Member Spotlight – Chloe Lee

Chloé Lee (b. 1988, California, USA) is an American-Canadian artist living in Berlin, Germany. Her latest work uses haptic virtual reality technology to explore where digital and analog worlds meet. She is fascinated with how these new spaces can be used to explore memory, identity, and how we make meaning.

She is a visiting researcher at the research institute Matters of Activity and Masters of Fine Arts student at Hunter College, A  City University of New York City. Chloé is a 2021-2022 Creative Arts Fulbright grantee for her VR project Temporal World. Next month her work will be in the group show, “Store of Culture” at the World Trade Center, The Oculus, Canvas Space, which explores the theme of permanent documentation of culture.

Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist/ scholar.

Growing up in Northern California I was surrounded by some of the most beautiful nature – but at the time I did not fully appreciate it. I often dreamed of going to other places. I was always the one in my family who was curious about my grandparents’ stories; what village life was like, how granddad was able to communicate with the Japanese soldier by drawing characters in the sand, or the jung poh poh made in their makeshift brick oven in the backyard. My dad is Chinese-Canadian and my mom is Chinese-Singaporean, and not unlike many Asian Americans, I felt disconnected from my homogenous surroundings. Later, I traveled frequently to Singapore and became interested in the country’s rapid development and how societies developed over time. There, it seemed that there were many young adults who were also nostalgic for a past they had never experienced. However, I met a group of youth who had turned dilapidated childhood restaurants into new community spaces and merged traditional Chinese opera with electronic music. This inspired me to shift my focus from the old to the new, reimagining the past in new forms. 

Antenna (2021) Chloé Lee in the Willowphone 1.0. Sound installation. Oculus Quest 2 Headset, willow branches, transducers, mixer. Collaboration with Chloé Lee, Samuel Perea-Diaz & Vanta for Matters of Activity, Stretching Senses School at Tieranatomisches Theater.

Prior to Berlin, I worked as a freelance camera operator and editor in NYC. My background is in documentary filmmaking and I graduated in 2010 with BAs in Film and Digital Media studies and Economics. I had always defaulted to a more traditional approach to telling stories, but in 2019 I decided to go back to school. After nearly 10 years out of school I felt a lingering desire to try a career in fine arts. I realized that was what I had always wanted to do. I began as an art major before switching to film and many of my clients were artists and art companies. I was close, but not quite there.

Now I am currently at Hunter College, completing my thesis, for a Masters of Fine Arts in Integrated Media Arts and am preparing for a solo exhibition at the end of the year in Berlin for Temporal World. My current interests in haptics will keep me at the research institute Matters of Activity where I will continue to develop my work.

What is your typical day like?

I go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 5am to journal, have coffee before I watch the sun rise on my balcony in Kreuzberg. 

…That is how I wish I started each day. In actuality, my schedule changes too frequently to establish a consistent routine. Oftentimes I write in the morning remotely in my apartment and make breakfast before going into work at the research institute. On a good day, I can also squeeze in a few rounds of ping pong, a new favorite hobby since moving to Germany.

Willowphone 1.0 (2021) Oculus Quest 2 Headset, willow branches, transducers, mixer. Collaboration with Chloé Lee, Samuel Perea-Diaz & Vanta for Matters of Activity, Stretching Senses School at Tieranatomisches Theater.
What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on Temporal World and conceptualizing an interactive website as a follow up archive. 

It was initially inspired by my time in Singapore and during the pandemic I was also thinking about physical connection. Shortly after the lock down, I got a hold of an Oculus Quest. We were all so isolated, and naturally, I was reflecting a lot, it was an introspective time. Since live action filming became logistical nearly impossible I dove into my archives. VR was an interesting tool for world building; the possibilities seemed endless. I was thinking about how to externalize internal worlds and VR was also interesting because I saw it as something that represented progress and innovation – the very mentality that led to the aggressive development in Singapore. I wondered if these kinds of innovative technologies could be used instead to emphasize one’s individual and collective agency in speculating possible futures. 

Temporal World (2022) Documentation from the virtual reality application. Vibrating particles become birds. Matter can shift from one form to another.
Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?

I have an idea that is in the very early stages. Since working in haptics for Temporal World, I have become interested in language around the touch experience. I am developing an online speculative sensorial space that focuses on discovery of the senses and playful learning navigating spaces. It might contain an assortment of prompted exercises for others to follow on their own or a group (e.g. breathing exercises, meditative exercises) and what if/speculative lines of questioning that encourages one to think about how we can engage with our environments in new ways. The website would also work as an archive, containing the soundscapes generated by participants who enter the Temporal World virtual reality experience. This would be a site with many branching possibilities, where no two visitors will have the same paths. 

Temporal World (2022) Development documentation – mundane objects act as open portals to memory scenes.
Collaboration with Matters of Activity’s Object Space Agency and Cutting, Experience Design & Art Direction by Chloé Lee, Unity Experience Development by Lucas Martinic, Haptic Jacket Fabrication and Design by Bumesi, Hardware Design by Mohammed Fardin Gholam