Access to Tools: Tigris Li

The London-based creative technologist on the notebooks, hardware stores, and vintage landlines that shape her practice

Text Zine
Published 06 Dec 2022

Before she cut her teeth as a creative technologist, Tigris Li was a prolific Minecraft YouTuber, passing one million views by the age of twelve. While the London-based CSM graduate is now more inclined towards crafting technological worlds than just broadcasting them, a similarly generous instinct continues to infuse her practice. Li identifies “an experimental approach to the concept of love” as her thematic northstar, and still shares extensive behind-the-scenes documentation on social media.

In February this year, Li presented her exhibition and accompanying book Data Romantics, which took the form of an “experimental dating lab” unpacking the algorithmic logic of digitally-mediated intimacy. Not long after that, she cofounded the cultural technology company LYCHEE, INC alongside designer Eugene Angelo, where she is focused on developing experiential hardware. Besides that, Li has developed conceptual prototypes in physical computing for the open-source initiative Arduino and produced 3D animated fashion campaigns for the likes of Selfridges and Christopher Kane.

In the first of a new serialized feature for Zora Zine, Li talks us through the tools (in the broadest possible sense of the word) that shape her practice.

Clockwise from left: Red Moleskine Cahier Journal, “What's Love (or Care, Intimacy, Warmth, Affection) Got to Do with It?,” Anycubic Vyper 3D Printer

1. What's Love (or Care, Intimacy, Warmth, Affection) Got to Do with It?

This is hands down my favorite book, and one that I love going back to. It’s now all scuffed up with post-it notes and scribbled ideas and doodles.

It’s a collection of essays that examines the concept of love, a topic that is deeply rooted in my practice, and looks at it as something beyond a romantic phenomenon. I love this book because it exposes how love has the universal ability for empathy, that it assumes a social function but is not self-contained, and rather, flourishes amongst people when forging new connections.

It’s a huge inspirational source to my work and the experiences I design in my installations— looking at the intersection of humans and technology to foster emotional intelligence and find new communicative forms that expand our multi-sensical beings, all under the premise of love.

2. Red Moleskine Cahier Journal

Nothing beats a pen and paper. I have piles and piles of red sketchbooks. All my research, references, thoughts, sketches—they’re all documented. One of them is filled with spices and herbs from field research about tasting molecules and memories!

I think if there was ever a fire, these would be one of the first things I would save. Largely because my work is so deeply personal to me and my experiences. They are extensions of myself—I couldn’t imagine losing them.

I love sketchbooks because I think documenting work is really important, even if it’s less glamorous than seeing the final product—it captures moments in time. Being able to see the development process of an idea that feels like an impossible task, to evolving the idea into a concept, to then figuring out logistically the way to make it happen—those are the most beautiful and rewarding moments. Those are also my favorite moments to reflect back on and to see in other people’s work, because it gives you an insight into their thoughts and adds a new level of understanding to who they are, what inspires them, and how their work came about.

3. Anycubic Vyper 3D Printer

I don’t think there’s a better feeling than seeing an idea you have actually come to life! And then being able to touch and hold it! My 3D Printer is magical. Ever since I got it last year, I can’t imagine myself without one anymore. In fact, I wish I had a dozen.

As I’ve been turning my focus more towards hardware and industrial product design—being able to print out prototypes, product test, and iterate with the electronics I’ve built is simply amazing. There’s not only so much joy in it, but having this as a tool and playground for ideas has become really integral to my design process.

Going from small sketches, to designs on a computer, to then seeing it in a tangible form is a a huge rush of dopamine!

Clockwise from left: Walking Inside Hardware Shops, Red-Tinted Glasses, “Tinder Phones of Terrible First Messages”

4. Red-Tinted Sunglasses

As someone with synesthesia, I have the pleasure (and pain) of tasting the world through colors, shapes, and even people. When certain visual notes enter my brain, all sorts of flavors enter my palette. Sometimes it’s delectably wonderful and other times it’s horrifying— like when I’m confronted with a shade of deep purple. But somehow, my Elton John-like red-tinted sunglasses help me find a bit of balance when the world tastes too much for me.

5. Collection of 1960s/70s Telephones

On one of my walls, I have a collection of telephones from the 1960s and 70s that were part of an installation I made called Tinder Phones of Terrible First Messages. As the title reveals —they’re phones with horrible first messages that you swipe through. It questions online personas, what happens when we’re protected by a digital screen, and if this lack of accountability allows people to behave morally differently. (You can see more on how I built it on my TikTok.)

If you’re a programmer, you’ll know the rubber duck theory, which is the idea that if you’re debugging code, you should explain the program line by line to an inanimate object like a rubber duck. By doing so, you’re more likely to spot the problem and the solution will then present itself.

My phones no longer spew out bad pickup lines, but sometimes I’ll pretend I’m dialing someone and talk through certain problems I have with a project or think through some new ideas—they’ve found their way to being my rubber duck. Plus the rotary dial is just so fun to play with.

6. Walking Inside Hardware Shops

Ever since I was a kid I loved getting lost in hardware shops—if my dad had to make a trip to buy some screws or whatnot at Home Depot, there was no way I wasn’t already making my way to the car. I would literally sprint.

The plumbing section was and still is my favorite aisle to walk through. They have all these weird and fantastic shapes you can find, and the best part is that they all connect to each other. When I’m looking at all these pipe fittings and valves, I get excited because my mind starts to wander and dream about all the things I could possibly make with them. Especially thinking about how I can embed them with hardware and utilize them in future installations—the possibilities are endless! Who would’ve thought that a plumbing system could be so exciting?

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