An interview with Danish Art Webzine regarding my solo show at Aarhus. Strangely the page has gone off line, resulting place holder for images, but the text is still available.
[20. december 2011]
Interview: Taeyoon Choi
Taeyoon Choi is a new media and performance artist. He earned B.F.A at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004 and M.S at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in 2007. His work has been exhibited at Dislocate; Yokohama, Upgrade!; Macedonia, Nam June Paik Art Center; South Korea. He lectured at Parsons School of Design and lead workshops in many places including Ars Electronica; Austria. Choi received Arts Council Korea ‘Young artist award’ in 2007 and residency at Eyebeam; New York in 2008. Choi collaborates with engineers, actors and activist groups. Choi lives currently in New York as a Fellow at Eyebeam, Art and Technology Center.
The soundtrack of The Occupy Wall Street Movement sets the tone for your exhibition My Friends, There is no Friend. What does the Occupy movement mean to you?
Occupy Wall Street is an inspiration for me and many people in the United States. There are apparent limits in the movement and the organization, however there are more optimism and encouragement for imagining a world we would like to live in. I am either unaware or unsympathetic to some local issues that only apply to American working class, but I am interested in ways we can imagine a world different from the neo-liberalism, capitalism and supposedly democratic society that has been given us.
You are inspired by Jacques Derrida and his essay Politics of Friendship. Why?
Derrida claims that friendship is impossible without presence of an enemy. And enemy is impossible without a friendship. The dichotomous division between friend and enemy is often an illusion created for the specter of friends, ghosts of one’s desire for perfect companion and creating of mirror image of the self as an ideal friend. Thus we can question the true nature of friendship. Let’s take this cynical perspective on friendship toward the idea of democracy and citizenship. The cynics of democracy and citizenship is interested in how much of that distinction of democracy and the other (say socialist, communist, or any other kinds of social structure) is an illusion, and how arbitrary the procedure of citizenship and voting systems, parliamentary systems, and all the so called and so respected system of governance is fragile, and only exist to support the sovereignty of the system.
Like a specter of a friends, democracy is an impossible specter. Citizenship’ is a thing of the past, like the old wooden gun and plastic soldiers hidden away in your parent’s attic. Formal immigration and illegal migration of human labor is a good example of how citizenship can be used to attract or exploit the others. In order to define ‘the other’, one needs to define who are the ‘non-the other’, and in this case it is the citizens of a state, a friend in a friendship of more than one person. The citizen and friend has many thing in common, their existence is approved by another citizen or a friend, and their relationship supports what we call as the ‘democracy’ or the ‘friendship’.
You use blogs as notebooks for your artworks and on your blogEating with Phone and Computer there is this wonderful sketch for a machine who keeps you with good company and chews with you. Do you think, we are lonely?
One evening earlier this year, I was having trouble sleeping. Or more like, I woke up middle of the night and could not get back to sleep. It might be because my room is very tilted, it is a century year old tenement building in East Village. It could be because my room is messy just like my mind. at any rate, I opened my eyes because the LED that indicates power of my computer screen was blinking so bright that it was illuminating the other side of the room’s wall. There was also another LED from printer, my phone charging, humidifier in another room. The room made a squeaky noise, almost like the wooden house is shaking and stretching. When I looked toward my desk, where all of these technologies are put, It was just at black blank screen, stillness in the machine was chilling, these objects, manufactured in third world countries, for the first world consumers, these commodities that are designed to improve our interaction with others, to better remember the life we live, and to communicate with others over distance and time, are all dark silhouettes in the night. The blinking lights of LED are signs of it’s potential resurrection, coming into being useful, its life and existence is made assured by the blinking LED. However in few years, these machines will be obsolete, at a faster speed than ever, as the technology progresses, and becomes ‘democratized’ meaning more affordable for the mass, it means more waist is created. Meanwhile, what do they mean for us? It means friendship. The electronic devices, especially the ultra personal machines like mobile phones, are replacement for friends, or when it fails to mediate your conversation with a real friend, it acts as a substitute for the relationship, the feeling of companion and intimacy. In reality, the mobile phones are the objects one spends most time with.
Politics & Art – how do they connect?
The optimism, growing out of the decade of pessimism, is really found on events like Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, lots of alternative and local economy and education projects, growing interest in urbanism in relation to sustainability and environmental conditions. My own pessimism and optimism, maybe how they feeds into one another, is on use of technology in these issues. Technology can and possible not assist or ruin movements as such. That is the point I turn to art, making of useless resistance, actions as symbolic gestures, use of humor and participation based on jouissance, narrative structure, and appreciation of the incomplete, unworking, useless, products of non-work, (which other people call my art work, I call my ‘projects‘) become necessary and important, beyond symbolism and commentary role, more important than my life.
Are you an end user or hacker, or both?
The reason to mock Capitalist tactics of marketing is that, through out the exhibition and performance, I deliberately drift between tactics that are usually used by activists (anti-capitalists and autonomous movement, or whatever it may be and any kinds of activist aesthetics such as cardboard pickets, graffiti, structures that are quickly put together, etc) as well as digital fabrication process and technique that are often used in commercial product development and consumer graphic and presentation software. I treat these medium crudely, making sure that the production time is very short and I do not invest a lot of energy in making them more perfect. Such a hurried process allows me to make what is only very necessary, thus making the ideas and intent more important than final presentation. I tend to think of all objects and materials as prop for a performance, thus the objects are activated only during the performance. Consequently, exhibition of the objects are less intense as the timed event, however the video and audio elements supplement for the lack of artist’s presence. To me, I am not an activist as much as I am not a designer or entrepreneur, but at the same time I am committed to activist cause as much as I am curious about the capitalist production and consumption of art and culture. If I had to choose one of them and claim I respect it more than another, I would go toward activism.
The technology and material I use to create my projects, although mostly derived from learning grown out of D.I.Y, Opensource, Hacker community, are essentially product of Capitalism. There is not much point in distinguishing Capitalist technology and commodity and less Capitalist of such, because the distinction is arbitrary. I try to keep standing conscious about the nature and meaning of technology and material I use. So, I like to use iconic software such as Keynote or Power point, one of the most widely used software to deliver business plans or product information, and to use the software to deliver the exactly opposite message, to question consumption, the projected idea of technical invention, progress and consumer as citizens of capitalist democracy.
What is your fascination with IKEA?
I remember the first time I went to IKEA, it must have been around 1993 or 4 when my family moved to Orange County, California. We bought many furniture and household appliances that day. When we came home, I was confused as to if we were still at IKEA or if our house has become an IKEA showroom. The spectacle of multiplicity of choices and almost readily available commodity within reach was unbelievable.
Almost twenty years later, it has become something of an everyday experience for me, as I bought and threw away many of their products, but the initial shock remained within. What is especially jarring about IKEA, as compared to other big box retailers like WallMart or Home Depot, is that the products, once purchased, soon become an integral part of the daily life and constructs the living space until we move or decide to purchase another one. When I began to live in New York City, I would see an IKEA furniture thrown away in the streets at least once in a day, a slightly worn out LACK or broken set of MALM on the street. Since the products are made with maximum efficiency on production and transportation, not on sustainable utilization, these products are very affordable to purchase but most difficult to throw away.
Hacking IKEA furniture or intervening in their store is my way of questioning the dominance of a corporation and their aesthetics, ethics and values in our life. My interventions have been designed to be completely useless and powerless, however not pointless. In IKEA Mega store near Malmø, the second largest store in the world and the largest in Europe, I made a field recording while making noise with motors and microcontroller in the showroom, often interacting with the shoppers and the products on display. These three sets of improvisational performance, or ‘the action’ does nothing to challenge the Capitalist system or to have any means of direct action toward the machine. However it is the uselessness and its evident impossibility that grants power as an artistic resistance. Since it is so useless, the symbolic importance is gained. Since it is so powerless, the tiny noise and movements by my motors becomes a gesture to question our relationship with the objects and their production and coming into part of our consciousness.
What do you expect from your online auction, which is the finale of your exhibition at Spanien 19C?
I expect to sell the domain and some of the contents. I am not exactly sure how to publicize sale of the domain. I think once the domain is purchased, the owner and I will negotiate with control over content of the website. It is now on a tumblr site, I will possibly change it to a single HTML page with all contents, because the tumblr may go out of service in the future. The owner will become collector of the domain and some contents, but the right to update the content will be preserved for me.
What will be your next project?
I have made a Occu-bot, a protest robot with a picket moving up and down. It is made to autonomously go into a protest situation and communicate via the message. It is a rough prototype, and I wish to make it more durable for all extreme situations.