Academics make up a large percentage of our Longlist every year – sometimes as high as a third of Lumen’s Longlisted artists are involved in academic pursuits. It seems to go with the territory of art created with technology, allowing artists to stay on top of the latest advances and provide a research aspect to their practice. A good example of such an artist is Yeseul Song who qualified this year with her imaginative 3D/Interactive work, Invisible Sculptures.
Yeseul Song is a South Korean-born artist and researcher based in New York. She uses code and electronics to explore perception, embodied experience, and poetic representations of data. Her practice has a wide span, including sculptures, physical installations, digital sketches, and audio visual performances.
Academic research is, in fact, an inseparable part of her art practice. As a research fellow at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (NYU ITP), she conducts research on various topics at the intersection of art and technology. Her main research interests is human perception and cognition. She initially developed her interest in this topic from her previous career as an information science researcher when she studied how people interact with information in the digital and physical world using tools such as eye tracking, statistical analysis, and interviews. Since then, she has expanded her research subjects to human perception and cognition itself, adopting art as a research method.
Her 2019 Lumen longlisted work, Invisible Sculptures is a series of artist experiments that challenges human perception. The viewers are invited to interact with sculptures that are invisible to their eye but perceptible through other senses. The sculptures are made of sound, heat, cool air, and smell. After the experience, audiences give a body to the sculpture by making what they “saw” with a handful of clay. The clay sculptures represent a collective perception of the audiences towards the invisible sculptures. Each time Invisible Sculptures is shown in public, Yeseul carefully observes the audiences and it leads her to encounter new discoveries on human perception. She has created multiple versions of the sculpture in varying sizes and setups.
Seeing things differently
Yeseul credits her middle school art teacher in Busan South Korea with teaching her the pleasure of creating. “Instead of teaching technical skills of painting and craft, he taught us how to see everyday objects differently and make art with them. For a city-wide art contest, while other classes were asked to draw figures, he brought us to a nearby beach and we made sand sculptures. We had a lot of fun re-discovering the sand and water as material and expressing our ideas through the sand,” she says. This way of seeing and thinking, she says, influenced her whole life. “When I was exposed to technology such as programming and electronics later in my life, I was automatically inclined to make creations with it.”
She began her academic studies in South Korea, studying Library and Information Science and Human Environmental Design at Yonsei University in Seoul and as part of her post-graduate study, she moved to Boston, USA to attend a dual-degree scholarship programme. Her research was about how people interact with information and how to make the interaction more effective using technology. “I enjoyed contributing to the practicality and efficiency of the world, but more so I was strongly intrigued by the technology itself. I wanted to make useless and weird creations with it,” she says. So she moved to New York and attended School for Poetic Computation, an artist-run school/residency exploring art and technology in New York and then NYU’s ITP where she is researching and teaching today
She thinks Invisible Sculptures, was partially influenced by her South Korean background. “From what I have experienced, people in South Korea express less and conversations are more implicit compared to the US. I have learned that it is important to know that there are more important things than what are being explicitly said or seen. The cultural characteristics naturally made me pay more attention to invisible or subtle things, and this tendency I have contributed to the conceptualization of Invisible Sculptures.”
Her work as hit a chord with the arts community and her projects have been presented at a range of art galleries and music festivals, including Fort Mason Art and Culture Center in San Francisco, IAC Building amd Independent Filmmaker Project in Brooklyn. She was part of the SFPC Re-Coded project at the Day for Night Festival in Austin, Sónar+D 2017 in Barcelona, and Google I/O in San Francisco. She was also an artist in residence at Mana Contemporary’s New Media Program in 2018.
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