China – Living in between Real and Unreal

By Xiaoying (Juliette) YUAN

Presentation for “Making the Reality Really Real”, the 11th Consciousness Reframed International Research Conference, Oct. 28 – Nov. 04, 2010, Trondheim, Norway


Seeking for Land of Illusion

Contemporaries of Cao Fei, Beijing media artists Lily & Honglei resurrected the culture and history of their motherland in Second Life’s virtual space, while re-constituting it in a contemporary context so as to comment on the social problems in contemporary China. Behind their interest in blurring between real and unreal, is their search of identity and culture. In Lily & Honglei’s “Land of Illusion – Reconstituting History and Culture in Online Virtual World” [Fig 3] diverse social issues in contemporary China are discussed through symbolized objects and characters: the “great fire wall” symbolizing the cultural barrier, the “underwater city” a virtual recreation of a real historical site near the Three Georges Dam, where the female character roaming around the “underwater city” is the ghost of Xishi, a famous beauty in folk tales.

Fig 3, Lily & Honglei, Paradise of the Assassins, Land of Illusion, screen shot by author

The artists are not only appealing for the conservation of Chinese cultural heritage as the soul of the country but are also concerned about more universal themes such as religion and freedom. In episode IV “Celebration!” [Fig 4], a work in memory of the student victims the Sichuan earthquake in 2008,  the year of the Olympic Games, a virtual Merry-go-around is built inside a Water Cube where the Games were held three months after the historic disaster. The entire episode is an ironic allusion of China’s official media blackout on the student death toll investigation during the period of the grandiose Olympic Games.

Fig 4, Lily & Honglei, Celebration!, Land of Illusion, screen shot by author

Continue reading here.

Second Life Performance Night :: October 9, 2009; 6:30 – 8:30 pm :: Eyebeam, 540 W. 21st St., NYC.

This evening will feature three different artists/groups (including Eyebeam resident Scott Kidall), which use the online virtual world of Second Life as a medium for performance art. Alan Sondheim will present a performance using the aesthetics of the Second Life environment to create an experimental choreography; Lily & Honglei will present The Merry-go-around, a virtual installation addressing a series of environmental issues in today’s China; and Second Front has discovered a virtual crypt within Second Life and are inviting the public to witness its opening.

Together, these performances will sample some of the contemporary trends in Second Life performance art…


Lily & Honglei's presentation at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center, NYC

Lily & Honglei's presentation at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center, NYC


project link to virtual environment in Second Life:

Project Team Members:

Director: Lily & Honglei

Virtual Environment Developing: Lily & Honglei

Assistant Director/Performance Organizer: Daniel Shanks

Underwater City Performers:

Daniel Shanks (SL name: Nightingale Xuanzang)

Jade Sharkfin

Jolene Sabetha

Kai Serapis

Merry-go-around participants:

Ti Mosienko

Lili Avindar

Our gratitude to all performance participants!!

Artist Talk  – Lily & Honglei

Our works addresses a series of on-going socio-cultural issues in China, particularly those caused by globalization and social transformation. The online muti-user virtual environment in Second Life allows us to visualize those issues and share our point of view with a large audience through internet, also it creates a lot of opportunities for collaborations with artists from different cultural backgrounds through real-time interaction online. Following, we’d like to share with you our virtual installations and online performances in SL.

Installation I: Merry-go-around


We’ve been developing Second Life project since 2007. Today we just present a very small version of the work, as we’ve got limited time to clarify the implication of each part, so we are not giving a complex and lengthy statement here. First, we follow our avatar to experience a virtual installation, the merry-go-around.  We’d like to add a little background information. The piece “merry go around” is about 2008 Sichuan Earthquake in China, particularly in memory of thousands of
students died in the devastating disaster. In fact, research and investigation indicate this tragedy is not a merely natural disaster –  the poorly constructed school buildings have contributed to student death as a major factor. You can see the background image reveals the collapsed schools. Chinese netizens call them “tofu-dregs schoolhouses”, to mock both the quality and the quantity of these inferior constructions that killed so many school children. This a terribile consequence of local corruptions. Besides, experts argue the nearby hydropower dams might have triggered the earthquake. Since these inquiries are considered “politically sensitive,” the student’s death in Sichuan earthquake has become a taboo subject in Chinese media recently. We think it’s important to make artwork reflecting on the historical tragedy, and share our memory with others through Internet, so we build this piece in Second Life. You can see in the foreground, the students wearing red scarf, in typical school uniform are riding merry-go-around, in fact, they’re victims lost their lives in the earthquake. The background with school rubbles is composed with Honglei’s oil paintings based on pictures of the earthquake ruins. Ironically, if you look at the space from outside, you’ll see a structure with totally different appearance, which mimics 2008 Beijing Olympic swimming pool, called water cube. The spectacular surface works as a disguise covering huge internal problems.

Water Cube & Great Fire Wall

Water Cube & Great Fire Wall

Installation II: Great Fire Wall

Now we’re leaving the merry go around and visiting other spots following our avatar. Stepping down the ladder, we’re on the great wall. we built the great wall on fire to mock the Great Fire Wall of China, the notorious Internet censorship. Using a device called ‘teleporter’, our avatar is transporting to another spot, Underwater City.

Installation III: Underwater City

The virtual construction of Underwater City is a recreation of a historical site in Three Gorges Dam. A little bit background about the this – It becomes flooded as a result of development of Three Gorges Dam hydro-power project, which is the world’s largest hydro-power station and most controversial dam, because it results 1.2 million people displaced, many historical sites flooded or entirely submerged in Yangtze river. Since Three Gorges area is central in Chinese culture and history, the loss of cultural heritage is inestimable. Here, we look around and see several ancient Chinese characters performing here, they are actually played by our team members. Designs of these characters are inspired by Chinese folk stories and historic legends. Those individuals are very significant in terms of cultural spirit. We don’t have time to tell each individual story, but overall these characters represent individualism in Chinese culture. Their performances in underwater city convey a message about loss of cultural identity during process of development and globalization. It’s worth to mention our team members conducting the performance are not only from eastern cultural background, in fact, they are from US, Australia, UK.etc. Their engagement with reinterpretation of Chinese culture have brought the dialog between east and west to a new level.


Meng Jiang Nu

Mi Heng

Mi Heng

Ji Kang

Ji Kang

Qu Yuan

Qu Yuan

Now, we’re leaving the ghostly place, and get ready for the last part of the performance – the fireworks – just mimic the routine of major celebrations in China.



Artistic practice in virtual world

1. Speaking of artistic practice in Second Life, I think it’s important to highlight the characteristics of this type of art. As Second Life art is based on the Internet, it shares the same natures of Internet art – it’s highly accessible, one can experience SL art from computers with broadband connection; it allows real-time interaction between artworks and audience; it creates a lot opportunities for artist collaborations. We have been working in painting, installation and video for years, never seriously considered collaborating with others until we started working in Second Life. This because the nature of virtual world art demands you work together with people to carry out certain tasks. Compared with other media, virtual world art has reached a new level in term of interactions, either between artists or with audience.

2. Virtual world art becomes a solution for nostalgia, diaspora. As we have left China for years, and the conditions don’t allow us to going back quite often. We found it’s necessary to use art to deal with this kind of cultural displacement, to reconnect with our cultural origin. In 2007, we began to build a Chinese garden in Second Life, which was quite similar to our living environment in Beijing. Then we met some new friends in Second Life and invited them to visit the garden. We had quite inspirational conversations and discussions in the virtual space, and started planning a series of performance reinterpreting Chinese folkloric traditions. Those activities effectively reconnect ourselves with Chinese culture. The virtual garden became another home in where we can visually and mentally immerse in it, meditate and develop new perspectives regarding cultural traditions and current society. In this sense, the virtual world art helps to overcome geographic barriers, and therefore we can reach a more integral life.

3. Second Life is good art recreating real social, cultural or environmental situations, so that arouse further intellectual inquires on these issues. In the multi-user virtual environment, the virtual architectures and performance work together to enable the non-linear narrative, which may comprehensively uncover the meanings of certain social situations and their relationships.

It was a busy night.

“Dancing First”

First we three, Ry (PumpkinWeirdo Keng), Kristy (Victoria Bury) and me (Lily Jun) performed “Winter Blossom” dance, 3Star Tyne designed the flower-like dress, Jimmy composed music. Ry probable designed 20 gestures/animations for dancing, I’m still not sure I followed his instruction, let’s wait to see the outcome in videos.

Winter Blossom Dance

Winter Blossom Dance

On Monument ’08 – Cloud Ladder

Then I shouted to the group, “let’s start climbing the cloud ladder on the Great Fire Wall!” Indeed, I  captured a bunch of footage showing how people were struggling between heaven and ground! Obviously it’s a frustrating and somehow scary experience – when attempting to reach the sky…

"get ready to reach the sky!"

"get ready to reach the sky!"

Sowa Mai is the bravest and most successful one!

Sowa Mai is the bravest and most successful one!

she's hestating, on "cloud-ladder" in Land of Illusion

she's hesitating

"a beautiful struggle"

"a beautiful struggle" - PumpkinWeirdo, the dancer, and 3star Tyne, our fashion designer, are standing on the ladder

Sowa Mai is falling ...

Sowa Mai is falling ...

After Falling , in Crystal Palace


"nice to see you again in Crystal Palace, Banrion Constantine:)"

Sowa Mai in Crystal Palace with "good fortune" symbol for OX year

Sowa Mai in Crystal Palace with "good fortune" symbol for OX year

we need fireworks, for the lost city...

we need fireworks, for the lost city...

visitors in Land of Illusion
visitors in Land of Illusion
We greatly appreciate all participants’ effort! The film production will be presented in several occasions, including in Digital Art@DMAC, East Village NYC, Boston Cyberarts Biennial SL art exhibition at University of Massachusetts. All participants will receive credits for performing. Any questions, please contact:

New Exhibition Information

Curatorial Statement

Lucian Perkins, photojournalist and two time Pulitzer prize winner

With one of America’s most significant inaugurations just behind us, the country in economic turmoil, and a multitude of wars being fought on foreign soil, freedom is not far from anybody’s mind. Not just in the political sense, for as tension rises we also seek creative escapes, and from that new ideas emerge. Gallery RFD’s upcoming exhibition, Sweet Escape, is about exploring liberty in any context. We request your views about political freedom, personal freedom, and creative freedom, interpreted into works of art.

Exhibition runs: April 11 – May 2, 2009

Opening Reception: April 11, 2009, 5-8 p.m

Gallery RFD

Gallery RFD

Lily & Honglei - China new media art

Work on View:Trilogy "Peacock Flies Southeast" by Lily & Honglei

Land of Illusion by Lily & Honglei

Work on View: Land of Illusion by Lily & Honglei

Lunar New Year in “Land of Illusion”

Location: Monument ’08 in “Land of Illusion” SLURL
Exhibition Dates: Jan.25 (Chinese New Year Eve) – Feb.26, 2009 (end of first month on Lunar Calender)
[Event/exhibition video documentation will be presented in”Art Beijing” Contemporary Art Fair 2009, April 26th to 30th, 2009 in the Agricultural Exhibition Centre, Beijing]
Opening: 8PM EST or 5PM SLT Jan.30, 2009, reception with live dance performance Winter Blossom by Story House group.

Monument ’08: Lily & Honglei, the new media artist team from Beijing, invites you to experience a unique installation exhibition in Second Life – “Monument ’08,” during the first month of Chinese Ox year.

"Crystal Palace" installation

"Crystal Palace" installation

Monument ’08 is designed as a visual meditation upon the past and the new year.
Using link provided, audience will find themselves immediately standing inside a giant ancient China’s chariot on the Great Fire Wall, and facing an endless long ladder leading to the heaven. Here, the symbolism is obvious: a Confucius’ chariot implies striving in society and hoping to change the world with their idealistic principles, and persistently follow the footprint of Confucius who “knows the impracticable nature of the time, and yet will be doing them.” The ladder in folk culture usually symbolizes high social status. Audiences are suggested to start from the chariot to “climb up – but be careful! ” one may fall from the clouds down to the ground any second!


Monument '08

But not too bad – audience might land down around an underwater “Crystal Palace,” another part of this virtual installation consisting of relics of a heritage site mimicing the Three Georges Dams area, with scattered paintings and digitized Chinese cutting paper, that allow visitors to take copies with them as a “souvenir.” Or, they might land on the other site in “Land of Illusion,” a Chinese court yard and garden indicating the correlative cosmology, and inviting you to access your inner garden.

Painting Installation at Crystal Palace

Painting Installation at Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace - Painting Installation

Crystal Palace - Painting Installation

White Painting in West Chambers

White Painting in West Chambers

Monument 08 in "Land of Illusion" - January 2009

Monument '08 in "Land of Illusion" - January 2009 (early stage)

“Land of Illusion – folklore in digital media”

presentation @ Upgrade! Boston

Upgrade! Boston Presentation

Upgrade! Boston Presentation

Curated by

Location: Studio for Interrelated Media, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, 621 Huntington Avenue, Boston

Schedule: May 19th, 2009

Event: artists talk by Lily & Honglei

note: Upgrade! Boston is a monthly gathering of artists, curators and the public that fosters dialogue and creates opportunities for collaboration within the new media community. Hosted by the Studio for Interrelated Media at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, each meeting consists of one or two hour-long presentations interspersed with questions and comments from the audience. Theme-based panel discussions are organized once or twice a year. The events are informal, free, and open to all. Founded by in January 2005, Upgrade! Boston continues to grow as a local node within the global Upgrade! International (UI) network.

Exhibition: Virtual Art @ NYC Broadway Gallery
 Virtual Art @ Broadway Gallery NYC

Virtual Art @ Broadway Gallery NYC

Exhibition Location:

NY Arts Broadway Gallery, 473 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10013 (212) 274-8993

gallery websites:,

Exhibition Dates: February 15 – 28, 2009, Tues – Sat 10: – 6:00 pm.

Opening Reception: Thursday 6-8PM, February 19th, 2009

Exhibition Description: the exhibition explores virtual world art as a form of assessment of globalization, a venue to explore Internet-based virtual world as a Modernist techno-libertarian utopia, a political utopia, and “reality” of the dream world. The exhibition also serves as part of initiative of a new platform promoting net-art by presenting work in this field not only on Internet but in galleries in both New York City and Beijing.

Land of Illusion team: Scott Grant, Kristy Lee, Bill H. Li, Honglei Li, Ry Daniel Shanks, Bill Weaver, Lily Xiying Yang

lily, Patrick, Will & Craig discussing NY Arts Net-art initiative in VF clinic

lily, Patrick, Will & Craig discussing NY Arts Net-art initiative (first meeting in VF clinic)

Networked Performance: Hundred Schools of Thought

Dec.18, 9-10PM EST, 6-7PM SLT

Teleport to Land of Illusion now

Hundred Schools of Thought - performance in "Land of Illusion"

Hundred Schools of Thought – performance in “Land of Illusion”

Performance Description: By reflecting on the cultural phenomenon in Chinese history, “Land of Illusion” team’s new performance in Second Life, Hundred Schools of thought aims to making critical social and cultural commentaries in Cyberspace.

From Spring and Autumn to Warring States Period, during nearly 500 years in China, thought was freed, learning was unrestricted. Scholars without official responsibilities, were able to develop their views freely; heterodoxies thus could widely prevail. Men of profound thought and far vision inevitably were moved to make critical inquires into the causes and influences of these great changes, and quite naturally voiced opposition or offered constructive proposal.

In this performance in Second Life, six major philosophers reside in the Grand View Garden, presenting or advocating their thoughts and strategies freely. While the characters are identifiable by appearances and activities through historical accounts, performers, six artists and educators from China, Australia and America, have been encouraged to interpret the profound cultural message with their own reading when retaining their personal virtual identities as certain degree. Exploring “multifaceted identities” is the focus of this social-cultural reinterpretations through symbolic approaches.

Viewers are invited to log in Second Life for an immersive experience of this performance reflecting on not only Chinese history and philosophy, but legend and personality.

more information at, and