[ISEA2023] Artist Talk: Jiabao Li — Squid Map

Artist Statement

Theme: Ecosystems – Climate Change Subtheme: Symbiotic Individuations

Keywords: Border wall, immigration, map, squid, climate change, non-anthropocentric

I worked with Kewalo Marine Biology Lab in Hawaii. While the scientists were studying the squid, I noticed that the squids in the lab sit in the boring white tanks all day long. So I wonder if I could make their environment more interesting by building a playground for them. I collect the white sand and black sand from Hawaii islands and make them into certain countries’ shapes. While the squid was living there. He carries the sand from one side to the other and spreads it around. He swims back and forth between the countries, across the borders without a Visa. He buries himself under the sand and uses his cute little tentacles to push the sand on his face as a camouflage.

Watching the squid reminds me of myself in many ways as an immigrant: moving between China and the US, carrying the baggage of two cultures, trying to assimilate to blend in, and found myself in this situation like the squid: he has white sand on his body but black sand on the top, sitting in the middle of black surrounded by white — but feeling perfectly camouflaged.

We build borders between our countries that can block natural animal migrations. Animals that would not care about the delineation between countries are forced to recognize the difference and take a side.

After a month, the squid completely reinterprets our human-made maps and borders from the squid’s perspective. The map humans have repetitively fought wars for, in the eyes of the squid, is drawn on their own terms. https://www.jiabaoli.org/squid-map

  • Jiabao Li (Singapore/USA) is an Assistant Professor at The University of Texas at Austin, USA, and a Harvard graduate. She creates works addressing climate change, interspecies co-creation, humane technology, and perceptions. Jiabao is the recipient of numerous awards including Forbes China 30 Under 30, and her work has been exhibited internationally, at Venice Architecture Biennale, Ars Electronica, Today Art Museum Biennial, SIGGRAPH, Milan and Dubai Design Week, ISEA, Anchorage Museum, and Museum of Design. https://www.jiabaoli.org