Inspired by role-playing video games, Ryan Kuo’s (SMACT ’14) Puzzle rebuilds conversations from his personal history as a first-generation immigrant Taiwanese American growing up in rural America. In looping, disembodied encounters, themes of Confucian patriarchy and filial piety encounter American idealism and self-preservation. Instead of viewing these as opposing forces, Kuo attempts to piece them together across the barriers of memory and language.

As questions and confusion accumulate in dialogue boxes, graphical tiles reassembling fragments of places that Kuo once inhabited or imagined build up in layers of love and restlessness, nostalgia, and speculation. Traveling backward and forward through time but never repeating itself, the program generates new sequences of conversations and compositions each time a viewer opens the work. The instability of the experience—the terse, bilingual conversations and sprawling maps and structures—reflects the difficulty of retracing the steps that bring us to the present moment. In a provocative gesture, there is no play in the program. Instead, through amnesiac loops that reiterate frozen values and attempt to say what cannot be said, the artist outlines identities and societies stranded in the past, resulting in a turbulent present and insinuating an unknown yet deterministic future. Puzzle does have one interactive feature: it toggles between the language that is written. The text is bilingual, which is a central aspect of the work.

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Ryan Kuo is an artist and writer based in New York City. His work often uses digital systems and sequences to invoke a person or people arguing. Projects have been commissioned and shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art (NYC), Queens Museum (NYC), bitforms gallery (NYC), TRANSFER (LA), Stroom Den Haag (The Hague), Goethe-Institut China (Beijing), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), Goldsmiths (London), Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (Cambridge), and MIT Media Lab (Cambridge), and have been published in ArtforumArt in AmericaBOMB, and Rhizome. He was born in Elkins, West Virginia, and holds a Master of Science in Art, Culture and Technology from MIT.

Puzzle is commissioned by M+, with their support in the Chinese translation, and is co-curated with Kerry Doran and Kate Gu.