8 Robotics Artists From China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

Photo of Xuan Mai Ardia
13 November 2015

Following in the footsteps of kinetic art pioneers such as Wen-Ying Tsai, who passed away in January 2013, artists from Greater China, including Taiwan and Hong Kong, are increasingly experimenting with new media. Many of the young generation are working with software and robotics to create interactive and immersive kinetic installations that range from performative to participative, and are all surprisingly wondrous examples in the rising robot art scene.


Dimension+ is a new media arts creative team founded by two artists from Taiwan and Hong Kong, Escher Tsai and Keith Lam. The collective focuses on the merging of art and technology. Their projects focus on embedding new media into space and new media arts into industry, creating cross-disciplinary interactive design and enhancing the audience’s experience with interaction. Based in the digital era, Dimension+ aims at bridging the dichotomy between digital and physical, by transferring the invisible and the digital into a visible and tangible element, which is achieved by combining analogue and digital media.

Dimension+ has won many international awards and has exhibited in international festivals, exhibitions and events, including in Italy, Austria, Japan, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Signal Morphor: The Orchestra is an interactive and performative installation that transforms communication into musical score and gives ‘life’ to immaterial (or intangible) signals. The audience is the performer and the communication is translated into audio-visuals. A group of dancers with umbrellas perform as a kind of human antennas, translating or decoding the communication signals by reacting to the information they receive and performing their response to it.

The series of work entitled Vertebra recently featured at the 2013 Taipei Digital Arts Festival and in The Innovationists, demonstrates an exhibition of kinetic and robotic arts at K11 Mall in Hong Kong and at the Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art. The works use paper as the main material and are reproductions of vertebral columns that have the animal structure and solidity as well as the softness and suppleness of plants, creating a hybrid prototype of the ‘perfect’ creature.

Eric Siu

Eric Siu is a Hong Kong new media artist working with device art, interactive art, kinetics, installation, video and animation. He now works as Creative Director at Great Works Tokyo, an advertising agency, and has been a board member of Hong Kong’s Videotage since 2008. In 2005, he received a BA in Creative Media from the City University of Hong Kong, and went on to complete a 12 month cultural exchange and research project in the United States. His video and multimedia works have been exhibited around the globe, including at institutions and seminal new media art events such as ZKM Karlsruhe, MOCA Taipei, Transmediale, SIGGRAPH Asia, ISEA, Microwave, among others.

His most popular work Touchy won critical acclaim and first prize at WRO 2013, 15th International Media Art Biennale, Wroclaw, Poland and was featured on Discovery Channel and other international media publications. Touchy is a ‘human camera’ – a person wearing a camera – that takes a photograph when it is touched for more than 10 seconds. The wearable helmet device has the functions of a camera comprising of a pair of automated shutters, a functioning camera and an interactive screen. Touchy is most of the time blind behind the shutters, and the artwork is in fact a transformation of a human into a camera. The artist calls this work a ‘phenomenological social interaction experiment that focuses on the relationship of giving and receiving by literally transforming a human into a camera.’ For the artist, this work aims at healing the social anxieties of the digital era by creating playful interactions. In the current technological era, there has been a dehumanization of physical contact and social interaction increasingly happens virtually and digitally. Touchy addresses these problems by allowing interactions with strangers, involving physical contact and the combination of human with a social tech device: a camera, which in turn is a tool for sharing memories, moments, emotions, beauty.

Eric Siu, ‘Touchy’ | Courtesy Artist
Xia Hang, ‘Coming Soon Sculpture 2’ | Courtesy MB&F

Xia Hang

Xia Hang (b. 1978, Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China) started painting when he was 10 years old and graduated with a BFA from the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts and an MFA from the Sculpture Department of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). During his time at CAFA, Xia started making comma-shaped men sculptures in polished stainless steel, which were the precursors of his current mechanical alien sculptures.

Xia Hang has created a series of alien-like sculptures that, complete with mechanisms, move, stretch and change form with the interaction of the audience. The artist created such interactive works that were first shown in his 2008 exhibition in Beijing, entitled Please don’t touch (with the ‘touch’ crossed out), defying that one museum and gallery rule that forbids touching artworks. Xia Hang felt that this kind of sign detached the viewer and the artwork even more, so he decided to make artworks that would bring the two closer together, making sculptures becoming like toys.

Xia Hang also created LM1 (Legacy Machine No. 1) in collaboration with MB&F. The work is a watch that retains all the attractive features of the 19th century pocket-watch inspired original LM1. The Xia Hang version presents a new feature, in the form of a miniature stainless steel sculpture of a man who indicates the power reserve of the watch. ‘Mr. Up’, the sculpture sitting up straight when the movement is fully wound, slowly transforms into ‘Mr. Down’, a slouching figure, when the power diminishes.

Wu Xiaofei

Wu Xiaofei (Dyson) graduated with a BA in Fine Art for Design at Batley School of Art and Design, Dewsbury College, United Kingdom. At present, Wu is based in Chengdu and is learning the traditional art of paper cutting and working on a kinetic project. Growing up as a young introverted boy, Wu had a passion for taking things apart and rebuilding them from scratch. Discovering a malfunction and finding the solution was what drew him closer to developing his own mechanical works. Wu focuses on creating contraptions and kinetic installations that require the interaction of the public and stimulate their curiosity.

The Musical Typewriter is an example of his interactive installations, inviting young people and adults to play with it. Normally, using a typewriter is a straightforward writing activity that allows the user to know what the outcome of pressing the keys is. In Wu’s installation, the keys are connected to a series of fishing lines linked to little hammers. When the keys are pressed, the hammers will strike a variety of objects, such as empty pasta sauce jars, cans, bottles, foil, producing different sounds. The connections are unknown to the audience, which results in an unpredictable sound explosion. At present, Wu is trying to get funding or sponsorship from Ikea, to improve the project and enhance its background.

Wu Xiaofei, ‘Musical Typewriter’, interactive installation | Courtesy Artist

Samson Young

Samson Young (b. 1979) is a composer, sound and new media artist from Hong Kong with an almost intimidatingly impressive CV. He received a BA in Music, Philosophy and Gender Studies from the University of Sydney in 2002 and an MPhil in Music Composition from the University of Hong Kong in 2007. He has a PhD in Music Composition from Princeton University (USA) and is an assistant professor in Critical Intermedia Art at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong. His mentors include Chan Hing-Yan and Paul Lansky. Young has exhibited and performed internationally, including Sydney Springs International New Music Festival (Australia 2001), the Canberra International Music Festival (Australia 2008), ISCM World Music Days (Australia 2010), MONA FOMA Festival of Music and Art (2011), Microwave International New Media Arts Festival (HK 2004), among many others. In 2007, he was the first Hong Kong artist to win the Bloomberg Emerging Artist Award with his audio-visual project The Happiest Hour.

Despite this roll-call of success in extremis, Young is also reflective and thoughtful, traits which show in his works. His Machines for Making Nothing (2011-2014) is a collection of small electronic objects that, apart for being used to play with, have no function or meaning at all. Their existence proves how interactivity can be seductive or even addictive and the artwork explores ‘the aesthetic pleasures of human-machine interaction’ at its most basic level. Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 1 – 14 (Senza Misura) consists of 47 open-style breadboard circuits, which function as electronic metronomes. Each one of these small devices ticks and blinks marking the tempo from one of the movements of the sonata.

Courtesy Samson Young

Annie Wan

Annie Wan is a new media artist from Hong Kong. She graduated with a BA in Creative Media from the City University of Hong Kong in 2002 and an MSc in Applied Information Technology (Art and Technology) from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, in 2005. In 2012, she received a PhD in Digital Arts and Experimental Media from the University of Washington, USA. She is currently Assistant Professor in the School of Communication (Academy of Film), Hong Kong Baptist University. Wan has exhibited internationally at festivals, events and exhibitions, including Multimedia Art Asia Pacific Conference 2004 (Singapore), ZeroOne/ ISEA 2006 (San Jose, United States), the French Pavilion at the 10th Venice Architecture Biennale. In 2009 she won the Finalist prize at the Asia Digital Art Awards 2009, Fukuoka, Japan.

Annie Wan’s works mostly focus on locative media, embedded electronics and network-based systems. Where’s the Chicken? (2008-2009) is a locative robotics public artwork, supported by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. The work functions as a narrative performance, which is constructed with the interaction of the robot, its culturally specific location and the participating public. Embodying public interaction, collaborative narrative, automata system and mobile technology, the work is a life form mechanical automata that does not simply simulate reality, but allows the public to engage with it and alter, transform and twist the perception of such reality. By interacting with the installation, the public collaborates in its development as well as in the continuation of the narrative around the performance. The audience also helps in the collation of a ‘chicken map of the city’ by sharing its experiences with the artist.

Annie Wan, ‘Where’s the Chicken?’ at Art Square of the Salisbury Garden Completion Ceremony | Courtesy Artist

Shyu Ruey-Shiann

Shyu Ruey-Shiann (b. 1966, Taipei) is currently based between Taipei and New York. He has exhibited internationally, such as National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, the Chelsea Museum of Art in New York, the Hong Kong Arts Center and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts in Australia, among others.

Shyu is known for creating mechanical and kinetic sculptures launched in 1997, which use mechanical form as an abstract language that conveys his ideas and feelings towards life, memories and issues concerning the environment, politics and society. His mechanically complex works comprise up to thousands of components designed and made by the artist himself, but retain a simple appearance and give an impression of simplicity.

One Kind of Behaviour is his most recent work, a public outdoor installation now on show at the Bronx Museum of Art in New York until 17 August 2014. The installation comprises dozens of steel buckets of the same size, scattered on the terrace floor and undulating to their own individual rhythm. The work is inspired by the quasi-mechanical movement of hermit crabs, whose slow movements are in high contrast to the speed at which contemporary society is moving. The hermit crab also uses shells discarded by other species and Shyu sees this as a metaphor for our human condition. The artist asks us to reflect upon our environment and the consequences of human actions on nature.

Shyu Ruey-Shiann, ‘Dreambox’, 2009-2012, Wolf125 motorcycle, motors, metal construction, steel, wire, censor, transformer, 400 x 300 x 230 cm | Courtesy Artist
Akibo Lee | Courtesy Artist

Akibo Lee

Akibo Lee (Li Ming-dao) is a Taiwanese artist who engages with digital art and robotics. He is renowned for his design work for the pop music industry in Taiwan. He has exhibited extensively around the world, including in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and the USA. Lee engages with interdisciplinary work and has been creating robots for a diverse audience, including commercial branding, visual art, performing art and public art.

One of his most widely known works in the public sphere is BIGPOW, a robotic installation comprising a group of three robots, a big and two smaller ones. Playful and cute in appearance, the three robots hide an interactive component behind their seemingly static designs. The robots are metamorphosed hi-fi equipment and the public can connect their MP3 devices to them and share their music publicly.

Expressing his love for electronic music, Lee has also created two dancing robots, Ding and Lulubo. Ding is an octopus-like creature with eight legs and Lulubo is a female robot, with a beautiful shape. The two robots have ‘performed’ in dance halls and theater, at Hip Hop and electronic beats, as well as ‘collaborated’ with dance troupes.

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