[Labs] Ziyang Wu: Algorithmic Narrative in Hierarchical System

Executive Editor | Pocono Zhao Yu

Translator | Hu Ye


Where Did Macy Go?  Color Digital Video with Sound 8 min 53 sec 2020

Where Did Macy Go? is an 11-episode fictional video that was originally published on TikTok. Based on the context of COVID-19 pandemic, and through the creation of the protagonist “Macy”,  the work presents the community with a shared future because of home quarantine, the mask politics, the social unrest, and the emergence of a new community after decollectivization.

In response to the fashion of online exhibitions during COVID-19, Wu Ziyang produced a series of AR works and Instagram filters. He believes that instead of digitizing physical contents for online display, it should show the essences of the internet and social media: reposts and likes. So far, these AR works have been used more than 20,000 times on Instagram. These users are exactly the characters described in Wu Ziyang's work —— they have become numerous "Macys." This work is a response to and an inquiry about this era of fear, hurry, and confusion, and the title "Where Did Macy Go?" seems to prove a kind of powerlessness and incomprehension.


Where Did Macy Go (Split Face), Augmented Reality (AR) on Instagram, 2020


A Woman with the Technology, Archive, data analysis, three-channel video, AI Chatbot, Animated video based on AI-generated script, VR headset, chrome silver mannequin, various-size LED screens 2019

The project A Woman with Technology studies how a personal online experience becomes "individualized" through network algorithms. It is a response to the “Filter Bubbles” constantly created by the algorithms.[1] In fact, the information deviates from the user's viewpoint, and the “Filter Bubble” isolates users in the bubble of their own culture and ideology. Through the personal experience of Wu Ziyang's fictional account “Me," the work shows the increasingly extreme experimental research. The content of the research project is divided into four parts:

The first part is the documentation. The artist chose a series of keywords closely related to “Me," such as “identity," "Asian experience,” “unseen," "marginal aesthetics,” “misunderstanding," "post-western society,” "education," “absurdity," and “multiculturalism." He "input" them as initial data into the public networking platform. Every day, he logged in to the account, gave likes, comments and reposted the contents that "I" was interested in.


Part 2: Archives

The archives present how the Internet algorithm (largely based on user’s interest, recency and relationship) affects the frequency changes of the keywords and their related data and images in the form of sketches, diagrams and Excel forms. It also includes the longitudinal and horizontal comparison between the early and the late stage on different media platforms.

The second part is the analysis, which presents the process of shaping "Me" through network algorithms. The changes in keywords are demonstrated through charts, pictures, videos, and Excel tables. This section shows the most frequent keywords of the day and a change curve of the keywords across the entire documentation. These keywords were filtered by the total proportion of their appearance frequencies in a certain period and their daily proportions.


Part 3 – Three-channel video (In collaboration with artist and creative technologist Yang Wang)

A three-channel video showing all the clips that mention the top 50 keywords and/or sentences that include the keywords over the period of three-month of social practice and archive. Additionally, I use the image detection (dense caption) to visually present how the AI/Internet algorithm sees in these videos and how it creates the “filter bubbles”. (In collaboration with artist Yang Wang)

The third part is a three-channel video, which is based on the most frequent keywords. It filtered out all the keywords mentioned in the above document and collaged them. In the process, with the AI technologies of image detection and dense caption, "Me" captured and interpreted all the images in the video, describing all the video contents in detail. (This part was completed in collaboration with artist Wang Yang)



Part 4: AI Chatbot and Animated video

The data that were used to train the AI include all the captions, subtitles (or auto-generated subtitles from YouTube) from the 3 months collecting, as well as all the textual information from the image detection (dense caption). In this way, I was able to cover all the aspects of the information I collected (both textual and visual). After the AI Chatbot was trained, I Googled “How to write a film script”? It listed a series of questions that needed to be asked in order to write “a successful script”. I asked the AI Chatbot all the listed questions to create the film script and then made the animated video based on the AI-generated script.

The last part is a 3D animation based on AI-written scripts. "Me" collected the titles, subtitles, and all the contents detected in the image as the training data to create an AI Chatbot (which can be seen as a simplified Siri), whose knowledge only includes the collected data of the document. In this way, the network algorithms are in the Filter bubble made by "Me". "Me" asked the AI Chatbot various questions, such as "What is the character of the protagonist,” "What happened at the beginning of the story,” and "Where is the turning point of the story,” etc., which form the scripts of A Woman with the Technology. Finally, "Me" created a 3D animation based on the scripts.

Ziyang Wu’s works could remind us of the painting The Garden of Earthly Delightsby Hieronymus Bosch. People seem to always face similar situations at different times. Such a chaotic world is also happening at present, which is reflected in Ziyang Wu's works. He, however, constantly keeps constructing (worlds), questioning (the issues), and also escaping (from the situations).

[1] A network theory proposed by Internet activist Eli Pariser, which is about the phenomenon that network users will only receive the pushed information and ideas that they are interested in and believe to be correct under network algorithms.

Audio Interview

There are many narratives in your works, and you also construct a world through creation. How did this narrative and construction come about?


Can you talk about your creative model? Do you usually create on your own or in collaboration with others? Can you share one or two impressive cases of collaboration?


We learned that you have an upcoming project called “Bell Labs.” Can you share the details with us? How has 2020 been influencing your life and creation?

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Ziyang Wu

Project UNArt 2020 #3: Infrastructural Plays 2020.12.22-2021.01.31
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