©️ John Lui
©️ John Lui


Transtopia is an ongoing project that started during my artist residency in Hong Kong. It is based on three propositions: What if the archivist's worst nightmare came true and all our paper-based archives suddenly vanished, the body of each document mercilessly eaten away by a strange virus or bug plague? What if all the layers that map and separate the real and the imagined city would suddenly collapse onto themselves? Our ecological odds are just as flimsy, what's the use in trying to encapsulate fauna and flora in a jar?

Transtopia implies the idea of transit: "Places that exist in the form of maps are inevitably fated to suffer transformation and transference and, as such, they are like comets that travel unceasingly, circling over and over again, forever in the act of transit, never arriving at their destinations. Transtopia is a place with transit itself as its destination. (. . . ) If maps can harbor secrets, I'd imagined that they would have to be excavated from fragmented, moth-eaten documents rather than from so-called scientifically rendered modern charts." (Dung Kai Cheung, Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City).

You can read more about the project here.

The first stage of my research had the support of Fundação Oriente and was possible through a partnership established between In-situ - Hong Kong Artist in Residency (Kowloon, Hong Kong) and V54 - Young Artist in Residency (Happy Valley, Hong Kong). 

My sincere gratitude to: 

César Jung-Harada, Cordelia Tam, Fundação Oriente (with a special thank you to Isabel Carvalho and Ana Paula Cleto), In-situ: Hong Kong Artist Residency - John Lui, Maria Lok Li, Martina Marie Manalo, MakerBay Hong Kong, Prof. António Sousa Dias, Prof. Mónica Mendes, Reynald Ventura de Guzman, Tim Chan, V54 (Dennis Chung and Mandy Chiu), Vincent Lee, Kurt Tong.


The Wandering Gaze project explores the relationship between the observer's gaze and a given image, using eye-tracking technology.

Wandering Gaze allows the viewers' gaze to be transformed into a tangible path that will, slowly and over time, erode the surface of a photograph. This idea of surface was very interesting to me, so I started thinking about a "piercing gaze", a way of materializing gaze. In Wandering Gaze that is emphasised in a literal way: the more we look at the image, the more it will vanish in front of our eyes. On the other hand, the image is now a performative space as the viewers' gaze is invited to wander and explore the image, contributing to the piece but, ultimately, causing the print's deterioration.

Knowing that looking at the image through the viewfinder will eventually destroy the photograph, will we keep peeking through it? Curiosity killed the cat, or in this case, the print?

Project developed in partnership with Makers in Little Lisbon.

Framed photograph, plotter, metal shards, magnet, mini PC, tripod, viewfinder with IR camera, and eye-tracking software


Wandering Gaze (distressed print. Fotomuseum Winterthur © Philipp Ottendörfer
Wandering Gaze (distressed print. Fotomuseum Winterthur © Philipp Ottendörfer


For the Read Me series, I asked a group of friends to describe a specific photograph, as they would to a blind person. No constraints were posed as to the length, style, or format of the description. The image was also run through an image recognition API, Cloudsight. Afterwards, each text was translated to Braille Grade 1 and imprinted onto a blown-up copy of the original image.

Something is always potentially inaccessible: those who can see the image may not be able to decode the descriptions, and those who can read Braille, while creating their own mental image from the sum of the descriptions, may not be able to see the image itself. 

A big thank you to everyone who collaborated on this project: Abel Andrade, Alexandra Belo, José Carlos Neves, Sara Vicente, Susana Pires, Tiago Rorke, and Vitor Mingacho.

Photographic prints with Braille emboss


For the Touch Me series, I started by digitising small areas of the appropriated negatives that contained hands. After blowing up these images, each print was silkscreened with black thermochromic ink.

The thermochromic ink is heat-sensitive and turns transparent with temperatures above 25ºC. As such, the prints appear very dark. It is only by touching and warming their surface with the heat from our hands that the images underneath are "developed". After a while, the ink will revert back to its original colour, thus preventing us to see what's underneath.

Photographic prints with black thermochromic ink that turns transparent with the heat from our hands


The series Failure is a Given explores the potential of digital interferences, whether in a subtle way or, on the contrary, expressively conveying the manipulations and explorations. Having as point of departure a set of printed photographs (without the corresponding negatives), the original photographs were digitised, scanned, and then digitally modified.

The decorative white borders were left intact, as I had a keen interest in exploring the possibility of a digitised photograph maintaining certain qualities of the photograph-as-object, making use of the shading artefacts  and border noise as entities in their own right. As the object-photograph is condensed into an image on the screen, its material features are reduced (we cannot touch the photograph, read the notes on the back, feel the smoothness or the roughness of the paper, for example), and is therefore transformed into a digital substitute becoming, in a way, one-dimensional.

The surface of the image is thus covered by layers of digital artefacts reworked through the use of repetition, duplication, distortion, the obliteration of details, suppression or concealment of certain areas, or by making the use of digital tools evident in the process of altering the images.

Digitised vintage prints with digital manipulation


Mixed media over digital prints of vintage photographs


Photographs and archives are malleable and, as such, they cannot be taken at face value. By pairing found negatives with selectively blacked-out pages of Pierre Sorlin's book  "The Film in History", I attempt to unveil alternative associations through the displacement of both image fragments and text excerpts.

Digitised vintage negatives and blacked-out pages from Pierre Sorlin's book The Film in History, Restaging the Past (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980)

All rights reserved 2020
Powered by Webnode
Create your website for free! This website was made with Webnode. Create your own for free today! Get started