An animation of lush golden botanical-like shapes.

Sougwen Chung, Ligatures 3, 2023

Commissioned by Hyundai Artlab, © Sougwen Chung

Artlab Editors check in with Sougwen Chung, an artist, researcher, and the founder of Scilicet, a London-based studio exploring human and non-human art-making. An alumna of the MIT Media Lab, Chung has helped revolutionize research related to human-machine collaborative systems.

Artist Sougwen Chung explores the intersection of computational processing and human mark-making in their work. For their Digital Commission for Hyundai Artlab, the artist teamed up with a ‘robotic partner’ to create an artwork that investigates the possibilities of human and AI collaboration, feeding the machine their drawings and brain waves. We sat down with Chung as they unveiled the digital commission to ask the artist how robotics and algorithms work in tandem with their own sensibility.

A live performance featuring an individual in white raking a floor near another individual playing the cello.

Sougwen Chung, Realm of Silk, live performance, 2023.

Courtesy of Sougwen Chung

We’d love to begin by having you walk us through your digital commission for Hyundai Artlab. How did you begin this piece?

I began this piece with a drawn line, thinking about movement and energy as it is captured in digital sculpture and with generative approaches. Drawing as the embodied mark—a way of externalizing energy and abstract thought then reformed in the space of code, digital sculpture, or robotics—is a process from which I draw endless inspiration. Perhaps because moving between mediums creates a sense of shedding skin, breaking previous enclosures to reveal the new, and building new connections between traditional mediums and the emerging technologies that shape our changing conceptions of art. It’s looking at the work as an ongoing poiesis.

Did anything surprise you in the process? How was building this piece a departure from past work?

I feel like my process is both chaotic and ordered. I begin by defining the system (whether designing the tool or architecting a pipeline to work within), decide the rules for a piece, and then push its limitations. The mark traces a path to rupture, a form that outpaces the frame. I love that space of tension and release in the physicality of a dimensional drawn line, captured with virtual reality tools and processes. Each work builds upon the next; I’m not interested in creating constraints for myself. Maybe it’s about being free to make mistakes.

A person dressed in white is seated in the center of a stage under a red spotlight.

Sougwen Chung, Realm of Silk, live performance, 2023.

Courtesy of Sougwen Chung

How does the decentralized ecosystem of Hyundai Artlab reflect your approach to artmaking?

I’m interested in interdisciplinarity, one that foregrounds a fluidity of approaches between mediums and a seeking of relational, collaborative configurations. I’m drawn to hybrid processes in artmaking and in life, so it’s a delight to share this contribution to Artlab’s ecosystem, a place of similar values.

How has machine learning factored into your practice?

In designing and collaborating with my own custom Drawing Operations Units, generations of deep learning algorithms have shaped my interaction with robotics and my understanding of machines. A breakthrough for my practice was when I trained a recurrent neural network on two decades of my own drawings as behavioral input for a collaborative robotic partner called D.O.U.G._2. Through time I’ve explored the various sensory inputs that inform machine learning systems beyond the visual image–looking at the data from movements of crowds as well as my own brain waves collected through an EEG headset.

A performer in white interacts with a sheet on the floor under blue lights, reflected in a large round mirror, while another individual plays the cello nearby.

Sougwen Chung, Realm of Silk, live performance, 2023.

Courtesy of Sougwen Chung

How has technology influenced your practice?

Learning through doing, building, and researching has been vital to the growth of my work, and for myself as a person. Technology can feel like a black box—engaging in artistic practice is a vital way of breaking that black box open.

How do you think differently about analog and digital processing? Or in the context of your practice, are they a single process?

Analog and digital processes mirror each other. I used to think the digital signal or a digital file was somehow infinite–not subject to the entropy of the analog. Now we know that’s patently untrue, and the digital has its own flavor of obsolescence and decay. Part of the practice is exploring the beauty and fragility of both processes, finding moments within them.

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