From the country that sold the skinned bodies of executed political prisoners for use in a Barnumesque world-travelling curiosity show comes the latest innovation in oh-so-dazzling privacy invasion: colorized computed tomography scans. The easily mis-Googled Dr. Kai-hung Fung works in the radiology department of some hospital in China where he takes super fancy CAT scans of his busted-up patients, loads them into Photoshop, and turns images of their mangled, disease-ridden bodies into iTunes-visualized landscapes. Ok, actually it’s more complicated than that- more on that later.
For a guy whose artwork appears to borrow aesthetic sensibilities from the Mario Brothers, Dr. Fung’s chosen to rather brazenly call his artistic method the “rainbow technique.” So what’s the next step for our good doctor? Stereoscopic artwork. This revelation begs the question: how does it happen that the creative trajectory of one nerdy little Chinese doctor follow so closely the evolution of stoner art as a whole? It’s like he stole the Spencer’s Gifts game plan and now he’s copying it play by play, but with infinitely better technology and endocrine glands in the place of panthers and Cannabis leaves. It’s almost surprising that Fung’s not yet incorporating black lighting into his milieu. To find out more about the Rainbow Technique, I tracked down Dr. Fung:
What first made you interested in using CT as an art form?
Since 2003, I was involved in a “Surgical Virtual Reality Laboratory” program of our Minimal Access Surgery Training Centre in Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital.
My objective is to develop innovative use and further information extraction from the scanning data already stored in our computer archive following digital medical imaging (such as CT & MRI). I researched extensively into medical visualization using 3D & 4D image-rendering techniques from these data. At first, my objective was to make the 3D imageries more appealing using computer software, but soon I discovered that I can reach a level of artistic creativity using new color rendering techniques. Furthermore, because of the improved image resolution after 2003 due to technological advancement, the 3D images become more acceptable in quality to match artistic needs.
How do your patients feel about having their insides turned into your artwork? Are they all aware of your artistic practice or do some think you’re only a doctor?
The medical imaging examinations are all done solely for the purpose of clinical needs. I made use of data derived from these examinations and stored in the archive after use. The 3D images help surgeons to better interpret the findings and to help them in pre-operative planning, particularly for very complex surgeries in complex anatomies. The purpose is to enhance clinical information in the first place. It is a way of scientific visualization. I have added in an element of beauty by adding in full range of colors into the 3D images. Actually the colors are not added in arbitrarily, but is data-driven and the colors themselves help to convey information in another way. The artworks are a spin-off from this and the patient privacy data are removed before they are used for any artworks. The source remains anonymous. I have no intention of asking the patient to scan for the purpose of creating an artwork because of radiation risk consideration.
How did you come to use the ‘rainbow technique’? What interests you about rainbows as an artist?
The “rainbow technique” was discovered accidentally in 2005 during my research in 3D image rendering in color. I was inspired by Pointillism where brilliant colors used as dots that serve as image element to a picture can produce striking visual effect. Instead my idea was to use contour lines to better represent a 3D object or space. If I applied a set of rainbow colors to each contour line, interesting visual results would occur similar to pointillism. The “rainbow technique” was subsequently published in the journal Leonardo in 2006.
Do you have examples of your stereoscopic images I might be able to look at?
You need special equipment (hardware or software) to look at stereoscopic images in their original color, brightness and contrast. You need separate images for the right and left eyes at a slightly different viewing angle. Most of my recent pieces are created in stereoscopic pairs (including some 4D motion images). Perhaps you need to come over to our Lab in Hong Kong to gain a first hand experience. I have launched my stereoscopic art exhibition in the “Digit@logue” new media art exhibition in the Hong Kong Museum of Art in May to July 2008. You need to wear a pair of shuttered eyeglasses electronically connected with a special 3D computer monitor to view stereoscopically. I have newly developed 4D color Moiré interference effect of image rendering in 2008 and if viewed stereoscopically, the effect is really fantastic.
What’s your favorite piece so far? Do you have an image of it? Why is it your favorite?
I have many favorite pieces particularly in my recent works but my most well known piece is called “What lies behind our nose?” that won first place in the 5th International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge sponsored by Science and National Science Foundation, USA. The piece is still currently put up for exhibition in the American University Museum, Katzen Arts Centre in Washington until August 2009. You can take a look at my current online galleries in NewScientist, UK and Elmundo, Spain.
Have you scanned yourself? Are you interested in doing a self-portrait?
No. There is radiation safety concern and our scanners are used primarily for medical purpose. However, if I have done a scan for clinical examination purpose, then I can made use of the data to create some artworks, including data-driven sculptures as well. Is it nice to have an artwork of your own heart or brain put up in your own living room, or likewise a unique anatomical sculpture to do the same?This interview was conducted in 2009, and was recently excavated from the archives