Zhuangzi's Butterfly Dream

“Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.”

With the use of two AR (augmented reality) tools, each of the jewelry pieces and paintings are assigned the capacity to self-reflect and to have, similar to Zhuangzi, a dream about being a butterfly.

The Zhuangzi butterfly dream is a famous philosophical story told by the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, which has been interpreted in many ways by scholars over the years. In the story, Zhuangzi dreams that he is a butterfly, flying freely and without care in the open air. He enjoys his freedom and the beauty of the world around him. However, when he wakes up, he is no longer sure whether he is Zhuangzi who just dreamed of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being Zhuangzi.

The meaning of the story has been interpreted in several ways. One interpretation is that it highlights the illusory nature of reality and the difficulty in distinguishing between what is real and what is not. It suggests that what we perceive as reality may be just a dream, and that we should be skeptical of our own perceptions.

Another interpretation is that the story illustrates the importance of letting go of our ego and embracing a more fluid, flexible sense of self. By becoming one with the butterfly in his dream, Zhuangzi experiences a sense of unity with the world around him, free from the constraints of his own identity.

Another interpretation is that the story encourages users of virtual reality to question the assumptions and limitations of their own identity. By immersing themselves in a virtual world, users may be able to experience a sense of unity with the environment around them, free from the constraints of their own physical body and identity.

The Zhuangzi butterfly dream in the context of virtual reality suggests that our perception of reality and our sense of self are fluid and flexible, and can be altered by technology. It invites us to question our assumptions about the nature of reality and our place in the world, and to explore the potential of technology to expand our understanding of ourselves and our environment. In the context of my work,

Zhuangzi’s butterfly dream is a reflection on the nature of jewelry. Traditionally, jewelry is an object that adorns the body, oftentimes made out of precious metal and stones, always in relation to the body and with a clear position within the commodity market.

My work reflects on the nature and function of jewelry, questioning its value, its making process, and its place in the world.

Scan the QR code with your phone and click on the link. On the webpage that opens you will be able to read the concept behind this series. If you click on the cube in the top right corner of your screen, you will switch to the AR mode. This way, you will see a 3D butterfly, that you can scale, move, and also move around it at will. 

Use the app Artivive on your phone to see the animated butterflies. Download the app here: 

These pieces are exclusively available at Gallery V&V in Vienna.

Contact me if you have any questions, or if you want to commission a custom made piece. 

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