Patrick Doan and cyberpunk: Finding humanism within transhumanism

Candian artist Patrick Doan discusses his art, cyberpunk philosophy, and his recent trip to Vietnam.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Dec 02, 2022

Patrick Doan creates visuals that reference cyberpunk culture; which merges humanist explorations with transhumanist contexts. The visual and philosophical motifs of cyberpunk have mutated a great deal over the decades and can be considered mainstream today. As the visual artist identifies, this is largely because 2022 feels distinctly cyberpunk. He tells STIR, “We have essentially caught up with the early cyberpunk writings of the 1960s. We have large tech companies looming over us, and they are now part of our lives. We have polarising politics, and rising geopolitical tension, the natural earth is weakening and we look to space for a new life. The otherness of globalisation is also very real, and the cybernetic advancements of technology continue to creep up, slowly changing our biological bodies, and ultimately further dividing society.”

NEXTWORLD #5, 2022, video still, Patrick Doan | NEXTWORLD | Patrick Doan | STIRworld
NEXTWORLD #5, 2022, video still Image: Patrick Doan

Doan spent his formative years establishing his primary interests within the realms of science-fiction, the near future and other related topics. His connection deepened as he realised he was effectively exploring visions of an unknowable future that could one day become a part of his life. He continues discussing the growth of his focus, and tells STIR, “I am also fascinated by cyberpunk because my ancestral roots are East Asian. I have a particular interest in its elements that always exotify the “other”. I am referring, of course, to cities like Tokyo, the culture of Japan in general, and even Hong Kong. These glimpses into the unknown nearby future were something for me that felt quite familiar but just out of reach. This cultural clash that did not exist yet was exciting. So, if my work looks conceptually cyberpunk, it’s because it’s what comes most naturally to me.” 

NEXTWORLD #6, 2022, video still, Patrick Doan | NEXTWORLD | Patrick Doan | STIRworld
NEXTWORLD #6, 2022, video still Image: Patrick Doan

Although his work has evolved distinctly over the years, there has been an enduring anxiety regarding the future that has persisted since the beginning of his practice. This was largely due to the fact that the artist was idealising a tomorrow, either his own or for the larger human host, that he did not truly understand yet. He needed to give it a form, a visual shape, to interrogate it and explore it through different perspectives. “Most good cyberpunk works deal with a kind of core moral struggle at the heart of the human condition - what is it to be human? Can what we create be more human than us? Can society exist without humans?,” says the visual artist.

Untitled 1, 2022, video still, Patrick Doan | Untitled | Patrick Doan | STIRworld
Untitled 1, 2022, video still Image: Patrick Doan

These unknowns continue to permeate through cyberpunk culture as no matter the relevant advancements humankind pursues, we are not as yet able to answer the question of why we are here, and where we are going after all this; this world that we struggle to keep alive.

Untitled 2, 2022, video still, variable dimensions, Patrick Doan | Untitled | Patrick Doan | STIRworld
Untitled 2, 2022, video still Image: Patrick Doan

Doan was born in Montreal, Canada, now based in Berlin, Germany. He studied film, design and architecture, and spent his university years acquiring the conceptual and theoretical foundation for his current practice. However, the bulk of his graphic design skills are self-taught. His skills would subsequently be developed through project productions, content for large-scale international music events, and the creative work that he has been actively pursuing for some time now. He says, “Growing up as a 1990s teen in parallel with the birth of the commercial internet, I was in the first generation to have access to the dial-up world wide web. From there, I could download software like Photoshop, After Effects, music tracking software, etc. Already a sci-fi geek at heart, I was interested in making the type of content I now create, and like most other people in this line of work, the internet enabled me to develop that creativity with the growing (net)culture of other digital graphic artists that found their way online as well. Most of my early influences centre around the growing interest I had in electronic music, like Massive Attack, Portishead, Goldie, drum’n’bass, electro, acid house, Aphex Twin, Warp Records, Björk, the music videos by Chris Cunningham, graphics by The Designer’s Republic, ecetera.” Today, Doan’s influences have diversified, yet still remain the same at their core. The creative landscape has expanded a great deal since his youth, and as it continues to do so, he follows current trends in science and technology, architecture, design, fashion, film, gaming, VR/AR, 3D character animation, other 3D graphics creators and advances in robotics and AI art .

Profile picture, 2022, image, variable dimensions, Patrick Doan | STIRworld
Artist Patrick Doan Image: Courtesy of Patrick Doan

Discussing his plans for the near future, the Canadian artist tells STIR, “Now that cultural events are largely back to normal, I am actually interested in getting back to live performances again too. Doing more talks and giving presentations on my work would be great as well. I did a talk at MOUVO in Prague last April, and the feedback was better than I had expected. People are interested to see what ideas you have to share if, of course, you are onto something interesting. Since the pandemic, I have decided to make it a priority to travel again and absorb inspiration from everywhere. I did a trip to Vietnam in June 2022 and this trip really changed me, I unexpectedly found so much inspiration there. It was a journey of self-discovery for me and my father, and we took great joy in witnessing the realities of life and meeting the people who live there. It was all very humbling. The trip was mind-expanding and left a deep impression on me. I am aware of the different realities of Vietnam, but as of my trip in June 2022, I feel as though there are elements of cyberpunk in the big cities there, like Hanoi and Saigon too. Tall high-rises and foreign consumer investment set against lower-income business and housing districts. This is in stark contrast to the very traditional Vietnamese ways of life. It is modernity versus tradition. It felt like a small version of what China next door is undergoing now with its rapid economic growth that demands the very large population to all adapt to this change. So overall, I would basically like to spend more time there, and in South East Asia in general, for the foreseeable future.”

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