Zongbo Jiang’s bizarrely beautiful 3D world offers a hopeful perspective on the climate crisis
“I wanted to create a space that was fun and enticing,” says the London-based 3D artist and visual activist, “to build this idea of hope and change that we can achieve if we recognise our past mistakes.”
- 11 May 2022
- Elfie Thomas
Shared Planet is the kind of bizarrely beautiful and intricate creation that Hieronymus Bosch would have made if he was born in the 21st century and knew how to use Blender. And while that 15th century artist warned his audience of the perils of sexual excess, Zongbo Jiang’s Shared Planet deals with contemporary issues with equal outlandishness but a much more positive outlook. Inspired by the BBC’s documentary The Year Earth Changed, Zongbo’s 3D utopia highlights the miraculous flourishing of nature which occurred due to the lower human activity during the pandemic.
“I consider myself an earthling and my practice to be visual activism,” Zongbo tells It’s Nice That. “Focusing on issues such as mental health, animal rights and the environment, I endeavour to offer an alternative digital representation of the dilemmas within these areas, to open and continue the conversation of how we can improve the way we all live on this planet as earthlings.”
In the midst of the current climate crisis with its dominant narrative of impending doom, Zongbo’s visual activism provides a welcome glimpse of hope. He tells us that his creative practice revolves around Wired magazine’s founder Kevin Kelly’s concept of “Protopia” which refers to “a state that is better today than yesterday”. Zongbo’s vision of a world in which humans and nature live in blissful harmony takes this concept to new heights: “I wanted to create this space that was fun and enticing, to build this idea of hope and change that we can achieve if we recognise our past mistakes,” he explains. Accompanied by the soothing sounds of birds chirruping and rain falling conceived by talented sound-designer Menex, Shared Planet invites you to wade through lush water reeds to discover crystal pools inhabited by strange and beautiful creatures, their anatomies morphing mesmerisingly between animal, plant and human forms.
While the scene is idyllic and the message hopeful, each tiny detail and character which Zongbo designed has meaning and relates to careful research and a re-imagination of data he gathered for the project. There are four main protagonists in his story of ecological regeneration – Wildlife, Air, Noise and Water. Each character is “based on areas of the environment or nature that benefited from humans being stuck in lockdown,” says the artist.
One of our favourites of these characters is Air. This bubbly translucent figure accompanied by a little throng of its happy children with air particles for heads, is not only a great dancer but also a joyful embodiment of the clearer air quality during the global lockdown. “This resulted in changes in weather, meaning that fewer children were developing conditions such as asthma, and skylines were clear enough to see sights that hadn’t been seen in decades,” Zongbo points out. “The characters comically move and dance as air particles not constricted by pollution in the air, furthermore referencing the freeness to breathe and healthier children in this time.”
Not to be outdone by Air’s frolicky groove, Water also has some pretty sweet moves. With a clear blue sun-visor and an inflatable doughnut serving as a belt, this character performs the ‘wave’ dance move with fluid finesse. The character has good reason to be dancing – during the lockdown “restriction in industrial sectors and economic activities offered an opportunity for water quality in seas and rivers to increase,” says Zongbo. “In turn the activity of sea life began to thrive, populations of fish became greater and the lack of water travel decreased the risk of marine animals getting injured.”
There’s something particularly moving about the benevolent humanoid natural elements that silently cavort in Zongbo’s luscious Protopia. His positive and playful approach to climate activism is a powerful creative statement and one that is very much needed in our current climate crisis. “I hope that this different approach sees the work reach a wider audience and makes people see the prospect of change in a brighter light.”
This is why we are delighted to hear that Shared Planet is not just a one-off project but will continuously develop in the future. A second iteration of his four elemental protagonists is currently showing at MMMAD Festival in Madrid and their online exhibition. Here the characters (shown below) have developed even more unique characteristics, dance moves and quirkiness, furthering Zongbo’s desire to “open conversations about how we can identify more harmonious ways for humans and wildlife to co-exist”.
Zongbo Jiang: Shared Planet (Copyright © Zongbo Jiang, 2022)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.