View Mobile Site

COOL HUNTING

show nav
View Desktop Site

COOL HUNTING

Cadillac Charged Branding

A showcase of the visionary technology and design driving innovation throughout all aspects of our culture and creating the next generation of luxury, which is smarter, personalized and free of compromise.

Charged: Afterguard
Charged: Leo Villareal Interview
I'm a cadillac charged article.

Charged:
Sougwen Chung

A conversation with the experimental artist who blurs the boundaries between light, sound, space and software

by Nara Shin in Culture on 11 April 2014

Sougwen Chung has always had an affinity for computers and digital technology. The artist had her first website at the age of ten—"an oddly personal site," she recalls. In addition to the language of code, Chung is also conversant in music. Her father, an opera singer, made sure that his children had instruments in their hands at a very young age. Growing up in Toronto, Canada and Hong Kong (where her parents are from), Chung played both violin and piano. She moved to the States as a teenager, then crossed the Atlantic to study at the digital-focused experimental school Hyper Island in Stockholm, finally returning to New York as a budding artist.

sougwen-chung-portrait-laura-wilson.jpg

Chung's unique background in both the arts and technology results in works that defy easy categorization while transcending genres. Wary of becoming too dependent on one interface or process, she continually strives to challenge herself by exploring "custom" creation tools for each new project. While Chung's print series with Ghostly was featured on CH in the past, we wanted to delve deeper into her creative process. Over the past two years, she's been branching into music, installation and sculpture, bringing her 2D drawings to life by manipulating sound, light, software and more. We chatted with the soft-spoken artist about her fervent dedication to documentation, performative architecture and her most recent installation, "Ecdysis."

sougwen_319scholes-1.jpg
You're just back from a SXSW talk. What did you discuss?

I did a panel on installation and projection—it was quite funny because the other speakers were incredibly technically and advertising-oriented, and so I was asked to bring an art perspective.

Working with new technology, I think a lot of people do get caught up with the software side of it, the algorithmic and process side of it. I tend to approach it from more of an intuitive, more artful perspective, I guess. But it's weird, I've never had anyone sit me down and ask me to be that voice in the conversation. I know other artists who don't enjoy doing talks, but I really enjoying doing it, because it's a nice intellectual exercise to try to speak to what your work is as it's evolving.

sougwen_319scholes2014_4.jpg
Let's discuss the piece you're currently working on, "Ecdysis."

It's a new installation I just did a private preview of at 319 Scholes [in Brooklyn]. It combines layers of pre-rendered graphics that I've done with a layer of light accents controlled by the electric violin. I'm thinking about using an instrument as a kind of a visual controller. I worked with the studio to design a patch that can read different pitch and velocity of the violin, and design and trigger different visuals based on that.

It's a three projector set up on a 21-foot tensegrity sculpture. The structure was developed by Buckminster Fuller, whom I became obsessed with a few months ago. It's kind of an algorithmic sculpture that's actually held together by the tension of cord on rod. Generally [it's] some sort of locking system or adhesive that adheres the two elements together to form a structure. But this is actually held together by tension of string in space.

sougwen-ecdysis-1.jpg
How does a structure like this get built?

If origami is like a mathematical representation of structure on paper, then this is the same thing but for sculpture in a more 3-dimensional form. It's fun because I do a lot of prototyping on my own in the studio, but I've been working with Square Fabrication and a touch designer programmer, Michelle Higa at Slanted Studios, as well was a technical director, Chris Lunney, to help me bring these larger pieces to life. The biggest one is about 10 feet high, so it's actually sort of like making this gigantic crossbow. It's kind of dangerous to some degree.

Do you have a picture of the sculpture?

Yes, I post a lot of stuff on my Instagram and Twitter. Here's the sculpture; It's a little bit hard to see because it's deliberately concealed by darkness—but this is kind of a snapshot of the preview. Then the light is affected by the violin; so I'm playing with this idea of "performative architecture," trying to create an immersive space that responds to the intuitive control of a violin or an instrument.

So that's the new piece; I'm showing it at Communikey Festival—it will be the first time I'll be performing it in front of an audience.

sougwen-violin-1.jpg
Have all of your installation works have had a musical aspect to them?

Yeah, I think that's really important. I’ve had the privilege of working with Brooklyn-based composer Praveen Sharma over the past few years, who also created the score with my violin lines for Ecdysis. Maybe I'll move more into sound exploration, but right now I view the sound in my installations very much like a score. It's a lot more about storytelling through melody than it is the combination of layered sound textures. I'm sort of feeling more compelled to shift away from melody—which is evident in the score for the new installation—but as it is right now, it's fairy melodic.

"I think my work has always been about fusing two different forms or two different perspectives."
Will people be able to listen to this score and others, if they can't visit the installation in person?

It's all online. I tend to document quite a bit and I treat the documentation of my installations actually almost as a separate art piece. I'm actually doing a showcase video for the Ecdysis installation right now. I try to make it like a short film around the work.

If I do an installation, I'm not sure how many people are going to see it and sometimes, it ends up being quite ephemeral. (I'd love to do a permanent installation at some point.) I put a lot of value into documenting it very well and being able to create a narrative with the documentation. It's important because then someone in Singapore or my grandparents could check it out.

sougwen_319scholes2014_7.jpg
How would you say Ecdysis differs from your past pieces?

I think one of my breakthrough pieces was Chiaroscuro, that I did in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Geneva last year. It was this 20-foot drawing and light sculpture, kind of a three-surface projection. I think my work has always been about fusing two different forms or two different perspectives, like enhancing the interplay of light and dark with projection mapping and sculptural form.

"There's something about the magic of a really successful performance. Something about the personal connection of it, the randomness of it."

It's moving to be something more immersive. I think a lot of times when you see these installations, they can seem a little bit cold. And as a violinist and pianist, there's something about the magic of a really successful performance. Something about the personal connection of it, the randomness of it. Coming from an arts and tech background, you don't see a lot of projects that capture that feeling.

I think there's a lot to be explored in creating your own tools and being able to fuse these types of tools together. Sometimes I worry that we get stuck into these design patterns of the interface. And I tend to spend too much time thinking about how to get away from that. That's why my process is incredibly interdisciplinary; I do stuff with music and drawing and software and sculpture, just to try to not get stuck on any mode of creation.

exuviae-sougwen-chung.jpg
Are there other projects you're currently working on?

I showed Exuviae first at MIT [Media Lab] last year as a prototype, but I'm looking to develop it further. I'm working with an artist/developer named mr.doob to design a custom digital drawing tool using three.js that can create sculptural form using drawing in digital space. The prototype was done purely freehand with the software in browser and then 3D-printed with a lightweight material called alumide. For future iterations I'll be experimenting with gold and ceramic. I have a few interested collectors and am interested in sourcing more funding for the project.

sougwen-319scholes2014-3.jpg

The Ecdysis installation and performance will be shown at Communikey Festival in Boulder, Colorado this Saturday, 12 April 2014. For Ecdysis credits and more information on Chung's current and past projects, visit her official website.

Portrait courtesy of Laura Wilson, Ecdysis images courtesy of Chris Leung, all other images courtesy of Sougwen Chung

advertisement

Get Cool Hunting delivered to your inbox every weekday morning

Cadillac Charged Branding

A showcase of the visionary technology and design driving innovation throughout all aspects of our culture and creating the next generation of luxury, which is smarter, personalized and free of compromise.

Charged:
Solaire Generation

Depending on where you live, parking lots can either feel like a terrific waste of space or woefully inadequate for city needs. Still, they are everywhere, not to mention a critical component of urban planning. Since 2008, Solaire Generation has...

Charged:
Lowline and the Remote Skylight

As the most talked about urban planning project in NYC of recent times—alongside the Plus Pool, perhaps—the Lowline continues to capture the attention of the creative community and beyond through its development from concept to construction. In the...

Charged:
Shindo Laboratory

The 2011 documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" at first appears to be a film about an 85-year-old sushi chef and his world-famous dishes, though it's really about a man's lifelong quest to continually make better sushi—to continually strive to master...

Charged:
Jim Campbell in NYC

While the boundaries between contemporary art and technology have grown increasingly blurry—thanks to everything from biologically-inspired knitted structures to oil that "defies" gravity—there are, surprisingly, only a handful of artists who delve...

Charged:
Isaïe Bloch

At the most recent 3D Printshow in London, artist and architect Isaïe Bloch took top honors as Artist of the Year with his work "Satire." The intricate sculpture is just one of many that illuminates his multidisciplinary mastery, magnetizing vision...

Charged:
Lucy McRae

If Lady Gaga were to give up the music and focus solely on design she might look a lot like Lucy McRae, whose artistic biotech-tinged productions make today's wearable technology look like candy bracelets. The self-proclaimed "body architect's" creations...

Charged:
Daguerre's American Legacy

Following two highly acclaimed runs at museums in greater-Paris, photo-historian William B. Becker's collection of daguerreotypes—the first widespread photographic process involving imagery cast upon a highly polished silver surface—is about to make...

Charged:
The Smartest Home

In recent years, the ways in which we as culture interact with technology has shifted. Much in the same way the iPhone completely changed how cell phones, cameras and music players are considered, devices like thermostats that learn how warm you...

Charged:
Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken

The first signs of spring are just starting to show in the low mountains of the Jämtland region of Sweden (600 kilometers northwest of Stockholm) and the stores of preserved wild grasses, cured calf liver and other uniquely Scandinavian delicacies...

Charged:
inFORM, a Revolutionary Design Tool

Virtual reality has made huge strides over the past few years, but for pioneers like the scientists at the MIT Media Lab, digital simulations have begun taking actual, material shape. Formally known as the Tangible Bits project (which was presented...

Charged:
Leo Villareal Interview

by Michael Slenske Two decades ago, New York-based light sculptor Leo Villareal attended Burning Man (the annual week-long art event in Black Rock City, Nevada, which culminates around a wooden sculpture of a man set on fire) and the experience changed...

Charged:
Sougwen Chung

Sougwen Chung has always had an affinity for computers and digital technology. The artist had her first website at the age of ten—"an oddly personal site," she recalls. In addition to the language of code, Chung is also conversant in music. Her father...

Charged:
Afterguard

Racing out on the ocean, the wind can whip mercilessly and consistently, throwing an endless barrage of sea-spray and hurtling your craft faster than its sails and keel can handle. Other times, a swirling gust changes directions without notice or...

Charged:
The Future of Flying

Early this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began rolling out an ambitious overhaul program targeted at streamlining the passenger experience. Called NextGen, the initiative aims to usher in the next generation of air travel. Drawing...

Charged:
Shih Chieh Huang

Since Marcel Duchamp and his bicycle wheel (and urinal), countless artists have included daily objects into their work. There may only be one, though, who uses them to create bioluminescent "living" organisms. Taiwanese-American artist Shih Chieh...

Charged:
HYT Watches

It was 2012 when Swiss watchmaker HYT (short for Hydro Technology) shocked the industry with its H1 wristwatch, but the initial design for the first watch to indicate time with liquid began almost a decade prior. That's when company founder Lucien...

Charged:
Ingo Maurer Interview

Few industrial designers have earned a foothold in the greater creative culture like Ingo Maurer, the German-born, New York-based designer of lighting and lighting installations. In the decades since founding his own design practice, Ingo Maurer...

Charged:
Solar Impulse 2

It's staggering to think that, within less than a century, we've gone from Charles Lindbergh piloting the first solo transatlantic flight—Long Island to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis—to two Swiss adventurers on the cusp of circumnavigating the...

Charged:
Troika

Founded by three friends upon graduating from London’s Royal College of Art in 2003, Troika is a collective and Cool Hunting favorite whose work continues to forge new ground in art. Installing site-specific projects everywhere from Mexico City...

Charged:
Neil Harbisson and Cybernetics in the Arts

While the term "wearable technology" might make you think of a fitness tracker or Dick Tracy-esque talking wristwatch, Barcelona-based artist Neil Harbisson wears an antenna that is permanently implanted in his head. Diagnosed with achromatopsia...

Charged:
Redesigning an Icon

Since its founding in 1902, Cadillac has stood as an American icon of automobile design that hails straight from the heart of Detroit. When the future-facing brand unveiled its sleek, modern new insignia design on the 2015 ATS Coupe earlier last...

Charged:
Ressence Watches

The world took note when Benoît Mintiens, founder of the Antwerp-based Ressence watches, released the Type 3 watch at Baselworld in 2013. The industrial designer had constructed a watch like no other; the watch face appears to dance across its crystal...

Charged:
Indie Wearable Tech Brands

As companies like Nike, Google, and Apple rush to be at the forefront of wearable technology, a group of startups and tech incubators are making a strong case for why consumers may need to look elsewhere for the next big thing. With products emerging...

Charged:
The Future of Cadillac Design

At some point in the last decade, Cadillac made a conscious decision to not be all things to all people. By sharpening silhouettes, narrowing lines and hardening angles, the cars developed an entirely new personality, one meant to attract a more design...

Charged:
Five Next-Gen Digital Cameras

Since the first widely available digital cameras hit the market in the early '90s, the technical leaps made in the field of digital photography have been exponential. Today smartphones house cameras with sensors that dwarf those of high-end models...

Charged:
Cory Arcangel's Art and Apparel

by Michael Slenske In the early 2000s, Buffalo-born artist Cory Arcangel hacked the Hogan’s Alley video game and replaced the Nintendo gunslingers with silhouettes of Andy Warhol, Colonel Sanders, Flavor Flav and the Pope for a cheeky piece he called...

Charged:
Bryce Wolkowitz Interview

Slightly obscured by the glare of the gallery’s impossibly tall and tinted windows, the lines of Robert Currie’s wiry, site-specific installation stretch toward the entrance of Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. Unassumingly elegant, Currie’s sculpture looks...

Charged Video:
Aerosyn-Lex Meštrović

With an extensive background in calligraphy and graphic design, New York City–based artist Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic elegantly meshes the two visual forms across an array of media. Strongly rooted at the base of all his work is a visceral connection...

Charged:
Smart LEDs for the Home

Bright ideas are coming from every design sector, as engineers, artists and scientists join industrial designers in creating the technologies and products that will define the future of light. Today, it's inherently progressive industries like LEDs...

Charged:
High-Tech Summer Essentials

Whether your summer plans have you headed overseas for a safari or only as far as the backyard, smart tech is getting more clever and more seasonally conscious. From air conditioners that know when you're on your way home and can be operated by smartphones...