From the spread of Buddhism into China’s Central Plain during the Han Dynasty to the legendary pilgrimage of the Buddhist monk and scholar Xuan Zang’s during the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism is deeply steeped in the culture and history of not only China, but Asia as a whole. As the Chinese saying goes, “Where there’s a mountain, there will be a temple,” and even to this day, this still holds true. In Chinese, the word fo means Buddha. But for Xiamen-based artist Da Bei Yu Zhou (a moniker that’s based on a wordplay of the famous Da Bei Zhou, otherwise known as the Great Compassion Mantra, which is one of the most well-known Buddhist hymns), his use of “fo” in Chinese isn’t referring to the actual Buddha but is being used interchangeably with the term buddharupa, a word used to refer to visual depictions of Buddha. These portrayals of Buddha dominate the majority of Da Bei’s work in the form of 3D renderings. To him, “fo” represents meditation and self-reflection, a higher level of consciousness. We recently met up with Da Bei for a chat to try and better understand what his “fo” statues represent to him.
Neocha: In some of your recent works, you’re mixing Buddha statues with elements of science fiction and presenting it in a 3D format. It’s quite unique. What inspired you to do this?
Da Bei: I see many parallels between the concept of buddhas and scientific technology. For example, the concept of emptiness in Buddism and virtual reality. Through technology and the internet, we’ve reached a point where we now have access to an unbelievable pool of information that we couldn’t fathom having access to in the past. Even though we’re still quite far from reaching the level of the omniscience of Buddha, but the idiom, “Lay down butcher’s knife, become a Buddha on the spot,” feels more like a prophecy now. By eliminating ignorance and tapping into the collective wisdom of mankind, an act that technology has made possible, perhaps one day we can become buddhas ourselves.
Neocha: 3D artworks are generally focused around realism and are most often seen in animated films and T.V. shows or video games. But I notice that in some of your works, there are elements that feel closer to Chinese freehand painting. Was this done on purpose? Is there any relationship between this and your illustrative works?
Da Bei: 3D is mesmerizing. In a 3D world, you have access to a virtual space with infinite room and infinite resources. You can produce rays of light and design every molecule. This kind of experience that’s completely detached from reality is beautiful. So why would I try to forcibly create something realistic in this virtual world? When I have an entire virtual universe in the palm of my hands, why would I abide by the laws of reality to bring my vision to life? To dream of reality in a virtual world is a sad thing to me. And actually, I abandoned traditional illustrations completely when I started working in with 3D.
Neocha: You’ve also created many 3D works of Chinese courtyards, but with the addition of many metallic elements. It creates this incredible sense of futurism juxtaposed against these traditional structures. Can you tell us more about these works?
Da Bei: Besides my “fo” statues, I’m quite fond of traditional Chinese floral design and landscaping. If Buddha is an omniscience of self, then my works around floral arrangements represent a yearning for changes in space and time. In traditional Chinese culture, there’s always been an appreciation for decadence and laziness. There’s a beauty in it. This kind of beauty disregards all other notions of human nature, from death to love. I find it incredibly interesting; just think about that, it transcends the existence of death and love. So through my digital art, which is virtual and eternal, I’m making flowers that will never wither and statues of Buddha that will never age. This is my attempt at presenting my interpretation of this surreal sense of beauty.
Neocha: What is your creation process like? From modeling to rendering, the process must be quite time consuming. Can you tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced in doing digital art?
Da Bei: In terms of technique, it’s not particularly difficult, and I also don’t feel like the process is especially time consuming. The computer handles most of the work. The difficulty I face is within myself. I’m a living organism that succumbs to fatigue and ailments, so these are factors that could hinder the creation process. The fragile nature of the human body is the greatest difficulty.
Neocha: You’ve tried to sell your work by putting them onto SD cards. It’s an interesting idea. What inspired you to do this?
Da Bei: Multimedia art and digital art are uniquely beautiful in their own ways. I feel like if the work is displayed on a monitor, then it can be categorized as digital multimedia art. Everybody feels differently about these works. In Teary Buddha 90 Minutes, I show a 3D rendering of Buddha on the brink of tears. It lasts 5,400 seconds and is accompanied by the sound of ocean waves; the image is also constantly rotating and changing colors. The Buddha here represents order, it’s an embodiment of logic. But the tears in his eyes, that don’t quite fall, represents existence. For the rotations, when he’s facing you, his color is a resplendent gold; when his side is facing you, he becomes silver; and when his back is facing you, it’s the color of loneliness, a dark black. It’s a patterned visual but doesn’t adhere to any rhythm. When people watch this, I want them to experience different emotions. And to do this using digital data – emotionless bits of an algorithm – this is what I find to be most interesting.
大悲: 多媒体艺术、数字艺术有着特别独特的美，我觉得只要是通过屏幕展示的作品都是广义上的数字多媒体艺术，每个人对这些作品的感受都不尽相同，在我的《泪目菩萨90分钟》里就是一个眼角挂泪的3D菩萨，在5400秒的海浪声里，不停的旋转变换材质颜色。菩萨代表的是秩序是理智的化身，但是眼角不掉落的眼泪是反秩序是感性的存在，在旋转的时候面对你是灿烂的金色，当他侧对你时是无暇的白色，背对你时又是孤独的黑色 ，就在这样的有序规律和没有任何节奏的影像里，你在看他的时候似乎也能产生出很多不同的感情，而这一切的由来都只是纯粹的数据，没有感情的数据，可想而知这是多么有趣。
Neocha: When it comes to the exhibition of 3D works, what are your thoughts? There are still limitations on works that are inkjet printed and framed. In the future, maybe VR will come into play? What do you plan on working on next?
Da Bei: Yup, I’ve constantly thought about how to best display my work. Not only VR, I hope that we can reach a point where people will be able to directly upload data into their brains. I’ll still be adhering to the themes that I’ve been working with, which are, of course, the concept of “fo” along with my interest in Asian floral design. I’ve also developed an interest in glitch art recently; I’m looking forward to experimenting with this in the future.