Orient Flux: Step inside Weirdcore’s new time-bending Beijing exhibition

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Whilst exhibitions remain at a standstill in countries across the world due to the pandemic, there is, currently, one exhibition that’s gathering momentum in Beijing.

The Chinese capital is hosting Weirdcore’s first solo exhibition, Orient Flux, on the fourth floor of the department store SKP-S. The London-based digital artist has, in the past, created mind-melting visuals for pioneering artists such as Aphex Twin. Think optical illusions paired with pop culture references and internet ephemera, combined with hyperactive light shows to produce surreal and frenetic experiences.

It’s not the first time that Weirdcore has produced a show for a shopping complex, having previously conceptualised the Loro Piana installation at Tokyo’s Ginza store. For Orient Flux – billed as an “airport of the future”, Weirdcore brings his surrealist vision to China. The exhibition is comprised of seven different rooms, lasers – of course – and an illusory bullet train called the Trans-Aeon Express, that passengers are invited to board. What’s more, the immersive experience is completed by its sound design, helmed by SVBKVLT’s Gooooose and 33EMYBW – two Shanghai producers at the forefront of China’s electronic scene.

We catch up with Weirdcore, Gooooose and 33EMYBW to talk Orient Flux, its soundtrack and some exciting projects they’ve got coming up.

Courtesy of Weirdcore

How did the idea for Orient Flux come about?

Weirdcore: I was commissioned by SKPs/t-10, via Kennedy London, who produced it.

There’s a number of cinematic references in your exhibition. Could you elaborate on these further?

Weirdcore: I’m a sci-fi nerd and love the bold aesthetics from the 60s to 80s sci-fi films. The main films that visually inspired [the exhibition] are Logan’s Run (2001), A Space Odyssey, Colossus: The Forbin Project and Saturn 3. Visually, the whole Aphex team was involved. Dave Ross designed the lights and lasers and ER managed the lasers, so it was the same crew as for Aphex shows.

The location is certainly interesting. As I understand, there’s usually installations inside stores at SKP-S. How does Beijing, and the department store, tie into the concept of Orient Flux?

Weirdcore: Well, the venue is really massive and from the photos I’d seen, the main big room somewhat reminded me of a train station. The theme snowballed from there. The exhibit is meant to be a station for time and dimension travels – not space and time, as somehow mentioned in all other reviews so far. As you start and end in Stellar Lounge, you’re back in the same place geographically but with a question mark in terms of it being the same era or dimension.

Courtesy of Weirdcore

For those of us who won’t be able to see the exhibition, can you walk me through the different rooms?

Weirdcore: The different sections of the exhibit are like different stages of travels. Maze is like queuing, luggage checking and the security bits, Oblique is like going through security and Microcosmic is like a compression or decompression zone – similar to when you go deep sea diving, but, in this case, adjusting your body for dimension/time travel. Then, Infinity Gates is like walking to the departure gates, Dimensional Horizon is a form of dimensional travel and Trans-Aeon Express is a form of time travel.

The Trans-Aeon Express is a journey back through China’s vivid history. Which parts of China’s history did you focus on?

Weirdcore: The Tang and Qing dynasty, prehistory and the future.

What are some of the key musical references used for this exhibition?

Weirdcore: The main references I sent to 33EMYBW and Han (Gooooose) were OST’s of Logan’s Run, Escape from New York and sound design from Saturn 3 [and] Poltergeist. I told Han and 33 to treat it as if they were to rescore these films now, so it’s in the same vibe but modern and in their style.

Courtesy of Weirdcore

Music and sound design are both key parts of the exhibition, particularly as the Stellar Lounge is described as an ambient portal. Can you tell me more about the link between sound and the concept of the rooms?

33EMYBW: Weirdcore’s work gave me a very strong imagination and inspiration about sound. The first time I watched the videos of five rooms, I almost knew how I would do it. In addition to that, Weirdcore used some movie scenes to describe the work, which also made it easy for me to find the tones and sound effects needed for the video. To me, unlike the soundtrack of a movie, this is an immersive exhibition with a huge amount of visitors. I hope that the audience will get not only visual impact, plus matching music, but a multiple experience of visual and auditory interconnection. So, I did my  to consider the role and influence of space, and even the speed at which people move when they visit.

Gooooose: We (me and 33EMYBW) discussed several times and decided we will separately work on different areas rather than working together on all areas. Basically I was working on Stellar Lounge, Maze Oblique, Infinity Gate and Trans-Aeon Express, plus some transitional sounds that connects different areas.

I think it was very important that Weirdcore explained what kind of mood he was expecting quite well during the project, so for the areas that I worked on, I didn’t have to face the problem of too many options. For those areas, the music and sound design are leaning more into the functional side, sort of like scoring a film. I thought that if I can find a core concept that fits the whole artwork, then the next step might be as simple as just fine-tuning the same concept to different moods of each room. So, the core concept is pentatonic scale, which was used quite a lot in ancient China. Then I used several different variations of the scale in each area, kind of like what they do in jazz music. The notes are everywhere, but, because the frequency pattern of different pentatonic scales would keep going, people might still feel that there is some kind of unison sonically and subconsciously.

Courtesy of Weirdcore

In terms of sound design, some of the sound is phase inverted so they could sound like they’re coming from another room. Because there are many speakers onsite, for some of the sound I made several versions with slight frequency differences from each other, so when people are standing in the space they will hear the sound moving in a more interesting way than just panning. They will hear different movement of the same sound depending on where they are standing. I think by doing this, the moving, flowing, wobbling feel of the overall piece is intensified.

Will the sound design for the exhibition be released anywhere afterwards?

Gooooose: Yes! We were talking about that with Gaz [Williams] from SVBKVLT. Hopefully it will be released this year around June.

How did you go about constructing this installation from afar?

Weirdcore: For me, [it] was a total pain, as I never got to go to China, ever. So, setting up my first solo exhibit remotely was a challenge. Luckily, the team at Kennedy London were on top of it all.

Courtesy of Weirdcore

In what ways has the pandemic affected the way you work?

Weirdcore: It had a major impact, as the exhibit was originally meant to launch in April 2020. But once China went into lockdown, it seemed unsure to be going ahead. Once we went into lockdown, it was postponed. Then after the summer, when we realised it seemed unlikely we were going to go, we decided to do it remotely. It was hard to get back into the swing of things as we’d abruptly stopped mid-creative development in the first lockdown, just as the production stage started in the second lockdown. So, [it] wasn’t the smoothest of projects.

What’s next?

Weirdcore: I’m currently working on something with Yaeji, and other projects with A. G. Cook and Slikback are also in the pipeline. Some epic new Aphex stuff – hopefully, maybe.

33EMYBW: I’m about to start working on my next release under SVBKVLT.

Gooooose: I’m working on my next SVBKVLT release too.

Courtesy of Weirdcore

Orient Flux is on the fourth floor of Beijing’s SKP-S department store, and runs until 24 January 2021.
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