The Chinese martial art of t’ai chi ch’uan, or tai chi, as it’s been shortened in the West, can be translated in a few ways, including “supreme ultimate fist” and “great extremes boxing.” Matt Pyke, founder of the digital art group Universal Everything, saw the martial art as something a bit different: the inspiration for a series of abstract video sculptures.
To create his five “impossible sculptures,” currently on view at the Framed Gallery in Tokyo, Pyke did a motion-capture session with a tai chi master, turning his movements into data. “We then ‘dressed’ this data with a series of physical costumes,” the artist explains, resulting in a series of works that look nothing alike, though they were all based on the very same motions. One of the sculptures turns the tai chi master into a Transformer-esque mass of blocks, another shows him as a series of wispy lines, and yet another as a sort of protozoan blob.
“The costumes were inspired by a combination of modern urban architecture and LED lighting,” Pyke told me. “This feeling of living architecture gave a grand sense of scale to the bodies.” But at the same time, the sculptures’ source material gives audiences a way to connect back to them. “By using body movements,” Pyke continued, “you can sense the human spirit within these abstract forms, bringing warmth, empathy, and life to [them].”
Each of the five sculptures was given its own unique soundtrack–an ambient accompaniment tailored to the visual style of the piece. But the sounds were also designed to serve as layers of a single, more complex piece, which is how they’ll be experienced by visitors to the exhibition in Tokyo.
All in all, it’s a novel way to look at the timeless practice of tai chi. Now when does Zumba get the video art treatment?