faith and practice can succeed in the state of evolution. I’m not an accelerator, so I’m trying to make things better right now.

Your work seems to reflect quite a lot of aspects of network culture, connectivity and internet existence. What do you think of the relationship between physical and virtual perception of presence?

I think there isn’t and never has been a distinction that necessitates the “virtual” as a concept. I’ll go further to say that a vast majority of work that I’ve seen which takes the concept of “virtual” for granted becomes masturbatory and fails to acknowledge the ability of supposedly outdated methods of creating a multiplicity of realities.

Solitude or loneliness, how do you spend your time alone?

I work compulsively until my body can’t take it anymore. If anyone was curious, all of what you see is a direct result of just terrible treatment of my body.

One for the road… What are you unafraid of?

Fame and Fortune. I’m ready bring it on let’s fucking do this already.

(Media courtesy of the artist)
On Key

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