Interdisciplinary artist Sian Fan discusses her digital works such as Downtime, an interactive real-time environment, and the digital art world

“I think of myself as interdisciplinary to give myself as much freedom as possible because I like to be able to move between different media and I like to be able to combine them,” says Sian Fan, a 29-year-old London based interdisciplinary artist. Though relatively new to the digital art scene, Fan’s work has been recognized widely in a short period showing at venues such as Tate Modern, British Council, and the ICA. She has also produced work with Channel 4 (UK), the BBC, and Google. Much of Fan’s work uses digital media to explore themes of the female body, technology, and the human experience in the digital age. She also applies her background in contemporary dance to explore movement. Fan aims to incorporate the internet and hyperspace and give the viewer the ability to tap into what she describes as an “explorer via devices” role. Fan has just recently finished her master’s program at Central Saint Martins, which she recounts as a transformative experience that allowed her digital skills to grow. 

Fan is half-Chinese and born and raised in the UK. While she was raised in a quintessentially British household, Fan has always had a fascination with Asian culture. This influence bleeds into her work in the form of symbolism with images such as Asian florals, like the lotus flower. “I’ve probably got a bit of an overly romantic kind of view of it because I’m viewing it from the outside. But, I do feel connected to it at the same time. It’s a weird juxtaposition where you’re an outsider, but you are still tapped into it, yet you’re not fully a part of the culture” says Fan. 

Fan’s work is a combination of art and technology. When speaking of her father, a secondary school Physics teacher, she says: “I always thought he was kind of the antithesis of art. But actually the older I get, the more I see how everything is connected.”   

Orbit (2020) Photo by Pluck Photography

Downtime (2020) is one of Fan’s works and is an interactive real-time environment that explores idleness. In this digital age, where scrolling on our phones or computers has become the epitome of unproductivity, Fan seeks to remove the pressure to be productive all the time. She created a space where one could be online, do nothing and perhaps even meditate or breathe. Discussing Downtime (2020) Fan says, “I’m really interested in the ideas of consciousness and what it means to be human. So, I try to explore how having spiritual beliefs can exist in a digital world.” The work is a virtual, simulated landscape that the user has the freedom to navigate through with minimal, non-intrusive instructions. The landscape’s color palette is composed of calming pastel pinks, oranges, and blues. Downtime blurs if not erases the line between viewers of art and users of a program or interface.  In Downtime, the viewer by default becomes a user because of the interactive aspect of the virtual world, and the user also embarks on an artistic viewing experience. The user/viewer navigates with their arrow keys and mouse to move around the pink sand dunes to different parts of the landscape that are accompanied by ASMR experiences. While traversing the terrain, the user/viewer may stumble across light blue bubbles suspended in the air that gently burst and create a tranquil popping sound.

Fan’s work makes a vital decision about the accessibility of art overall and more specifically, accessibility during a time like ours, by displaying much of her work on her website, free of charge. “The internet is kind of a concept of maximum accessibility, so I think that the idea of being able to offer something that theoretically, the entire globe can really access is a really overwhelming and amazing opportunity that online culture offers.” Fan like many others, is in favor of the shift in attention towards digital art, taking the necessity of a physical space to view art away, allowing art and creative culture to grow in the current climate of our world. “To me, I think that the digital world can function as a kind of portal as its own realm where in fact, you can become more yourself and you can explore spirituality, sexuality, identity, etc,” as you can see in works of hers such as Bloom (2018) where Fan appears suspended in the air on a pink background with different florals blooming from her body.

Fan is currently working with Essex Cultural Diversity Project, Chelmsford City Council, and Essex2020 within her local area on a digital artwork called Current (2020) that aims to engage diverse community groups of different ages and backgrounds to create a digital map with 3D scans of the waterways they all share. The map will be accessible online and free to access. 

Debates are certainly on the rise as the digital world begins to breach the art world with new, experimental methods, leaving us to question: what is art? And will the traditional galleries and museums be able to support the growth of technology and the presence of technology in the art world? Artists like Fan are increasingly important as we deal with these questions, the global crisis of Covid-19; and gravitate to a vastly more digital world. 

About the Author:

Jazmin is a Brooklyn native art, design, travel, and journalism enthusiast. She has written for sites such as Black-OwnedBrooklyn and Brokelyn. In the past, Jazmin spent years working on film, tv, and commercial productions in the art department as a scenic artist and art director. Currently, she is finishing a New Media and Digital Design degree at Fordham University and freelancing as a writer and designer. She is presently on the PR and digital design team for up-and-coming pop-artist Tigerlily

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