A Conversation on Skype about RMB City Between Jiang Jun and Hu Fang
( From 11:30:36 pm to 0:42:14 am, Oct 29-30, 2007 )
Jiang Jun: The chief editor of Urban China magazine;
Hu Fang: The artistic director of Vitamin Creative Space.
Jiang Jun: JJ, Hu Fang: HF.
HF: RMB City is a new city built in Second Life by Cao Fei (as China Tracy). It is a spatial mosaic of the presence and the future of China. What do you think about this hybrid? Is this hybrid development the reflection of urban development in China?
JJ: The hybrid mode, or to be more precise, the combination of international fad and Chinese characteristics in the specific context of the present China, is indeed inevitable during the transformation of China. RMB City is not necessarily a replication of it though.
HF: Indeed, it’s rather the reflection of the artist’s individual experiences, a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek creation. What’s interesting is that a “China Town” gets implanted into Second Life.
JJ: When we observe the urbanization of China and go deeper beyond its surrealist moments and absurdity on the superficial level, we’ll see the causes of them.
HF: Right, the urbanization of China is not without a bit of surrealism, yet it’s being supported by a kind of adaptive and flexible survival wisdom, it’s a growing spectacle. What’s your view on the “index”, so to speak, of the social spaces in China as presented by RMB City?
JJ: There are two aspects that I find interesting: how a reality controlled by powerful order and state apparatus managed to produce a kind of hyper-reality which seemingly loses control; and the way in which virtual reality simulates reality on a more profound level.
HF: The virtual reality has become the entry to the new space of Second Life, there’s a kind of parallel development, “Parallel Universe” maybe?
JJ: Second Life is a product that has deep implications, it’s the inevitable consequence of virtual space and the internet. And RMB City is the inevitable consequence of Second Life, which does a wonderful job in simulating reality logically. RMB City is really a subset of Second Life.
JJ: I’m sure there are a lot in the virtual space that run parallel to reality, and they are not necessarily space- or visibility-dependent.
JJ: Rather, those parallel factors depend on some of the fundamental “universal equivalents”, such as power structure, capital, social network, etc.
HF: Second Life is precisely a way back to reality, it depends on the re-understanding of both capital and reality, in the end, capital gets new space of circulation, and people get new way of communication.
HF: The title of RMB City (RMB is the abbreviation of “renminbi”,literally,”people’s money in Chinese) implicates that the energy of Second Life goes beyond simple replantation of simulacra, it also has something to do with the fact that the way in which capital runs and people socialize has fundamentally changed.
HF: Social network has also become a way that capital adds value to itself.
JJ: Second Life can be considered a mainstream product, in that it employs visualized image and spatial language, which, when combined with 2.0 technologies, triggered changes of the social relation in the virtual world.
JJ: However, virtual societies are not going to generate new relationship between different classes. The on-going “initial development” of virtual land represents a kind of rather primitive social relationship.
HF: It’s probably not as complex as in the real world, but it certainly adds to one’s experience. As “soft capital”, experience can be cashed in real life. To me, what’s interesting in the process is a new scheme for urban development proposed by the artist, who has created necessary condition in which the scheme can be realized. What’s important is the possibility to co-develop within that condition, and how one can mediate the development of this city.
HF: And this development doesn’t necessarily lead to anything, it could be a nihilist process, leaving behind experiences and documents.
JJ: Here’s the difference: though primitive, a virtual society can always be rebooted, it’s “undoable”. Those can’t be undone are without exception reality-related, which is to say, they rely on the weight of reality.
HF: In reality we would talk about certain urban developments as disasters, while in Second Life, everything is still a game, a “second life of unbearable lightness”—despite the fact that the currency circulated within Second Life can be converted to US dollar.
JJ: So there is indeed a sense of luckiness or disaster when you do that conversion, because at that moment, you are hooked up with reality.
JJ: Disaster is also a complex concept which gets simplified in most of the games.
JJ: Currently there isn’t any disaster in RMB City, because there is no conflict between different classes and interest groups.
HF: Very interesting. Also, because of the complexity of real life, people have been seeking an imaginary space with “common sensibility” where they can communicate and develop. However, it’s the necessary contradiction and conflict that bring life to real-life cities.
JJ: For developers, the first priority is how to develop this piece of land or this city, especially after the first phase of construction is finished. I think the potential will be fully explored when more non-artist netizens become fascinated and engaged with the “new city”.
HF: This is exactly what we are looking forward to.
HF: RMB City is the individual creation of an artist, we are curious to see how and to what extent it’s going to evolve into a new space for communication and development, whether it will aggregate the mind power of intellectuals from all walks of life. What would be your plan if Urban China is invited to do a project within a space in RMB City?
JJ: I think we will first make several proposals to optimize Second Life, and then build a city within to exemplify them.
HF: A city within a city.
HF: Do you think there’s gonna be a connection between the development of RMB City and the real-life cities?
JJ: Probably not. Even there’s gonna be superficial similarities, they would be fundamentally different; simply dreams of individuals.
JJ: Personally, I still believe that although art is exploring reality, the latter often surpasses the former in unbelievable ways in terms of speed, quality and weight.
HF: In a sense, the weight of reality is too much and too un-retraceable. On the other hand, art, as parasite, churns out suspended spaces continuously, which prompts us to reconsider the possibilities of spatial production. Interestingly, today any mode of spatial production will bring about new mode of economics.
JJ: The function of art is to creatively mimic reality, but nowadays multiple “self-mimicking” are made possible by information technology. In the future, artist would have to be the expert of a certain aspect in real life (from politician to hacker) in order to create art in a more profound way.
HF: Today, the power of artistic creation lies in the artist’s capability of domain-shifting, and the possibilities this shifting may generate. A real estate developer can be an artist, and vice versa.
JJ: Which means the ability to modify definitions and tacit rules.
HF: RMB City is exactly this kind of experiment which indicates the “domain-transition”, what we are seeing now is only the first step, the City will evolve along with the changing reality.