“Looking back, SFPC was such an inspiring and energetic place that triggered lots of genuine ideas that had been dormant inside myself. Poetic computation gently steps away from the everyday routine, rethinks what they are, repurposes them, and create something weird and beautiful out of it.”
Yeseul Song, Artist and SFPC alum from Fall 2015.
Taeyoon Choi: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Yeseul Song: Hi! My name is Yeseul Song. I grew up in South Korea where I studied Library and Information Science and worked as a user experience researcher for a several years in both industrial and academic settings. I studied how users interact with information in the virtual and physical world, using qualitative and quantitative research methods. My research was used to improve usability of products or systems and I published research papers as output. I spent one year in Boston just before coming to New York.
T: How did you discover SFPC?
Y: It was early 2015, when I was working as a user experience researcher in Cambridge/Boston. I enjoyed what I was doing, but at the same time, I had an obscure but strong desire to create something to express my thoughts. I had ideas that I wanted to implement, but it was not clear to me how to start. While searching for ways to get into the field — such as graduate programs — I encountered an article about SFPC on Creative Applications. I was fascinated by the concept, system, and members of the school. I started to gather all the information I could find on the web. The school looked like a different world from where I had been. What I say made me really want to join the school and begin making “strange, impractical and magical” projects. From that, I applied for Code Poetry (a 2 week long summer session) and the Fall 2015 Immersive (a semester long session). I still remember the exciting moment of me writing a big “YES” in my reply to the email notifying me that I had been accepted to the program. :)
T: What were some exciting and challenging things about participating in ten weeks program?
Y: The ten week to me was a great exposure to the world of “poetic computation”, in other words, the interdisciplinary territory that blends art, humanity, design, and technology. Everyday at SFPC was eye-opening to me.
Everyday except Friday would begin with class. Each class was taught by inspiring teachers that helped me to develop different skills and sensibilities. After class, our group would usually spend the afternoon and evening working together on homework/projects, sharing skills, chatting, and cooking! Sometimes, friends of SPFC would visit or skype in to say hello and chat with our class about their practice and experience. We were like a big family living and working together while also keeping the doors open to new ideas and new people.
Overall, SFPC prepared me to be able to create my own work, which I think is really valuable.
T: Any funny anecdote?
Y: Fall 2015 was the first session that happened at SFPC’s current home, Westbeth Artist Housing in West Village; where Bell Labs used to be at and a lot of artists live and work. There were several moments that I interacted with the community and each time was very pleasing. I was curious to hear stories of the community from the tenants. Lauren said she got to know a lady who had been living in the building for a several decades and she should be happy to meet me. I wrote a letter to her and left it under her door, asking if I could chat with her. After a week or so, she dropped a hand written letter for me at SFPC saying that she is very happy to meet me. The paper she wrote on was too small for her that she wrote the last sentence on the back of the envelope: “And I have lots of time.” It was such a sweet moment that I felt connected to the Westbeth community and the building.
On another day, our class went to the Westbeth Flea Market in the basement of the building. The tenants brought a ton of old and random stuff to sell — there were even vintage movie projectors and cameras! Things were surprisingly cheap and it was a delightful chance to interact with the residents of this magical building. I found a lot of treasures including a drawer which became a vital component to one of my final projects, Snowflake Making.
T: Is there any interesting observation you made?
Y: I really appreciated my classmates for taking notes for every class and event on our share online notebook — we used Hackpad back then. I think Andy Dayton was the one who started and was most active in taking extremely detailed notes. Some parts of classes were not easy for me to follow as an international student, especially because I was new to all of the concepts and names. He said it was for himself, but the notes really helped me to better understand what I was listening and resolved uncertainties arising during the classes, in real-time. Later on, my other classmates and myself joined in collaborative note-taking and we produced a lot of writings together, which are still valuable for me to leaf through and bring back memories.
DIY taco is a perfect dish for our type of community meals. Each person claims which taco filling they are going to make. Someone brings a file of tortillas/shells. Everyone walks to the taco table whenever feeling hungry and makes creative tacos with a variety of fillings. Such an easy and democratic dinner!
T: What kind of projects did you work on?
Y: My first creations were fragile and personal, they were tributes to my grandmother. She was in South Korea and I was thinking a lot about her during my time at SFPC. When I was a child, she taught me how to make snowflakes using a piece of paper. We used to spend time playing with the paper in her well-lit living room. My project, Snowflake Making, is a small wooden box that acts like an entrance inviting people to experience this beautiful part of my childhood memory. When people place their hands inside the wooden box, a computer generated snowflake pattern is projected onto their palm. By turning knobs, the motion and pattern of the snowflake changes.
Here is my first image processing work: Rearrangement. My idea was to create abstract patterns using photos that are meaningful to me. I coded a system that processes an image and rearrange the pixels by color property such as hue and brightness. The processed image have exactly same pixels as the original image, and the only difference is the arrangement. After creating a series of gradients, I printed them out and displayed at the final show.
After the session, I was lucky to be part of SFPC Re-coded project and work with Zach, the Fall 2015 class, and the larger SFPC community. We collectively studied pioneers of computational art and re-created their artwork with modern programming tools. It was a great opportunity for me to practice visual programming and learn to use openFrameworks and github. I was proud to contribute to the project with 4 sketches that I coded from scratch. It was impressive to see how this big project comes together within a short amount of time, and I really enjoyed the collaborative working experience. The project was initially created to be shown at Day for Night, an electronic and art music festival in Houston, TX. After the first showing, we had opportunities to show at other festivals, such as Google I/O, Sónar+D, and Microsoft Conference.
There are projects that I conceptualized during my time at SFPC and implemented after the session, such as Illuminated Path, light bulbs that find you and illuminate your way.
T: Are there some homeworks you liked?
Y: One was from Zach’s Recreating the Past class. We were asked to make an educational tool for teaching the concept of binary to children. I used Skittles and a paper box for the project:
- 1. Grab a handful of Skittles and count them. This is the decimal number that will be converted to binary through this exercise.
- 2. To reset things, push all of the sliders to the right so you see “0 0 0 0.”
- 3. Now, start placing the Skittles onto the small circular holes on the board. One by one, start at the top left and continue downward. When you reach the bottom you can continue at the top of the empty column to the right of the current. As noted in the next instruction.
- 4–1. As you fill the holes with your skittles, flip the slider at the bottom every time two columns of equal size are filled.
- 4–2. If the skittles cannot complete a set, for example, 7 skittles would not complete the first pair of columns leaving the set incomplete. In this case, remove the skittles from the set and try to fill the next pair of columns.
- 5. Once you have completed this process, read the number shown by the four sliders. This is the binary representation of your decimal number.
The other was a speculative homework from Taeyoon’s Concept and Theory Studio class. We were asked: “What if my project made in 2015 is exhibited at an exhibition called “Poetics of Computation” at MoMA in 2055? There has been significant change in the technology and appreciation of art in the 40 years.” I speculatively designed a box that has physical components of the project, an installation manual, and documentation of the project. It was before I implement the project, but it helped me to learn what to consider in building a project that involved technology.
T: What are you doing now?
Y: After finishing SFPC I decided to continue pursuing a study of media arts at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications program. I am currently a research fellow at ITP and also a resident in Mana Contemporary’s New Media Program. I split my time between the two places. At ITP, I advise graduate students, teach workshops on physical computing, and work on internal projects with the faculty and fellow residents. At Mana Contemporary, I develop my independent projects in a studio and exhibit the work for the public on occasion through shows or events.
T: Any advice for people who are considering applying to 10 weeks program?
Y: I know it can be hard for you to stop what you were doing and devote 10 weeks to SFPC. I have to say, joining SFPC was one of the best decisions I made in my life. The 10 week was a complete life changing experience. You will learn how to learn — the time at SFPC taught me that I can learn anything. Ask a lot of questions! Question everything!
T: What is poetic computation, for you?
Y: I want to borrow a quote from a reading in Allison Parrish’s Generative Text Techniques class.
“In one sense words are our masters, or communication would be impossible. In another we are the masters; otherwise there could be no poetry.” — Roger Holme
Reading poetry allows me rethink the language itself. When I read poetry, the gap between the meaning of words becomes distinguishing and it leads me to question what each word could means in its context, even why each character looks how it does. Technology has become so prevalent and seamless that we do not recognize its existence in our everyday lives. Things become dangerous when we stop thinking. Poetic computation gently steps away from the everyday routine, rethinks what they are, repurposes them, and create something weird and beautiful out of it.
Interview by Taeyoon Choi.