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In Conversation: Triss Qian

Triss Qian is an illustrator and animator whose practice explores the possibilities of physical computing as a tool for urban residents to embrace nature.

Insights of an Eco Artist Team

3 de novembro de 2022

First of all, tell us a bit about your background and artistic approach.

Hi, my name is Triss. I am an illustrator and animator who lives and works in London. I learned Graphic communication design in Central Saint Martins, and currently studying for my Master's degree in Information Experience Design at the Royal College of Art.

My works used to be illustration-based. I loved doing political comics and stop-motion animation. I am now exploring the field of physical computing and generative art, looking for a new way to express my ideas by getting the audience involved. In my next project, I am planning to make an animalized plant which is an installation in the shape of a plant but can bark and move like an animal.

What inspired you to pursue a career as an artist?

I started to do narrative drawings when I was five or six years old. Drawing has become part of my life since then, and I am keen on observing my daily life from a creative perspective. Menzel was one of the artists who had a profound influence on my career choice. I discovered the beauty of the human body in his paintings and worked to document them on canvas. When it comes to digital artists, Nam June Paik’s work pushed my practice into the field of physical computing.

Eco-capitalism by Triss Qian. Image courtesy of Triss Qian.

Let's talk about your practice. What are the main themes you pursue?

My illustration works are based on the concept of political conversation, while my physical computing works are mainly in the field of nature-oriented human interaction.

You work both in London and Shanghai. How does this influence your practice?

When treating a certain concept, I can usually have two perspectives of view from two different identities. I can deconstruct the keywords in different languages and test out my ideas in groups of people from multiple cultural backgrounds. When listening to different voices, I found myself easily getting out of the stereotypes and echo chambers, especially in the political context. I will treat my audience as individuals rather than opinions or binary political identities.

You are currently working in the fields of physical computing and nature-oriented design. What interested you within these areas? When did you start working in these fields?

I started to learn physical computing in 2019 as it was part of my BA courses in Graphic Communication Design. It is interesting to me that human behavior or data can be involved in the coding system and result in a physical effect like lightning and sound making. The interaction allows the audience to experience the concept rather than stay at a distance to observe and guess. I got into the topic of nature quite recently. I found my sister spending loads of time indoors facing homework or piano course instead of getting outside. I learned that nature deficit disorder is seriously affecting the next generation. I decided to work on a nature-oriented design to at least encourage my sister to walk out of the door. It is my ambition that my artworks will bring contemporary urban residents into closer contact with natural greenery.

One of your most recent interactive installations is What is in the grass? What can you tell us about its different stages of creation and motivation?

We are asked to capture and document a type of sense in Holland Park. I am attracted by rustling sounds when walking by the bushes. The sound suggested that there were other living animals inside the bush, such as squirrels, birds, or foxes. I can feel it even without seeing it. There is a unique connection happening in between. We will instinctively ask the questions: What is inside? Is it safe? That is the sense of curiosity comes from. So, I decide to make a pot of rustling plants to imitate that there is a small animal inside.

The technique of Arduino allows the interaction design to happen. When the distance sensor detects that the audience gets close, it will give a signal to the motor equipped inside the bush. So that the bush will be able to shake as if a living thing is moving inside.

I decided to bring the project back to Holland Park and test it out with animals. Since the role of AI got involved, the identities of humans and animals were swapped in this project. How would animals react when they hear sounds made by a human? It leads us to a more enlightening discussion: Can AI become a compromised media for humans to embrace nature?

As a customer-oriented artist with 3+years of freelance experience, what can you tell us about this experience? What advice would you give an emerging freelance artist?

I have worked with Tmall, one of China's leading e-commerce companies, to create a promotional poster for Chicecream China's products. The illustration-based poster was placed on public transportation systems and Weibo social media platforms for 1.2 billion customers. I was honored to be invited as the manager of key vision for several corporate offline promotions in the field of Musical Festivals, Musicals, Wine Brands, and Standup Comedy.

My advice to freelance artists is that you should be firm in your aesthetic. Tell your client that they should trust your design, and make your arguments with confidence.

What is the story behind the Plant a Piano installation?

The original brief asked us to bring an indoor activity outdoor. I found my sister spent loads of hours indoors, facing piano courses instead of taking outside activities. They can only reach nature through the internet or books. The ratio of teenagers having nearsightedness is significantly higher in their generation. As a result, I wish my sister would be able to feel nature by touching and hearing instead of barely using her eyes. So I asked her to design a piano from nature, and she draw a piano in the sky made up of clouds and stars. Inspired by my sister's design, I believe that my design should not be stuck with the original shape of the piano, but put more thought into the integration of nature and tactile material. According to that idea, I designed a plant piano, which can make rhythms when you touch the leaves. The link between touching and hearing was established. The project was successfully exhibited and interacted with in front of an audience of children eventually. It subverted the stereotype that "technology distances people from nature" and set a good precedent for me to use sound in future design.

Over the past couple of years, we have witnessed a growing surge of NFTs and the Metaverse. What do you think of the recent changes in the art world?

I think it is because we all have our digital identities different from who we are in our daily lives. The technique is a way to visualize the identities and measure the distance between the virtual and reality.

UNFCCC COP26 by Triss Qian. Image courtesy of Triss Qian.

What is for you the most enjoyable part of being an artist?

I love the fun and sense of humor in my art. When people see my work or listen to my ideas they smile involuntarily, which is the most enjoyable moment of mine.

Finally, what do you hope the audience gets from your works?

I want my audience to have fun. That is the first principle. And then I want my audience to think about if there is another possibility to answer the debatable questions, no matter is about politics, techniques and nature.

Cover Image

Plant a Piano 2021, interactive installation, arduino ied by Triss Qian. Image courtesy of Triss Qian.

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Triss is an illustrator and animator who lives and works in London. She earned a Bachelor of Graphic communication design from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, and is currently studying for her Master’s in Information Experience Design

from Royal College of Art. During her study, she has successfully Launched two self- published comic art collections, Triss Daily and the Quack Agent. Her animation, Windows, was selected for an excellent award in CDGA Graphic Design Award 2020.

Her illustrations have a wide client base in China, including Tmall, Chicecream China, and CASTEL FRÈRES. Triss was honored to be invited as the manager of key vision for a number of corporate offline promotions and her work has been presented as part of the commercial poster on billboards of public transportation in major cities across China. In her recent practice, Triss is exploring the possibilities of physical computing as a tool for urban residents to embrace nature. Moving from the field of illustration to interaction design, her work is aimed to measure the distance between nature and urban greenness from a creative perspective. Through multiple materials, Triss seeks to get the audience involved by relocating typical human behavior and sense in the tangible interactive experience.

Find more about Qian's work here.


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