During The Venice Biennale 2023, one original experience that we discovered was the 360-degree VR experience ‘Limbotopia’ by first-time director Wen-Yee Hsieh, and presented at the Pavilion of TAICCA – Taiwan Creative Content Agency. “Limbotopia” was in the 2021 Kaohsiung Film Festival, but also presented in many other international festivals and competitions, including Tribeca Festival.
“Limbotopia” is an intriguing VR experience of a continuous journey between different worlds – sometimes utopic, but also dystopian, sometimes spiritual. An experience of “in-between”, where realities are intertwined, and the boundaries are blurred.
The music, the visuals, and the architectural elements create a captivating contradiction that somehow paradoxically harmonizes. The monochromatic, black and white, choice for aesthetics heightens the feeling of haziness.
As the viewer is moved continuously between worlds and emotional states, the curiosity is kept alive of what will come next, what will be the next world or element discovered. But, at the same time, the rhythm and pace of the experience, together with the musical elements used, maintains a calm and relaxed atmosphere.
Fascinated by this ingenious and original vision, TechvangArt talked with the director Wen-Yee Hsieh, about the experience, aesthetic choices that he made, contraction of the worlds… but also about his favourite element.
TVA: Can you tell us about your backgrounds and how the shift toward VR happened? What motivated you to start working in VR?
Wen-Yee Hsieh: I studied architecture design in my college – that was three years ago – and meanwhile, I’ve actually enjoyed doing motion graphic, visual arts. I started doing these visuals for myself, not for the college. In addition, at university, they taught us to not be so emotional, because if we have to build a form of architecture, we have to be less emotional to do this kind of art. But for me, I think I’m quite an emotional person so it doesn’t fit me very well. As such, I started doing visual arts to express myself. So that’s how I started doing visual art.
And, in 2020 I’ve met VR director Tung-Yen Chou – he directed the experience “In the mist”, also present at the Venice Film Festival in 2021.
It was a programme hosted by National Theatre in Taiwan, called LAB X the young artists’ atelier . It’s for young artists to build their work in progress, in any kind of ArtForm.
I was thinking of combining architecture design with visual arts, but one art form is about space, and the other is only inside flat media. So how can these two different forms be combined? And VR is a very great medium to combine these two different art forms.
So that’s why I jumped into using VR films, and game engines to build virtual worlds.
TVA:And how did you start the work on ‘‘Limbotopia”? And why this topic of ‘in-between’?
Wen-Yee Hsieh: It is also another reason I use VR. Because at that time, I think there was so much chaos, people with different visions fighting with each other around me, because maybe they wanted to create a new society inside the new media world or around architecture design. So there were the new voices and the old voices, and these two ‘visions’ had to fight with each other.
I was inside this chaos, but did not identify with any one of them, and I felt I had to pull back myself into a very calm space… such as “leave me alone”.
I think the VR world is a very good place where I can build my own space to leave myself there to avoid the chaos outside. So that’s the time I start building many VR work demos. In the end, in 2021, they all combined together into this VR called Limbotopia. And, at that time, there’s also another creator with me, and he’s also an architecture student and builds up the VR work with me so designed the architecture concept inside the virtual world. So I’m the director and writer to build up the whole concept
I think Limbotopia VR is for people that feel that they don’t belong anywhere in their own situation, and they have nowhere to go. Are people that are wandering around the city or when they’re around in the wilderness, but can’t find a place to stay, and no place to call home. So they have to keep moving and moving and keep going forward, non stop. So during the whole experience the camera keeps going forward.
Many people ask me why the audience keeps going forward. And this is why, it was like wandering around the world but with no place to stay.
I think the project feels more dreamy, but somehow feels like it is really happening. So the audience can tell what it’s real, and what is in the virtual world..
TVA: It’s interesting what you’re saying because when I was in the experience, I had the impression that you were somehow playing with the viewer. Sometimes you put the viewer in a depressive space, but you have to be there, but just for a moment, and then you force me to move out of that place. Sometimes, it feels like a destroyed worlds, only to discover something new, but I can’t enjoy that too much either. So for me, it was like a journey, to be somewhere in-between, and also to have these opposite feelings that you evoke.
Wen-Yee Hsieh: Yes, that’s the point. I think it’s for people who maybe have to cross something in their lifetime – maybe changing their identity or maybe other reasons. And I also wanted to discuss about ‘crossing the boundaries; between duality inside our world. So many different kinds of dualities such as the male and the female, or students and the teacher, or maybe you are under the stage or on the stage – that’s kind of a different duality – or maybe it’s a different country.
TVA: So it’s interesting because as you’re saying about crossing boundaries, the whole experience is somehow a journey – from one world to another, but also inside the same world. And in different cultures, the journey is represented differently and also has different significations. I wanted to ask you about this aspect, and the elements that you use to signify this kind of this type of travels and this crossing of boundaries..
Wen-Yee Hsieh: The sound is actually from the temple from Taiwan – My team recorded these voices from the temple and put them inside the VR experience. So there’s a sequence where we took the audience into a temple and that sequence is called “A Temple with No Gods”. So there are different topics inside the temple, you can’t see the dead people, but you can hear them singing and I use a lot of live symbols to describe these kinds of duality.
TVA: Yes, I mean some symbols that were used such as crossing the bridges or the elements of water when you go from one world to the other. Sometimes you have these trippy effects, kind of a meditative, and I also liked the idea of the black cube. And, as a director, you also made some risky choices – for example the smashing of glasses in VR – but, somehow all these images fitted well in the entire experience.
Wen-Yee Hsieh: I think I just wanted the audience to feel calm. I didn’t want to tell them anything, just to make them feel calm. The pace during the whole experience is very slow. And it was an intentional choice, I want to be slow.
So that the audience can enjoy the experience, the travel through the worlds, just like on the journey. I have prepared the viewers for the travel.
The water or monochrome style of the film, I think it is mostly because I do photography and visual art for years, and I enjoy using monochrome style, waters, and biomaterials inside my art.
TVA: Can you tell me a little bit about how you work with the music? Because this is what I also liked, it intrigued me. As the entire experience, it has its unexpected parts, in a good way, I mean. The music fitted very well with the images, but somehow it was not the same meditative tune. So how did you work with the sound and images?
Wen-Yee Hsieh: Back to 2020, the first VR demo was actually built by myself only, including music and I actually just want to find a frequency to build up ambience – and I build between 20 to 30 tracks. But, it’s all about ambience. And I want it to be very smooth, and not so shocking; I also did not want to make the audience very emotional.
It’s just an ambience, but the ambience described different situations. Some of them will be very…I won’t say scary, but it will make you nervous. But you won’t be very scared or nervous, it is just an ambience.
And in 2021, I met a composer, Aaron Wu – he did a lot of piano and EDM stuff. Some of his tracks are built inside the film, and some were done by me. So I think it’s about combining different artistic ideas inside one film.
So the ambience you heard inside that film was done by me, but then we added different fragments from the composer that module the themes.
TVA: Aha… Because it was ambiental, but not too ambiental, and some fragments involved different emotions. So, it was not that long meditation type of music, that will make you want to meditate and not enjoy the visual experience itself.
Wen-Yee Hsieh: I think there’s a difference between watching VR films and watching a movie. To watch a movie, I think it has to be more emotional. But watching a VR film is more like doing an exhibition. And we don’t want to put very loud or very emotional music tracks inside an exhibition. Maybe, we would just put an ambience in the background, so the audience wants maybe you want to fill it, but it is there. And it’s something specifically for that situation. And it is not only about the music, but also about the visuals. The whole 3D space that it’s mixing together, creates a new reality. I think this is the difference between VR and movies.
TVA: I wanted to ask you a little bit about how you constructed the space? Did you take some pictures from reality, where you were at all inspired by it and then from there started to build in VR? How did you make all those scenes?
Wen-Yee Hsieh: During the progress of our work, we actually built up the map first. The map has to two main stages, before the main sequence… is called City and Inside the city. There’s a wilderness in the middle, and at the end, there’s a place called ”Limbotopia“.
We actually put the audience inside the camera to travel through the three huge maps. It is a very huge and complex work for ourselves because the three huge maps were built up only by two people. It was hard work.
TVA: It look like a hard work, but the experience paid off the in the end, it is truly amazing!
TVA: Your favorite book
Wen-Yee Hsieh: Between Silence and Light by Lewis Khan.
Each time I read that book from Lewis Khan, I gain something, because it tries to describe architecture using lights and emptiness. These two different materials create the architecture; and he thinks architecture is the spirit from humans. there’s no kind of form inside our brain, it’s just like our universe.
Before that huge explosion of the universe, there’s nothing inside our universe. is completely empty. And it’s just like our brain, inside our mind, there’s nothing there. But once that human is born, we keep creating things and we use the outside of ourself to build the real form from our brain. So, architecture is actually a kind of astral projection from ourselves. The architecture will stay inside the outside world, but our spirit will go – I think it’s very beautiful.
TVA: Let’s suppose you have to take a journey from this world to another. What element or form from this planet would you take with you?
Wen-Yee Hsieh: …Water…
Water is actually keep going and going from different project to project, and I am actually building my first 6DOF XR right now together with a dancer and sound artist.
Water is represent a very important concept inside our project. This project I do right now is called ”OOBE – out of body experience”.
Actually the theory we have is that we can forget anything before everything before so we can keep going forward. And, unlike Limbotopia, this project is more bright. The project has more openness inside. And I do my art work before all by myself, so now it’s quite weird to have so many people keep coming to me and joining me – and now we build a group and we have a small studio to build different kinds of art.
So it’s actually quite weird, but I know something is changing right now. And this project is actually describing how artists, these artists don’t belong to anywhere.
TVA: The Water is one of the most intriguing and fascinating element. It is fascinating how water flows and connects everything, and even if we think of ourselves and the planet as soil-The Earth-, we are surrounded by much more water. So, looking forward to hearing more about your project!
CAST & CREDITS
PRODUCED BY: Wen-Yee Hsieh
PUBLISHER: Wen-Yee Hsieh
DIRECTOR: 謝文毅 Hsieh Wen-Yee
鄭鈞聯 Chun-Lien Cheng, 吳威翰Wei-Han Wu, 連科華 Ke-Hua Lien, 尤圓淨Yuan-Ching Yu
謝文毅 Wen-Yee Hsieh, 鄭鈞聯 Chun-Lien Cheng
謝文毅 Hsieh Wen-Yee
謝文毅 Hsieh Wen-Yee
吳威翰 Wu Wei-Han
謝文毅 Wen-Yee Hsieh, 鄭鈞聯 Chun-Lien Cheng
鄭鈞聯 Chun-Lien Cheng
謝文毅 Wen-Yee Hsieh, 鄭鈞聯 Chun-Lien Cheng
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