Absence is Presence with Distance

Based on a talk at Eyeo festival, June 28, 2017 at the Walker Art Center.

Video (45 minutes) is published.

My name is Taeyoon. I am an artist and educator. Today, I’d like to tell you two stories. The first story is about my artwork — What is poetic computation? The second story is about my educational works — What is learning and un-learning? These questions fold into the central question: What is the role of an artist today?

This is a picture of me in the 1980s, looking out into the future of art and technology. I was born in the heart of Silicon Valley. However, growing up, I was not really into computing. Instead, I was into visual art, history, literature, and adventure. And little did I know, that I’d be making art about computers.

“Absence is Presence with Distance” is the title of this talk. Let’s start with the title. What does it mean to be present?

Being present for someone is not only about being physically around, but also about taking time to become available, accessible, forgiving and generous. Being present is about being receptive and conscious. I try to be present both in my teaching and in my art.

1. Poetic Computation

The first project I want to show you is Handmade Computer. It started with a simple question: Can I make a computer with my hand?

Like most of you, I spend a lot of my time with computers. However, up until a few years ago, I didn’t know how computers are made, or how they work . They were only things that I would buy and use. But what is a computer, really?

Computers are more than just things, they are an idea. Computation is a space where language meets mathematics, and logic meets electricity.

The computers are not neutral object for aesthetic contemplation. Their roots are in war machines, contested politics, and precarious lives. Computers are also massively large, abstract machine that operates the logic of Capitalism.

However, computers are also a source of poetic exploration. If you look at this image of a microchip made in 1963, shown at 100x magnification, it reveals a conscious design by an engineer and the unique visual patterns of the computer’s interior circuitry. It’s not only efficient, as it’s designed to maximize performance at an infinitesimal scale, but also geometrically appealing. When I look at images like this, I‘m reminded of dynamic works of paintings or grid plans for a miniature city.

If you look at Peter Halley’s painting ‘Instant City,’ you can find resemblance with a computer-architectural diagram, with information flowing from one box to another. The painting depicts various levels of abstraction differing in size and color, while all the elements share the visual pattern.

Even though these images share ethos of industrialization, I can also find a sense of beauty in both, beauty that arises from repetition and abstraction. This elegance in computation has propelled me to ask — What if computers were not mass produced? What if computers were not developed for weapons? If so, what kind of relation would we have with technology? In other words, if I can make computers with my hands, can I imagine a computer with a different heritage? perhaps one that is peaceful?

As you see in this diagram, computers are abstractions of different materials and concepts. At the very top level, it is an apparatus for communication, we use computers to communicate with other people. And then theres’s the applications itself. Operating systems enable us to interact with the machine. The next is the level of programming to compute data, commanding the electronics to operate in certain way. At the very heart of this rabbit home is the information itself.

Handmade Computer

To make a computer from the ground up, without an engineering background, I had to learn complex things and also obvious things. I learned about computational theory from CODE: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzold and electronics from the famous TTL Cook Book. I also read philosophy of computing, such Wendy Chun’s Programmed Vision and Manuel DeLanda’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. Learning about computing is a lot like putting together a large puzzle or finishing a long book. There were a lot of ideas that made sense to me only after wiring circuits on a breadboard. The next video shows the process of making 4 Bit calculator and drawing schematics in order to understand the circuit.

After many months of research, trial and error, and trips down the rabbit hole of abstraction, I finally got a sense of what happens inside of computers, all the way down on the electrical level with Zeros and Ones. Essentially, computers are three things: a clock, an abacus, and a writing pad. Computer tells the time, it adds, and it remembers.

I was ready to make my own computer from the NAND logic gate chips. It was not a really easy process, but it was very rewarding. In a sense, I was becoming a computer, repeating and abstracting simple tasks. I would like to show you a couple of computers that I built on my journey. The first is a 1 Bit Computer — it adds, keeps track of the time, and remembers. Using a technique called wire wrapping, I was able to make more complex circuits efficiently. There’s the clock, which is the oscillator, and an adder: one plus one becomes one-zero ( 1 + 1 = 10), and a flip-flop that holds the bit, and the memory stays until you unplug the battery. 1 Bit Computer uses a TTL NAND chip, which stands for “Not AND”, and it’s the heart of the computer.

Hand-making, almost everything other than the discrete components, was important because that way I was gaining agency over technology and beginning to establish a different relationship with computers.

I also realized that there are many ways a computer can be built. I created a few different elements that constitute Central Processing Unit. I had an almost-Turing-complete, programmable computer.

Photo: National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea

However, around that time, I stopped pushing the projects technically because realized that I wasn’t interested in replicating the computer that already exists. I wasn’t even trying to make a better computer — I was literally trying to reinvent the wheel, create different narratives and imagine a different relationship to computers. In order to do this I’m pushing the project in new directions.

Photo: National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea

I’ve been writing about my process, bringing in visual metaphors and stories to make this process more accessible. I have been publishing Handmade Computer as a book on AVANT.org, in collaboration with an amazing editor Sam Hart. The book goes into the history of computing, my own personal journey, and the beauty of abstraction. It also goes deeper into the political implication of computation.

I think of Handmade Computer as a teaching tool. I’m also working on a D.I.Y Kit for 1 Bit Computer with a binary adder, a clock, and then a latch. I’ve worked on the first prototype with Pedro Oliviera. I’m trying to make this an educational tool through crowdfunding this summer, because I would like more people to be able to experience it with their own hands. I taught a few workshops with the kit, it’s much easier than teaching with breadboards and I can share the joy of making computer with hands.

So, there is poetic elements in computation. The word poetics originates from the Latin word ‘Poiesis’ which means to to give form. If poetic computation is about giving form to computing, can it show the way towards poetics in our life? How does computing affect our perception of the world? And to further extend the question — Can life be computed?

Although our lives are profoundly affected by algorithms, life can not be reduced to the binary. Despite the technology industry’s attempt to create illusion of life turning into bits, there are so many beautiful in-between states.

Poetics is never without its politics. What is the creative act of expression to preserve our humanity, and our autonomy? Through the next two projects, I pursued these questions in poetic expression through computation.

In Search of Personalized Time

Computers are essentially clocks that are networked. Clocks control our perception of time. The world is in sync through GPS, which is a protocol owned by the United States government and operated by the United States Air Force. U.S. Military. GPS serves as a master clock that commands different parts of our world to be synchronized.

I was inspired to make timekeepers that do not follow the convention of time. Time is the ultimate medium of control, and having control over time means having access to define territory. I wanted to make a computer that gives form to non-standard time. I wanted to create an experience that defies the “real-time”ness of reworked technologies.

In the project ‘In Search for Personal Time’, a collaboration with E Roon Kang who’s a graphic designer, we questioned the synchronization of time. At the time, we were both working for an art festival in South Korea, while living in New York. We would take conference calls late at night and feel jet-lagged. We were never really there, and we were never really here, but somewhere in-between. We realized time zones are arbitrary markers of differences in time and space.

At that time, I was also experiencing very short lived — but very long distance — relationships. When you travel often, you are basically not present anywhere. You are always missing someone, being late and not really being there. So, how can we become present — Here and Now?

Our idea was not about checking out, and being off the grid, but it was more about having the agency to define our own time and connecting with others in that time. Therefore, it was also important to collaborate E Roon, and we worked with a group of engineers on this project. With support from the LACMA Art + Tech Lab, we created a participatory performance, that centers on Personal Timekeepers. These timekeepers were essentially clocks that operate on the participants’ own perception of time.

Photo: Duncan Chang

Each person was given a personal timekeeper. To initiate the personal timekeeper, we did a performative exercise, where everyone press the button for what they think is a minute. And then we schedule to meet back in one hour. However, that hour is all different for participants. The shortest would be 30 minutes, and the longest would be 1.5 hour from the starting point. Since everyone’s time diverges, they arrive at the gallery at different times. So, if you are a participant, you can initiate one minute to be thirty seconds, or a minute and a half. Another feature is that you can record moments. There is no metadata, but it records how long you press the button.

In our non-standard time, we no longer burden ourselves with being synchronized. Desynchronization does not necessarily mean isolation. Instead, we investigated how time can be communally negotiated, and how to give the communion a form. In a way, being present and being here now becomes a malleable experience where we can shape time, memories, experiences, and hopefully possible futures. By reconfiguring the relation between time and space, your presence can take form elsewhere, or elsewhen, through another sense of time.

The irony was that in order to desynchronized time, we had to make a device that was hyper synchronized. The computers in each device was constantly communicating with the main server. This real-timeness, after all, is the core mantra of technology driven, Neo-liberal society. To return to my initial question, what is the role of artist now?

As artists, it is our job to be critical of the technology industry, and to imagine a different use of technology in the future. To elaborate, it’s our job to be critical of the culture that surrounds technology and imagine different sense of time, for the present, future, and past.

FUTURE PROOF

The next project: a collaboration with Christine Sun Kim. She is a sound artist who’s born profoundly deaf and she communicates with American Sign Language. We became friends through collaborations such as ‘Incomplete Text’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Photo: Filip Wolak

We made a new project last year called FUTURE PROOF. In this video, Christine will explain the piece in American Sign Language, and I am going to interpret it.

“This piece is about slowing down the time. We are interested in people’s different senses of time and language. We wanted to create a space where viewers can meditate, create new kinds of languages that respect multiple cultures, senses of time and identity. We didn’t want a future that’s a fast forward, we wanted a variety of times to such varieties of time, not just a fast forward. To do this we created wind chimes.” — Christine Sun Kim

Installation at Harvestworks, NYC

When I grew up in rural South Korea, I observed wind chimes in Buddhist temples. I thought wind chimes are signs of time passing. It’s not accurate but as the wind pass through it in different times of the day, and the wind chime’s movement changes. This movement gives form to an abstract sense of time. Christine and I were equally fascinated with the wind chimes and people’s different senses of time and language. We questioned: How can we create an atmospheric communication with technology?

Here’s a breakdown of the system for FUTURE PROOF at the MediaCity Seoul Biennale. The system includes seven timekeepers, seven objects, and two performers, us, activating them. First, the wind chimes are activated every time we trigger the strings connected around the space. Second, there were two projections: one shows me typing our manifesto in Korean, and the other shows Christine typing in English. The typer also has a webcam feed, because, as Christine told me, deaf people communicate with facial expressions, speed, and positions of their hands and face. We tried to use code as a language for a different sense of time. We invited the audience to help us connect the strings and activate the wind chimes, almost like a moving a timeline.

The performance centered around seven manifestos about different futures, that are essentially critiques of technological solutionism. Since Christine is deaf, her experience with technology has a lot to do with questioning accessibility, and with negotiating things that were designed by hearing people that just do not work for her. We were thinking about a way that Sign Language can become an inspiration for technology, not an after-thought. If this is possible, what other technology can we build?

In the performance, there were multiple languages present. American Sign Language is different from Korean Sign Language, so there were a few interpreters. Many of the participants were deaf as well. The sound of wind chimes were not as important as its movement. The performance was a textual-spatial experience, not strictly sonic experience. We were happy to be able to create a temporary community in the varieties of time.

Tiny tornado

These projects sprung out of active conversations with collaborators. For me, art practice holds political potentials because art is inherently social and relational.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to make art, now, in 2017 — and made a pledge for the next four years. These projects are my attempts to find answers to the question, What is the role of an artist today? I think of an artist as a critic of technology.

Technological optimism and pessimism are not entirely contradictory. They exist in an uneasy tension with a little room for criticism. Speculating the worst case scenario is not a progressive act — it is just further propelling the incumbent power structure’s shaping of our imagination. As artists, it is our job to fearlessly imagine and tirelessly act prefiguratively to bring vision into the reality.

It is important to use computers for creative expression, but also as a tool for social justice. Artistic practice and political practice are different, and shouldn’t be conflated. When they are done well, they each achieve uniquely meaningful goals. However, we must also note the feedback loop that can be created between art and activism — the power between our practice and collective praxis.

For example, Francis Alÿs, an artist I admire, said “Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic.”

My work is in search of nearness.

I make art because, when I encounter a work of art that touches me, a tiny tornado enters my heart.

That tornado creates a relationship between idea of life and act of living. It brings intention and representation closer, and it pulls you and me closer together. Being present means coming near your subject, your collaborator, your medium, and your tools.

What’s the opposite of the tiny tornado? Cynicism is a symptom of oppression. White flag of complete passiveness. This sense of detachment creates distance between idea of life and act of living. This distance leads to a lack of care, a disconnection between value and currency, and an isolation between you and me.

The 2016 U.S. Presidential election brought normalization of racism, sexism and hatred of diversity to everyday life. There are a lot of fingers pointing at one another, victimization that further perpetuates ‘othering’ of the minority. This ‘othering’ is not new, it’s been here and never left us. Unsurprisingly, I find lineages of systemic violence and injustice that are inherent to the systems we all participate. Complicity is nuanced, our contribution is not always visible. To a certain degree, we are all participating to the toxic system of corporation, government and communities under Capitalism. If then, Who, or what, is the real enemy?

The real enemy is ‘I-don’t-give-a-fuckism’ (Note Alexander R. Galloway’s glossary of terms by Bernard Stiegler) It takes many shapes, apathy, over-stimulation, and a flow of distraction. We must unlearn cynicism to become present and ‘to-give-a-fuck’ about what’s happening in the world.

Three projects I introduced, Handmade Computer, In Search of Personalized Time and FUTURE PROOF are not made in a vacuum. They sprung out of active conversations with collaborators and participants. Dialogue leads to ideas. Collaborations give form to the ideas.

I’m not interested in an artistic activism, or art about activism. Rather, I’m interested in art as a form of activism. For me, art practice is contingent on its political potentials.

Part 2: Learning and Unlearing

I’ve come to the second part of the talk, and I am now going to talk about my activism and educational work. For me, teaching is where art meets activism. I’d like to bring you back to 2011, when the Occupy Wall Street movement was very present in New York City, along with other social movements happening around the world.

This is a picture of me at a protest in 2011. On this day, student debt in the United States reached one trillion dollars. Students, teachers, and everyone else, met in solidarity and said, “Something must be done. This is not working.” To return to the initial question, ‘what is the role of an artist today’, I’d like to propose that artists are educators.

I co-founded the School for Poetic Computation in 2013 together with Zach Lieberman, Amit Pitaru and Jen Lowe. We shared concerns about the student debt crisis, ethical and pragmatic challenges as adjunct professors. We wanted a school that’s light-weight, independent and focus on students more than anything else. Currently, Zach, Lauren Gardner and I organize the ten weeks program and special projects, along with Steering Committee such as Todd Anderson and Tega Brain who oversee specific sessions and special events.

In this slide, I just want to show all the beautiful people that we became friends with through our teaching, through our community building, through events, through talks, through experiments, through field trips, through very hot nights of coding, and cold nights of coding.

Currently, we are located at the Westbeth Artist Housing, which was home of the Western Electrics and then Bell Labs. Westbeth is a residential building for many artists, and we are lucky to have a storefront space for the time being. The Bell Lab has an interesting history that I would like to share with you.

British scientist Alan Turing visited the United States only a few times, but on one of those visits, he heard about a man named Claude Shannon, who had been developing a theory of information. They met at the cafeteria of the Bell Labs(Alan Turing: The Enigma, p. 243, by Andrew Hodges) on the second floor. They couldn’t really talk about their own research, because they were each working for their own country’s secret military programs. Instead, they talked about whether or not a machine might be able to play chess. They had an interesting conversation about whether machines could think, and what it and what it might mean for machines to think.

It is important to contemplate what our relationship with and what the history of computers might have been if Turing had lived a full life? 
(Read A Queer History of Computing by Jacob Gaboury)

In more recent history in Bell Lab’s engineers, including William Shockley, presented transistors for the first time publicly in the building. In the same space, on the top floor, where Merce Cunningham, Carolyn Brown, and John Cage would rehearse. I think the space has a really interesting meeting of two different histories, one of engineering and the other of modern art.

Curriculum

Now, it serves, among other things, as the School for Poetic Computation (SFPC). SFPC is a place for students of different backgrounds — students coming in from art, engineering, literature, and journalism. We’d like to think of it as a residency and a research group. In a sense, it works like a post-graduate program.

We are inspired of this philosophy of independent education like the Black Mountain College.

  1. That the student, rather than the curriculum is the proper center.
  2. That a faculty is to be measured with what they do with what they know.

Black Mountain College, Prospectus, 1952

We have a core curriculum that we’ve been working with: The first part of it is Code, the second is Electronics, and the third is Critical Theory. We also like to invite practitioners who are doing interesting work to teach in the program.

The classes that I’ve been teaching started from Handmade Computers and binary logic. It was painful to learn this topic, but it was actually even more painful to teach this, so I don’t trust anyone who says, “I can teach coding in a fun or easy way.”

Learning a new technique or concept is really hard. At SFPC, we make it more bearable by having great people around us. SFPC is also an experimental space where we can take students out on a walk and look at the city and understand the history. In my class ‘The Art of Walking,’ we were reading Georges Perec and drifting around in various streets of New York. It’s also a space for artists like Ingrid Burrington to try her class, Architectural history of computing, touring the internet infrastructures of the city. Essentially, SFPC is a laboratory for us to continue teaching and learning.

To bring back the Black Mountain reference, I want to introduce Anni Albers who’s an incredible designer, educator, and philosopher. She’s getting some well deserved attention at the moment, but I think that, until recently, her work was overshadowed by her husband Joseph Albers, famous abstract painter known for writing the color theory. It’s important to know that Joseph didn’t really speak English well until many years after coming into the United States. Anni was not only his translator, but a facilitator of his practice. However, her philosophy of textile and education triumphs on its own.

“Art work deals with the problem of a piece of art, but more it teaches the process of all creating, the shaping out of the shapeless. We learn from it that no picture exists before it is done, no form before it is shaped.” — Anni Albers, Integrating Art and Life, 1944

My interpretation of her statement is that we enter a medium with an idea, but exit with a different one. We have to respect the material, and we have to understand it’s craft. I believe this philosophy can be seen through our student projects. Here are some examples.

Mariko Kosaka was a student from 2016. She had an idea of creating a program language for knitting machine. Knitting machine, as you know, is essentially a programmable computer. And Mariko developed the idea during one of our two-weeks long programs. I also encouraged her to make drawings and tell the stories about her discovery. She cerated a project called 64 stitches. I think this Anni Albers’ ideas about exploring the medium comes together really nicely in this project.

Ishac Bertran was one of our first students from 2013. He had an idea of a game that slows down the time, which became ‘Slow Games.’ He had the idea while he was a student in SFPC but he completed the project many years later. Essentially the game operates as a very slow clock cycle, just one clock cycle per day. I think this is a poetic use of computation. It is not necessarily utilitarian, but it addresses something more than its function. It was great to be in touch with Ishac over extended period and help him define the idea and push the project even further.

A more recent project, ‘SFPC Bank’ is a Snake game that runs on an ATM machine by Melanie Hoff. I’ve been teaching critical theory at the school and I talk about the notion of a ‘Society of Control.’ The society controls is no longer a panopticon, but more like a highway. It’s this multiplication of control over time. In the text by Gilles Deleuze, there is a metaphor of a serpent, the snake as the new modes of control that move between different zones, whereas the Society of the discipline was that of a mole: a patriarchal structure where it is managed from a central location. Melanie took this idea quite literally, made a Snake game out of an ATM machine with help of fellow students.

Poetic Computation: Reader

We have been publishing some of this research as zines and also through student showcase exhibitions. However, the existing platforms felt inadequate to share the process I wanted to create a platform where I could write and archive the research that I do for the school.

To do this, I started collaborating with an incredible design team named HAWRAF, who I met at NEW INC, the New Museum’s incubator. We developed a new kind of reader, thinking about the future of books. We were thinking about what a book can become in the future, and what relationships we can have with digital mediums, as a writer and a reader. We looked at the accessibility of E-Readers and found many of them hard to use. We asked, wha kind of platform do we want to write and read on in the future?

This video shows the first chapter of the book ‘Poetics and Politics of Computation.’ I am hoping to continue to publish my lecture, notes and interviews with other practitioners onto the book. The reader is very flexible to fit various reading conditions. It has fun and experimental feature like a focus mode which lets you look at select parts of a text. I’m open for collaboration on this project and I hope you enjoyed the readings on the lectures. We are planning to publish the book’s CMS open source this fall, so other artists and writers can use it.

Organize!

Returning to the question: What is the role of an artist today? I want to talk about my work as an organizer in educational spaces. Like a lot of us, after the last Presidential election, I was inspired to take action. I thought about the organizing I can do, which can lead to a small but meaningful and direct impact.

“(Mark Rudd) developed a rhetorical position he would repeat to anyone who would listen, “Organizing is another word for going slow,” but lately he prefers Joe Hill’s oft-quoted 1915 telegram to Bill Haywood: “Don’t waste time mourning; organize!” (Against Activism by Astra Taylor)

I think the role of an artist is a supporter. I’ve been trying become a support structure for other artists, students and teachers. The most immediate issue for me centers on inclusivity in the field of art, technology and education. In a world that’s increasingly enforcing normalcy and alienating anyone who’s body, nationality or desire do not conform, diversity’s become a contested site of conflict and misunderstanding.

You can not have diversity, without diversifying your leadership. This is something that I feel is very urgent in our community. Diversity should not be tokenized. It’s not a box you can check. Instead, diversity should be about action and empowerment.

To address this issue and support my community, one of the initiatives that I collaborate at the School for Poetic Computation is an annual conference co-organized with Tega Brain, called ‘Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn’. This is an opportunity for artists who are teachers to share their ideas, frustrations, and tips. One of the participants said the conference felt like a support group for teachers.

Photo: Kira Simone-Kennedy

This conference was a chance to build solidarity among teachers, and people who are interested in teaching. We are planning to do this again in next year, January 20, 2018 in New York City.

Another initiative is called ‘Computing and Stories Summit.’ I collaborated with Linda Liukas, a children’s book writer who writes about programming. Her book is titled “Hello Ruby.” We were excited about the idea of having a forum that is really inviting for the people who are working in the intersection of storytelling and code. We organized a small conference at SFPC, where we talked about writing, publication, and working with different communities. It was an opportunity invite women who are doing incredible work to be at the center of discussion about technology.

Photo: Amy Wibowo

We organized a day long program with workshops and talks. For example, Amy Wibowo(BubbleSort Zines) lead a technical zine making workshop.

In preparation, I was concerned about the possibility of making someone uncomfortable. I didn’t want the summit to be about diversity. Instead, I wanted diversity and inclusivity to become the new normal. Thanks to Linda and Natalia Cabrera(Assistant organizer) who brought in their enthusiasm, unparalleled dedication and talent, the summit was a great experience that felt very warm. Together, we carefully created an safer environment, where everyones’ identity and dignity were respected. We hope to continue organizing the summit, next one sometime in May in 2018. Trust can only build over time.

Photo: Dan Phiffer

Additionally, ‘The Art of Teaching’ is a class that I’ve been running for teachers and future teachers. The first time was a class at NYU ITP, and just 2 days ago, I taught a session at Eyeo festival. This was a great chance to learn how to walk together. All of this work essentially me trying to become a support structure for the community.

Another role of an artist is to become a translator; speaking two languages at once, communicating between two different cultures at once. My work with Christine Sun Kim has inspired me to work with the deaf community. I’ve been running these workshops, programming workshops for deaf students, called Signing Coders. I invited my students and fellow teachers to collaborate on the workshops.

Next slide is a photo of one of the student, Steven, with a co-teacher Luisa Pereira. Steven’s expression is what I want to see in everyone of my students. He just found out that binary numbers can work just like logical comparisons. One Bit of information, Zero and One, is just like True or False. Signing Coders was also an opportunity to make use of this teaching tool, like the dice Steven is playing with.

I realized accessibility to technology and knowledge is really difficult for someone who’s disabled or impaired. To create an inclusive learning environment for artists, I created yet another school called the Uncertainty School.

Uncertainty School is a school for artists, but this time this school is for artists who are disabled or with impairments or people who are part of the disability community. I say all these distinctions carefully, because they are all very different. This is a school where we hope that those distinctions and differences become less visible. Again, I taught code. Participants were excited to learn coding, because there were not so much opportunity for them. For me, Uncertainty School was a chance to unlearn what I knew about ability, capability of our bodies and mind.

Uncertainty School Documentary by Raya

And we’ve also used the biennial as a curriculum, working with artist such as Sarah Hendren and Alice Sheppard to do a workshop on accessibility mapping.

Photo: MediaCity Seoul 2016

In this program, we talked about the beauty of disability; not as something to be fixed, but something that is to be cherished and respected.

Photo: MediaCity Seoul 2016

We created an exhibition with the participants and co-teachers. I say, without a doubt, that Uncertainty School was my most successful project. Through the workshops and exhibition, we learned to be near each other. (Incomplete Notes from Uncertainty School)

End note

The work of art and the work of teaching are both acts of love.

Lately, I realized I learn so much from collaborating with other artists, engineers and activists. My collaborators are great teachers of life and art. I learn from their generosity to share ideas and skills, their willingness to address my mistakes and forgive my shortcomings, and most importantly, their honest critique of my practice. Their presence, far and near, short and long term, brings inspiration for me to continue making art and engage with different communities.

Love takes shape in many forms. Collaboration is a search for nearness with others, among those who may have nothing in common. Collaboration is a gift, an invitation for coexistence. (On the greatest teachers)

Art and activism, whatever you call it, let us seek justice and beauty, two things that are never far apart.


Postscript

This was one of the hardest talk I’ve delivered. I’m thankful for overwhelmingly supportive responses. It’s a work in progress. Some things I continue to think about and tell to myself:

  • Working for others — Speaking for yourself — Work speaks for itself.
  • Directly addressing social issues — Finding the space to express artistic vision and create a form of expression that’s not explicitly political. We need more of both, one will not replace the other.
  • You can not help other people. You can only help yourself. By helping yourself, you may connect with others.
  • Making art is like a dance, alone and with others, a moment of free expression. The feeling of empowerment and liberation may bring tangible changes.
  • Radicalize and becoming acutely aware of the prejudices you face with. Trauma, however small or big, is a scar in your universe.
  • Find ways to gain trust, not names or credentials.

Thank you to my wonderful friends and mentors who gave feedback for this talk in various stages. Tega Brain, Jer Thorp, Dave Schroeder, Sam Hart, Moonsick Gang, Shannon Mattern, Jacob Gaboury, Rune Madsen, Molly Kleiman, E Roon Kang, Katie Lee, Golan Levin, Hang Do Thi Duc, NEW INC, Julia Kaganskiy, Dark Matter, SFPC. Also thanks to wonderful people I met at Eyeo Festival. This talk was transcribed by Mikki Elyza and edited with Tatyana Mustakos.

I tried to credit photo, video, collaborations and institutions as accurately as possible. However I may have made mistakes. If you notice missing credit and errors, please let me know asap! taeyoon@sfpc.io

If you are interested in joining School for Poetic Computation, please check out our website for call or contact info@sfpc.io if you have questions. We are offering two 10-weeks session in 2018 which begins in March and September.


Some nice photos by the audience members.

Photo: Hannah Wei https://twitter.com/herlifeinpixels/status/880089953602072579

And Eyeo was a lot of fun! Highly recommend.