Wa Liu’s (SMACT ’22) Award-winning ‘Devil’s Ivy’ and ‘Racing Thoughts’

Wa Liu, Devil's Ivy, 2020. VR film.
ACT at MIT

Wa Liu (SMACT ’22) recently won awards for two of her works.

Devil’s Ivy
Her VR demo, Devil’s Ivy, won the International Emmy Awards for Young Creatives. Her project was even featured on their Instagram.

Devil’s Ivy is a 10-min virtual reality film interrogating the increasingly blurred lines between truth and imagination during the COVID-19 pandemic. It sends the viewer on a surreal trip to the city under lockdown, the virus-hit cruise ship and the mass grave. As the invisible virus morphs into bizarre symbolic elements, it reveals issues embedded in the fabric of the society long before the contagion, such as public surveillance and social distrust. The Internet overflowed with contradictory narratives and misinformation has rendered the world both seemingly accessible and at the same time bewilderingly labyrinthine, leaving each individual with one’s own limited imagination of the ever-morphing reality.

Racing Thoughts
Liu also took home the 2020 Lumen Prize Photomonitor Student Award for a moving image work that uses brain-computer inference to explore emotional changes in real time. Her 2-channel video, Racing Thoughts, traces discursive Internet surfing by juxtaposing clinical and humanistic approaches to emotion.

Racing Thoughts traces the artist’s discursive Internet surfing by juxtaposing both clinical and humanistic approaches to human emotions. On the right channel, a brainwave headset objectively monitors her real-time emotional changes. On the left channel, hand-drawn animations illustrate her subjective thoughts and imagination with a human touch. As she scrolls through the endless webpages, the Internet also brings unexpected discoveries back into the real world, which range from data privacy in neurotechnology to mental health issues among students, from air pollution in China to its nuclear industry during the Cold War. In the end, this virtual journey on the Internet leads to her on-site field research of China’s first military nuclear base “404.”