One Versus All

a collective memory of people born during the Chinese “one-child policy” era

research project | interactive installation

“独生” on the installation means “the only child”

“独生” on the installation means “the only child”


Independent Work Designer and Developer


IMA Spring Show, NYU Shanghai, China | 2017. 05 NYU Shanghai, Interactive Media Arts 17', Capstone Project

#Processing #WebCam #OpenCV #Fabrication #Projection Mapping #MadMapper


project breif

different and unique individual stories, same collective memory and culture

One Versus All is an interactive installation composed of 36 equal square size wooden boxes, a web camera, a computer and a projector. All 36 boxes together form a large box, and the surface of each smaller boxes is a screen. The installation will passively react to the cumulative number of the viewers who view this installation. As the number of people who visit this installation adds up, the web camera, which is detecting the faces of viewers will send a signal to the computer, and the written code will trigger the projector to project more videos onto the little screens.

This installation draws inspiration from both the impressive power of repetition art and the stories behind the Chinese one-child policy.

One-child policy is like a task that is repeatedly assigned to each Chinese family, and each family will produce similar yet very different outcome based on this policy. While all one-child persons have their very special personal experience, all of their stories inevitably and ultimately form a larger, collective and unified story.

The video content comes from 36 interviews of 36 different one-child individuals. All in all, “One Versus All” is trying to reveal that unified and collective story of such a policy to different people who have not necessarily experienced it.


Inspiration & Concept


At the time I was informed about the IMA capstone, I was taking an interactive installation class and was obsessed with repetition art, which is used in some of the installations that were introduced to us during classes. I found that repetition, when used in art, is able to enlarge and proliferate the impression people can get from one item to a much larger level and therefore makes the installation greatly impressive.

One-child Policy

In the mean time, I was also reading a book named One Child written by Mei Fong, which is about her observations and thoughts of the Chinese one-child policy. Her words have provided me with a new perspective to view the one-child policy, which I have personally experienced for my entire life. Thinking about this policy, I suddenly realized that I have very little knowledge about it and have never carefully thought about it and its impact.

In order to make this capstone something not only would showcase the knowledge I have learned in IMA, but also a project that would be meaningful to me and more people, I decided to combine my favorite art form, which is repetition art and my most interested topic, which is the one-child policy together and create an interactive installation.

Based on my understandings, one-child policy is like a task that has been repeatedly assign to different Chinese families. When finishing this task, each family will produce similar yet very different outcomes. And the outcomes were all the one-child persons. Each of them have their own very special personal stories yet from a larger picture, all their stories inevitably and ultimately form a bigger collective and unified story that reflects one-child policy. Therefore I was hoping my project can start from the perspective of personal stories to show people some glimpse of the policy which they might or might not experienced by themselves.


Installation Construction

Choice of Box

I decided to build my installation using 36 equal-size boxes. Each box represents one  person I interviewed and the story of him/her.  The reasons I choose to use boxes are because first of all, I feel like each person has a box in their hearts, where many stories are stored. And secondly, the flat surfaces of boxes make it easier to project things on.

Choice of number “36”

I choose the number "36″ because one-child policy lasts for exactly 36 years (1980-2016).

Choice of Laser Cut & Color:

In order to remind people that my installation is about one-child policy, I laser cut the cover of the one-child certificate, which each one-child person would get when born and spray painted them into red, which is the color of the certificate.

Interview and insights

36 Interviews:

In order to get to know stories of people from a greater diversity, I interviewed people not only from our school, but also friends of my friends, people I met during my trip, people I met during some random events, and even strangers. I ended up asking for about 50 persons, and some rejected my interview.  I got around 40 people to participate at the end. I chose 36 of the interviews which I thought are more interesting to become the materials of my videos.

I interviewed people from three different ways: face-to-face interview, Skype/phone-call interview as well as online survey. I tried to get to talk to each of my interviewees personally to let them know more about my project and the concept behind it. If I was not able to meet them on face, I will try to contact them through either email or WeChat.

I am interested in:

1.  What is the first phrase that pops up in your mind when you think about “one-child” policy and why?

2. Are you aware of being a “one-child”? If so, when did you start to realize that?

3. What kind of comments have you ever received from people growing up as the only kid in your family ? What are those comments? And who gave those comments?

4. What’s your most impressive moment during your childhood?

5. What is your personal understanding or opinion on one-child policy?

With people giving different answers, I sometimes also asked some follow-up questions.

It is very interesting that the interviews got many similar answers as well as different answers. For instance, for the first question, many people answered “loneliness”. And many also answered “two-children policy”, which is a new policy following up the one-child policy that each Chinese family are allowed and probably encouraged to have two but no more that two children.

I also got to know more about people’s stories and their opinions on one-child policy, which we are all so familiar yet unfamiliar with. As we talked and discussed,  we touched upon topics that are not only about our growth, but also gender inequality/equality, the aging of the population as well as the problem of supporting the old people.

I also asked each interviewees to share either a photo/video clip from their childhood or a picture of something that they think is pretty valuable to them when they grow up. About half of them gave me pictures yet due to the concern of privacy, the other half rejected.

After I conducted all the interviews and collected all information, I started to think about how should I present these interesting stories to my audience through a visual perspective. While I was contemplating about this, I got a great advice from Susie. She suggested that I could present the most interesting parts of my interview in the format of bullet comments and transfer these comments into videos. I took her suggestion and then took the key words that I thought are most interesting from each of my interviews and used Premiere to transfer all of them into small videos.

*Bullet comment is a popular way of writing comment to videos. The viewers can write down their opinions on the particular part they are watching in a video and when the next person watch the same video at the same part, he/she will be able to view the previous comments left by previous viewers. And these comments would appear on the screen like bullets passing by.

Mechanism and Technologies

My idea of this project is that smaller stories form a larger collective story and each of the stories is a part of all the stories as a whole. Based on that, I also want to include my audiences, who are individuals(one) to the whole project(all). While they view this project, they are both independent people by themselves and also part of the whole project and a member of all the viewers who have participated in my installation.

I think one way that best make my viewers feel that they are participating is to let my installation react to the number of people who visit the installation—the more people have come, the more videos will be triggered. I want to make the viewers feel like they are contributing to adding the videos and helping to build the whole project.

Therefore I decided to use web camera to detect human faces (count the number of people) and use processing to trigger mad mapper to map all the videos onto my installation.

I started with building a grid in processing and then tried to connect processing to mad mapper via syphon.

I later tested my code with test videos.

When I was doing the test, because I only had a few videos and each of them are of small size, I did not really encounter problem running my code. But later when I tried with all my 36 finished videos, I found processing having problem running them.

I realized that processing is not really made for playing many films in a grid at the same time. But in order to achieve my goal of interaction, I ended up making 5 different larger videos. The size of the larger video equals the total size of the 36 films together. And each will having different numbers of smaller videos on it, with the first one with the least videos and the last one with all films playing. In this way, I was able to achieve my goal without changing too much of my original plan.


Reflection and Development


I am happy I got to know much more about both repetition art and one-child policy.

I am happy that I got to practice and utilize what I have learned in IMA including: Processing(JAVA), Projection Mapping(MadMapper), Video/Audio Editing(Premiere), Laser Cut, Spray Painting, Interview people, etc..

I am happy that I finished an independent interactive installation project.


Software: I did not really realize that processing is not really made for running videos, if possible, I want to explore other softwares in the future to deal with my videos.

Mechanism: The web camera does not seem to be the best tool to count the number of people. I want to explore other ways to count the number of people and edit my code accordingly.

Video Content: So for the videos are working but not working in the perfect way, I want to edit the videos to make them more readable. In addition, I want to figure out a way to make people be more aware that these videos are about “one-child” policy.

More User Testing.