Updated: Jan 25
From military to monks, to virtual art galleries
Imagine you’re standing in front of a captive audience at a Taiwanese stationery store. You’re an artist, and you’re there to show off your work - but this isn’t your typical show and tell. You’re Benedict Yu, a multi-disciplinary artist and researcher who explores Eastern philosophy, psychology, and human behavior through the lens of contemporary arts, technology, and artificial intelligence. Now imagine you’re there to introduce Occupy White Walls to a room full of people who might never have played a videogame. Exciting, isn’t it?
I got the chance to chat with Yu about how he wound up exhibiting an OWW gallery featuring his work to physical audiences and the role he sees the game playing in an art world still dominated by capitalist structures.
Yu’s only 24, but he’s already lived a more interesting life than most. Despite growing up in Taiwan, as a dual citizen of Singapore, he served two years of military service in the Singaporean army. While there, he kept an art diary, with pieces that reflected and expressed his homesickness - and then the pain of returning to a home that no longer felt the same, with his experiences overseas laying bear “political problems and social illusions” that were now clear for him to see.
As Yu puts it on his website, “leaving home is tough, but accepting the reality of those changes is harder.”
Confronting those changes was, in part, what ultimately lead him to Tibet. After securing an art residency at the Lasalle College of the Arts and exhibiting his work in London, Taiwan, and Singapore, Yu’s college sponsored a trip that saw him live and work with Tibetan monks. The result of that trip is a sprawling mandala entitled “Conversations between Heaven and Earth,” reflecting Yu’s belief that our souls can communicate and exchange the energy between us to the heavens and the earth. To the monks, that manifested through song - and through Yu, into art.
But let’s go back to that stationery store in Taiwan and how Yu first started dabbling with Occupy White Walls. His interest was sparked by the global pandemic and the resulting closures of local art galleries. To Yu, the virus was as much a threat as it was an opportunity to explore new artistic horizons - except he didn’t quite have the kit. That’s when the boss of Ipaper, that stationery store, stepped in and lent Yu a PC powerful enough to boot the game. You can see how Yu set about building his gallery for yourself here. For those who can’t make it to Taiwan, it’s well worth visiting in-game, too. Just search for Benedict Yu.
It’s a sprawling place, split into four wings that explore consciousness, intelligence, gender identity, and religion. Yu’s exhibited his in-game gallery at four separate events, each time seeking to explain how Occupy White Walls acts as a platform to explore those ideas. Many, though, are impressed by the platform itself:
“The audiences are quite amazed by the quality of the rendering, and the entire game idea,” Yu told me.
Unsurprisingly, younger people tend to be “more drawn to this imaginary world” - although they do have some reservations. “There are still a lot of restrictions,” Yu points out, “like how the artworks are all in rectangular forms.”