For our first project in Shanghai, Special Special presents Cyber Garden to inaugurate the pop-up space adjacent to the gift shop on the main floor of the new Museum of Art Pudong. Inspired by nostalgia for early millennial internet café culture, Special Special activates the museum with a 2540 sq ft (236 sq meter) installation that features collaborations with artists from around the world. Cyber Garden invites viewers to wonder at the generative fusion between the natural and the synthetic by traversing an immersive experience comprising eight digital art projects, including a virtual reality installation by Sebastian Masuda, and a retail shop that allows visitors to purchase accessible art editions for the everyday.
The pop-up is outfitted with Special Special’s custom furniture designs, which combines pastoral nature and cyberpunk, incorporating bonsai, cacti, and lily pad botanical varieties shaped from acrylic. The installation invites us to ponder how gardening metaphors can nurture different understandings of the history of the World Wide Web. Cyber Garden conceptualizes the internet as a sprawling garden of many paths, where files need “pruning” and “weeding”, and ideas need to be “cultivated”. Nestled amongst floral outgrowth, the collaborative technologies on view encapsulate Special Special’s dream of an internet café overgrown with simulated nature—a forking, multilayered repository for different creative nodes to come together.
The central fixture includes modular stations that invite viewers to sit and engage with seven digital projects. The installation builds upon Special Special’s ongoing “Show and Tell” program, a series of monthly digital exhibitions delivered straight to subscribers’ inboxes that began in 2019. For the first time, visitors will be able sit down and experience the projects in an ambient, immersive environment.
Featured digital projects include Max Bittker’s Sandspiel, a falling sand game that welcomes viewers to layer fire, water, fungus, and seeds together to compose an unpredictable tableau; Laurel Schwulst’s Flight Simulator, a relaxing app that pays poetic tribute to Airplane Mode, a new work featuring an in-flight entertainment system curated by the artist; and Recessed by Heidi Latsky and Maya Man, a dance-driven, browser-based experience that magnifies the isolation felt over the pandemic through an intimate arrangement of movement on screen.
Also on view is artist duo ZZYW’s open game system ThingThingThing, in which 3D avatars created during workshops co-exist, interact, and evolve in a collective worldbuilding process, and Will Doenlen’s Hot Air, a calendar app that releases the rigid structure of a productive life into a more natural way of being. Then there is Lullatone & Jono Brandel’s Typatone, a text-to-music editor. In Liu Chang’s Random Walker - Encounter, an interactive video installation, two screens are placed back-to-back in the cyber café. On each screen, flickering, morphing imagery of what is filmed on the other side gradually appears, creating unexpected encounters and reflections on socially-constructed boundaries.
Cyber Garden includes the world premiere of Sense Share Bear, a VR piece by Sebastian Masuda, the Japanese artist known for his whimsical reinvention of kawaii culture. The large-scale VR installation invites visitors to virtually create a colorful installation with their hands, and to haptically interact with a lonely toy bear in the physical setup.
Cyber Garden also features a retail shop, which completes the simulation of Special Special’s hybrid New York art space. Viewers will be able to peruse Special Special’s playful art editions in Shanghai for the first time, including Cardan Grille bookmark, Small Medium Big Ideas Notebook Set, and Tubers, a series of felt planters produced in collaboration with artist Benjamin Langford from the previous year’s exhibition in New York. Additional products will also debut at MAP—cyber-inspired accessories, lifestyle items, and even a Collector’s Toolkit in collaboration with Avant Arte—accoutrements for art collectors, internet café aficionados, and everyone in between.
All new products launched at MAP will be also available for purchase on Special Special’s WeChat store and specialspecial.com.
Cyber Garden is on view at Museum of Art Pudong, No. 2777, Binjiang Avenue, Pudong New Area, Shanghai, China, through November 1, 2021.