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Interview: Snow Yunxue Fu's Techno Sublime

Interview: Snow Yunxue Fu's Techno Sublime

Lives and works in New York, New York

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

My name is Snow Yunxue Fu. I am a New York-based international New Media Artist, Curator, and Assistant Arts Professor in the Department of Photography and Imaging at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Using topographical computer-rendered images and installations, her practice merges historical painterly, philosophical, and post-photographic explorations into the aesthetic and definitive nature of the sublime. With a background in painting, Fu remains the youngest artist collected by the National Art Museum of China.

My work reviews and interviews have been covered in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Arebyte on Screen, Sedition Art, St. Louis Magazine Art Review, Guangzhou Today’s Focus in China, etc. The.Up.Life Magazine and NOOW from Switzerland have ranked me as one of the top five contemporary artists in 2018. I was awarded the First Place in the Digital Art Category of the Art Rights Prize in 2020 and was also awarded and the New York University’s Curricular Development Challenge Fund Grant in 2021 for The Post-Photographic 3D Imaging Curriculum I have been developing in the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. I have participated in multiple residencies such as Lower Manhattan Cultural Council on the Governors Island in New York, the Hatch Residency through the Chicago Artist Coalition, Biocultura Residency in Santa Fe NM, Lexington and Concord Artist Residency in Illinois, and Estudio Nómada’s Mas els Igols Residency in Barcelona, Spain. I have given lectures and presented on my work and research in conferences, symposiums, and institutions around the world including International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA), SIGGRAPH, SIGGRAPH Asia in Brisbane Australia, ByteDance, Agora Digital Art, the Chinese American Art Faculty Symposium, Veritas Forum, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Washington, Tsinghua University, China Academy of Art, etc.

Gorges Documentation.jpg

My new media artworks have also been collected by the Currents Museum of Art in New York, Duende Art Museum in Guangdong China, Richard and Ellen Sandors Family Collections, and other institutions. My artwork has been shown internationally in solo shows, group exhibitions, screenings, and festivals including the Duende Art Museum, Guangdong, China; New York Gallery of Chinese Art, New York; Ars Electronica, Austria; Venice Architecture Biennale, Venice, Italy; Pioneer Works, New York; NADA Art Fair, New York; Sedition, Hong Kong; Arebyte Gallery, London, UK; West Bund Art Center, Shanghai, China; Shenzhen Independent Animation Biennale, Shenzhen, China; Pingyao International Photography Festival, Shanxi, China; Thoma Art House, Santa Fe; Currents Santa Fe New Media Art Festival, New Mexico; The Wrong Biennale, Current Museum of Art, New York, and etc.

I came from a family of artists and educators in China who provided me a very good atmosphere of learning and doing art since I was a child. I remain the youngest artist collected by the National Art Museum of China, with a painting that I made when I was 5 years old. However, being a professional artist is a personal decision I’ve made independently during the journey of my higher education after I came to the US.

Snow Yunxue Fu Lecture

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I came from mainly a painting background with my family’s influences, while also engaged with sculpture, photography, video, and other mediums in my undergraduate studies. Although specifically working with digital 3D imaging mediums in the past decade, I still find myself thinking like a painter, I am interested in the pictorial, the elements of compositions, and the overall construction of images. I see my transition into new media as a natural extension of my conceptual research in which I draw parallels between the physical, metaphysical, digital, and multi-dimensional spaces. In many ways, I think simulation is very similar to how you might approach a painting: I start with a blank three-dimensional canvas and anything I want to work with needs to be brought into it. So, I construct scenes with models and textures, and a new piece usually grows from there.

Snow Yunxue Fu with Installation Slight

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

One of the main concepts of my work throughout the past decade is the Sublime. I think the idea of the sublime is a human issue that transcends cultural differences. As someone who lives in a multicultural context, I am more interested in overlapping multiple traditions rather than the differences between them. As one is confronted by their mortality, and therefore emotionally and conceptually respond to the recognition of our own limitations in space and time, it does not matter where you originally come from.

As I continue to explore the concept, I have developed more emphasis in the contemporary aspects of the sublime in the context of our global technological culture – the Techno Sublime. In today’s time, one is constantly bombarded by digital information. Since we work so closely with so many machines every day (smartphones, laptops, software, etc.), people are becoming more like machines; the call for an understanding of our humanness is becoming increasingly important. I really think the concept and experience of the sublime can really help us develop a better mindset about these challenges.

Snow Yunxue Fu Standing in the Artist Studio at LMCC Residency on Governors Island in NYC

In general, the concept of infinite nature and digital space also fascinates me. Working primarily with 3D software, I create scenes of experimental abstraction that translate the concept of liminality into the digital experience. It also attempts to embody the concept of Plato’s cave in the medium of a virtually constructed realm. The word liminal is often used to discuss the sublime within digital space and the VR experience, conjuring up notions of time, space, and perception, and echoing the experience of the sublime in nature. The term is borrowed from the field of anthropology, as anthropologist Victor Turner described as “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage,” which “serves not only to identify the importance of in-between periods but also to understand the human reactions to liminal experiences.” Fu’s work draws parallels between the physical, virtual, metaphysical, and multi-dimensional, setting the viewer in a liminal space at the threshold of each in what Turner called “a period of scrutiny for central values and axioms.” Digital space and the VR experience is what Turner would later make a distinction for as a liminoid experience, differing from the liminal in that the liminal engages in an experience out of our control, while the liminoid is a choice, often relating to playing. Liminoid, then, is a simulation of the liminal, as the techno sublime experienced through digital space is a simulation of the sublime in nature. Within a digital space, my work offers an encounter to reflect on our response to the simultaneously beautiful and overwhelming artifice of the techno-sublime.

Like a plane of glass in a window, digital space frames and reflects our perception of reality, while simultaneously we see through it, peering off into the implications of the remarkable capacities and limitations of our ability to perceive.


Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

One of the courses that profoundly changed the direction of my artistic mediums is “Intro to Experimental 3D”, taught by the one and only Prof. Claudia Hart at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I studied for my master’s degree in studio art. I fell in love with 3D simulation in her energetic ways of approaching this newish art medium and learned a lot from her both in the course and her practices as a professional digital art artist. I went on taking many other 3D imaging courses afterward, and I am not teaching this medium and setting up a new curriculum within NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where I am a professor now, besides continuing working within this medium in my own artist practice. Other artists like her who are also actively engaging in their digital artwork making and teaching inspire me everyday.

Pool (Video and installation)

Where do you find inspiration?

Chinese landscape paintings have always been a deep influence since I grow up seeing them. With western paintings, I somehow always come back to the painting of Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, where we see the back of a person confronted with the infinite scene of mountains and clouds in front of him. As the viewers of the painting, we are also seeing the landscape with him, at his eye level, which gives us the same experience. Another western landscape painter I really like is J.M.W. Turner. His sites and depictions of water are often rendered with great emotion. Although the figures in his paintings Snowstorm: Hannibal and his army crossing the Alp are quite small, the presence of their fear is so vivid on the canvas. The painting provides this frozen moment in a crazy scene for us to contemplate concepts like death. While both painters are technically very sound, they are also painting a lot more than what the materials of the environment look like, they are painting the way they relate to the beautiful, but also potentially deadly scenes for the viewers to experience. I am very interested in the idea of digitally simulated environments. I like to show the artificiality of the digital landscape as a way to think about the materiality of CG. To a certain extent, I think the digital 3D construction parallels the formation of the natural landscape. The digital is also an expressive space, and by using the appearance of nature, I examine what it means to be human in the physical world, immersed in a technological culture, in my work.  However, other things from the experience of being in nature to the color palette of an app also inspires me in designing my projects.


Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

My VR project, Karst, was the starting point where a lot of my more recent projects have been shaping to be. Karst is a multi-level virtual reality visual and sound experience/artwork that creates liminal spaces in between the representational and the theatrical, the limited and the multi-dimensional, and the abstract and the real for people to visit and experience. The multiple scenes in Karst reference a variety of places in our reality that are being limited for various reasons, revealing human’s relationship to existence. It pushes the boundaries of landscape art by putting natural ecologies and human environmental interventions in dialogue through immersive VR.

Snow Yunxue Fu Artist with Installation Still

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

I have been interested in making a work involving the concept in the project Karst for a while, but it was not until I was able to work with VR technology that I decided to make the piece. The project involves a lot of world-building and growth in learning how to utilize the tools such as Unreal Engine, and with the virtual reality approaches, it was especially happy about how it could depict the huge scale of the cave. I like the medium of VR also because how the medium transports viewers’ bodies. The visuals and sound are referencing the caves I visited as a young girl in my hometown in Southwest China. I had such fond memories of them, because of their uniqueness and how they were often lit up with very colorful theatrical lighting. It is a very special kind of cave, as it took thousands of years the long stream of water both carved into the mountain and made it empty inside, but also accumulated natural rock formations from the minerals like calcium. Most recently, these types of caves have been used by the Chinese government to house data centers, because of their controlled environment and security, which inspired me to make the piece—making the space available to be seen and experienced by others. The VR medium can provide the viewers' awareness of their body by seemingly transporting it into another space. In this case, the viewer can teleport and visit the vast space inside of the Karst caves without having to purchase an airplane ticket and book a trip. By holding the controllers, the viewers will also be able to see wireframed 3D models of their hands in sync with their own movements, making their body digital as they experience the digital construction—which is, both representational and abstracted.

Karst VR

I think VR is also just an exciting way of making work since it can directly translate the human sensorial experience into another scene. As everything inside of the headset is built relative to the human scale, space can be created that is otherwise impossible, such as the view of a 60-foot-tall cave ceiling you will find in Karst.


What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

After working in it for the past decade, I also see the 3D digital medium as the combination of many other mediums: when working with models, it is a lot like sculpting; while lighting the scene and rendering out single images to test the setting is a lot like the photographic process; when animating the objects you’ve created, you have to engage the discourse around the moving image; and the output of the 3D software is essentially a sequence of images which are brought into editing software for post-production (sound and rearranging the image sequences on a timeline). Because of its multidisciplinary nature, I think the CG medium, in general, is one of the richest places/mediums to work both now and in the next few decades.

Snow Yunxue Fu in Exhibition

What are you working on now?

I have been continuing with my practice and approach to post-photographic 3D computer graphics as an art medium. I hope to further expand and create mesmerizing virtual scenes and interactions of intentional abstraction as the result of a breadth of fine arts and experimental practices translated into the intricate lexicon of digital software.

I think VR, like 3D, continues to open a lot of new possibilities for my artmaking. I am currently working on a few new digital projects that are set in various fantastical and abstracted structures.

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

Don’t let whether your work is being widely shown or not, or whether it is being sold widely or not, or anything in between, stop you from making the artwork that you need to make.

Snow Yunxue Fu Artist Studio at LMCC Residency on Governors Island in NYC

About the Artist

Based in New York, New York

Snow Yunxue Fu is a New York-based International New Media Artist, Curator, and Assistant Arts Professor in the Department of Photography and Imaging at NYU, Tisch School of the Arts.

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