September 27, 2023

Meet artist Mindy Meng Wang; Guài

Mindy Meng Wang and Monica Lim are presenting Guài at Footscray Community Arts during Melbourne Fringe, October 5—15

Mindy Meng Wang is an internationally renowned interdisciplinary artist, with many national and international awards to her name. She won “the Best Musician” at the 2021 Music Victoria Awards and the 2021 “40 Under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards.” Mindy is also the first artist in resident at the Melbourne Recital Centre for two years in a row (2022/2023).

Together with co-creator Monica Lim, Mindy is excited to present Guài – a unique and playful augmented reality experience. We sat down with Mindy to further explore the installation and its potential impact on audiences.

Introduce yourself and your practice.

My name is Mindy Meng Wang. I am a contemporary gu heng performing artist and composer. My practice is about bringing the ancient Chinese traditional musical instrument into a contemporary Western context – freeing it from classical forms and fusing it with other genres such as experimental jazz and improvisation.

Tell us more about Guài and how the exhibition came to be.

Many years ago, Melbourne University created an AI program called the Biometric Mirror. It is an artificial recognition program that can read and analyse people’s physical features and emotions. They took this prototype to a variety of music festivals, where I saw young people queuing up, eager to get a reading by the AI.

If the AI told them something positive – like that they were attractive – they reacted incredibly well. However, if the AI told them something they didn’t want to hear, they got upset and emotional. The one thing they didn’t do was question how these conclusions came to be.

From that moment, I wanted to work with this program to remind people to remain critical when thinking about AI and technology.

Working with Monica, we talked about how we could create a positive experience for audiences with this technology. That’s how we started designing Guài together.

With stunning visuals and bespoke sound design, Guài is a unique and playful experience. This immersive augmented-reality mirror uses state-of-the-art technology to map your face (and emotions) and then transforms you into a fantastical monster avatar that reflects the uniqueness of you.

Through your work on Guài, what is a common misconception around humans and AI?

Previously, everything we knew about AI came from movies; tv shows; and articles you read online. We used to think that it was super advanced and that AI was bound to take over humanity as we know it.

However, after working on this project together with Melbourne University, I now have a better understanding of AI. That it hasn’t gotten to the point where we must fear it, but where we must make the right choices for its future development.

How has working on this project changed your perspective on artificial intelligence?

My work has helped me become more open-minded, with different voices and perspectives in the conversation helping me be more critical around my practice and explore how we can harness modern technology like AI in crafting artistic experiences.

What do you hope audiences take away from this experience?

Have fun but criticise and question the role technology plays in our lives.

Now for some quick fire questions:

Favourite meal?

I love vegetables; roast chicken; and my mum’s cooking!

How do you stay creatively inspired?

For me, it’s about remaining curious about things. A lot of my work – from music to installations like Guài – all have come from a passionate curiosity and a deep need to explore.

A song recommendation for our community.

Mirror Flower 镜花水月 is a song I released together with electronic artist Tim Shiel. We actually filmed the song with an amazing dancer near Footscray! I recommend you check it out!

Guài AI experience is on at Footscray Community Arts 5—15 October. Secure your tickets through the event webpage [linked here]

Image credits: Henry Lai-Pyne