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It’s post-exhibition at the International Sculpture Festa 2013 in Seoul. While installing my exhibit took hours, taking it down last Wednesday took a mere 30 minutes. Here was how it looked:

Oh hey, you.

Oh hey, you.

I exhibited four pieces:

1. Seoul37

This is the main project I’m doing in my residency at the National Art Studio in Korea. This country has quite a lot of mountains, and they have been its foundation. Despite Korea, especially Seoul, changing so much in the past centuries, these mountains have withstood the test of time. I became fascinated with them (there’s quite a strong hiking culture here), and, upon learning that there are 37 mountains (or hills) in Seoul, decided to hike them all. Yes, ALL. I track each hike with a smartphone app and borrow a jar of soil. During our exhibition here at the National Art Studio, I will invite people to plant using these soil samples I have collected, and will ask 37 volunteers to plant them back to the mountains.

An earlier image of the piece

An earlier image of the piece

I was about midway through the hikes, and exhibited 18 soil samples, with 19 empty jars to show the ones I still have to hike. (As of this writing, I have hiked 27 mountains and nearly died from two.) More information to follow, and no, I don’t usually exhibit things that are not finished, but here I wanted to ask for future participation. I’m very happy that Seoulites seem interested in signing up (I posted a sign-up sheet beside the piece and so many emails were written on it.)

I... whoa! I'm speechless. Thanks, everyone!

I… whoa! I’m speechless. Thanks, everyone!

2. The Smell Wall

I glued twelve squares of different smells on the wall and invited people to smell them. It looked almost invisible, but I suppose that’s the point.

Can you see twelve squares?

Can you see twelve squares?

3. Mondrian Hopscotch II

I made another interactive hopscotch board that would fit my exhibition space. I loved seeing people, especially children, jump on it. On May 5th, which was Children’s Day, it was incredibly rewarding seeing parents with their dressed-up children playing with it. Aww!

Cutie on the board!

Cutie on the board!

It’s quite fun having to write down instructions for every piece.

Art with instructions.

Art with instructions.

4. The Hug Vest

This is a vest made of thermochromic fabric that changes from purple to blue when you touch it. This feels a bit vintage to me now, since this was designed during my grad school years. However, people always get a kick out of seeing it change when it’s touched. Oh, the history this vest has had—from the nights in SVA IxD, to the conferences and lectures, to me using it on the streets of New York as protection from the cold that week when I was freezing and desperate, to being exhibited here in Seoul. This never gets old.

Hugging! With my friends Hyomin and Amy in the background.

Hugging! With my friends Hyomin and Amy in the background.

My friends were laughing at the phrase “willing volunteer.”

"Willing" being the operative word.

“Willing” being the operative word.

Very happy to have my friends there:

Group hug!

Group hug!

Thanks for coming, unni! <3

Thanks for coming, unni! ❤

Fun times. Now back to work.

At Seoul’s Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, I was struck by two things:

1. 89 Seconds at Alcazar by Eve Sussman / Rufus Corporation

One of my favorite paintings is Diego Velasquez’s Las Meninas. This film, shown in the excellent exhibition, Mise-en-Scène, imagines the events before and after the painting, depicting the actual moment as a fleeting one. And hey, GoT fans, Peter Dinklage is part of the cast!

via artpulsemagazine.com

via artpulsemagazine.com

 

2. Interaction Design and Korean Treasures

In the exhibition Opulence: Treasures of Korean Craft, I was impressed at how the audience can view the art. In addition to seeing the actual relic, it was possible to explore the piece through a high resolution photo of the work, and a touch screen that allows you to zoom into different details.

Like Google Art Project in an actual museum

Like Google Art Project in an actual museum

A popular dish in Korean cuisine is bibimbap (bibim means “mix” and bap means “rice”). It is a dish of rice, vegetables, meat, and egg. The vegetables and meat are stir-fried and arranged in individual circles on a bed of steamed rice. The fried egg is placed on top. When eaten, diners will mix everything together, sometimes adding chili or the many side dishes that accompanies a Korean meal.

Bibimbap is emblematic of many Korean dishes, in the sense that it consists of a staple (in this case, rice), that is mixed with other main ingredients and is served with a multitude of side dishes. It is one of my favorite foods, but I have never made it myself. This changed last Friday, when I took a bibimbap cooking class together with other artists at the Food and Culture Academy Korea.

The similarities of bibimbap and design nagged me throughout the process, from preparation to consumption. For me, Korean cuisine is quite an apt metaphor for many steps in design, both from the perspectives of the designer and the consumer.

DSC01781

basic bibimbap ingredients

Preparation: Bibimbap and Design from a Chef’s Perspective

1. Simplicity

The ingredients in Korean cuisine are very simple. In a basic bibimbap dish, there are bean sprouts, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, doraji (a Korean root crop) and an egg. (A little bit of beef is given to meat-eaters, but not for me; I’m pescetarian.) For me, the best products and experiences are those with few features.

2. Purpose

The ingredients in bibimbap all have a function. Their number and colors are important as well. The nutritional value of the food matters as much as the presentation of the dish. In comparison, the best products and experiences are those whose building blocks and functions are clearly articulated. Each piece has a purpose, and those pieces that do not are removed from the final design.

Consumption: Bibimbap and Design from a Diner’s Perspective 

3. Flexibility

Korean cuisine is a visual feast. Unlike Western meals where main courses are served one after the other,  everything is served together in a Korean meal. Rice and soup are always at the center of each diner’s place setting, with the side dishes surrounding them. As Korea started out as an agricultural society, all meals are designed to complement rice. Thus, diners can design their own meal to customize their tastes. This framework allows for a wide range of flexibility. One can order bibimbap every night in the same restaurant, yet his experience of the dish will always be different. Similarly, my favorite products and services adjust to my situation. Each encounter with them gives me a different experience. A smartphone enables me to call, send an SMS, take a photo, share a video with a friend, or download a file from an email, depending on my needs.

4. Recovery

Korean cuisine allows for each diner to recover from his “mistakes”. If he eats something too spicy, he can eat a side dish that is a bit more bland. If he is tired of a particular texture, he can move on to something else. The diner is given control of his experience. Moreover, while the chef of a Korean meal may not know of the diner’s tolerance for certain flavors, he gives the diner solutions in the form of complementary side dishes that allow him to compensate. This is in contrast to most Western meals where the diner has to focus on each course and, if he is unsatisfied, just wait for the next one. In design, my favorite products and services give me ways to rectify unpleasant situations. An email service can automatically send spam to a folder, delete viruses before they affect me, allow me to label messages so I can have a more orderly inbox, and so on.

But enough academic musing. Behold, my first (and hopefully not last) bowl of bibimbap I cooked myself:

The first bowl of bibimbap I have ever made in my life.

The first bowl of bibimbap I have ever made in my life.

I feel proud. Even though all I did was slice and stir-fry.

With thanks to the staff of the National Art Studio, Changdong and the Food and Culture Academy Korea!

Last September 23, I was invited to give a talk / workshop at my favorite place in Manila The Mind Museum about my sensory projects. Like my other talks, this one had a sense kit, interactivity, etc. Unlike my other talks, I explained the science behind my work. After having to consciously remove the science from my explanations in art and design schools, it was quite refreshing to be required to explain the neuroscience and psychology behind my work. It felt like riding a bike after so long—thankfully, your mind still does remember what a synapse is! Whew.

Another big difference is that there were quite a number of kids in the audience. This was important (and also a big test for me), because I always felt that children were my primary audience. For me, if they didn’t “understand” the work, it meant that I wasn’t being clear enough and that there were still some things I could take away. And so it was gratifying to see kids eagerly raising their hands when I asked them questions. They were always responsive, most of the time even more so than the adults.

I’m also grateful to the museum staff because this is the first time I didn’t have to make the kits. A big thank you especially to my lovely assistant Steph as well as the museum’s science education officer, Marco, who took care of me the entire day.

Some photos, thanks to The Mind Museum:

Neurons! Drawn on Illustrator! Whee!

Hugging. The curator told me from the front row to hold my hair up. So I did.

Group hugs!

I really should just work for Pixar. Seriously.

The Cloud Walls!

Kids. Adults. Imagination.

Cloud walls, front and back

Cloud Walls

EatPoetry: cotton candy

Speaking at my first TEDx conference was a challenge. It was not just because it was a great platform for ideas, but because of the timing, design, and execution needed to pull off four interactive talks in one day.

TEDxNewHaven: The Art and Science of Happiness. Photo by Chris Randall

The theme for TEDxNewHaven was The Art and Science of Happiness. My goal for the talks was two-fold: to engage the audience in something interactive in the course of the day, and to enable them to view their senses as tools by which to achieve happiness. To achieve these, I had to produce 200 “sense kits” that contained physical, non-digital formats of my projects: HugPrints, Rorsketch, Smellbound, and EatPoetry.

Round One. Photo by Liz Danzico

First Talk: Touch

My first talk was about using our sense of touch. I presented HugPrints, my project where I am attempting to hug everyone in the world and getting visual feedback through a specially designed thermochromic vest. I asked volunteers to come up the stage to hug me.

Hugging on stage. Don’t you just love it? Photo by Chris Randall

Afterwards, I asked the rest of the audience to pull out the HugPrints cards in their sense kits, which contained hugging instructions so they can hug each other (if they wished).

Are you getting enough hugs a day? Photo by Chris Randall

Second Talk: Sight

For the second talk, I explained Rorsketch and first engaged the audience in a guessing game of what clouds looked like and then revealed what drawings I made. After doing this project for a while, I wasn’t surprised about how some people were calling out the same things, while other clouds had very different interpretations.

You know what my favorite Pixar movie is! Photo by Ruoxi Yu.

Yes, it’s a dragon! Photo by Chris Randall

I then asked the audience to pull out the blue Rorsketch cards and the Sharpies in their kits, and they drew their own interpretations on the clouds printed on their cards. To encourage them to draw, I did a live drawing session on a big cloud on stage.

Drawing on a cloud. The cloud I sketched on was taken by Nikki Sylianteng. Photo by Liz Danzico

One of my fellow speakers, Nima Tshering, sent me his cloud drawing. (Thanks, Nima!)

A fairy grandma with a baby by Nima Tshering

Third Talk: Smell, Hearing and Taste

I explained two projects for this post-lunch session: Smellbound and EatPoetry. First, I explained the connection between smell and memory and had the audience remove the Smellbound postcard which contained a printed smell. I showed them the book I made, An Olfactory Memoir of Three Cities. Afterwards, I read them After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost while they ate the apple lollipop inside their kits.

“Now please remove another envelope from your kits…” Photo by Chris Randall

Fourth Talk: Happiness and the Senses

For my fourth talk at the end of the conference, I summarized how we can use our senses to be happy. The key points were that we are all equipped with these tools; i.e. we all had the capacity to hug our loved ones, to interpret a cloud, to smell a memory, and to connect poetry with food, and that if we paid more attention to the world around us, it would promote our feelings of well-being and optimism. I also explained my own explorations with happiness by showing submissions from DrawHappy, as well as what I’ve learned from the project so far.

Photo by Liz Danzico

What Worked, and What I Would Do Differently Next Time

All the sleepless nights making sure all 200 kits had the right contents were definitely called for. So much craft and attention were given to every single detail—each postcard had to be sealed in an envelope so people can only view them as instructed, the envelopes had to match the main color of each project’s logo for easy recall, each postcard had to be branded and oriented in a specific direction, each kit had to contain envelopes in a particular order and needed both a Sharpie and a lollipop. Anything less would have taken away from the experience or would have confused people. Doing something onstage so that people can mirror my actions was also important, and getting all the props together also was something I had to keep in mind in addition to the actual slides.

I’ve also been onstage on different occasions and it was interesting to feel these variegations of audience contact. When performing for the Poetry Brothel in Barcelona, I had to inhabit a certain character and, depending on the piece we were doing, had to maintain a certain mystique. When doing poetry readings just as myself, there was a bit of conversation with the audience when I talk about the process of writing, but during the reading of the actual poem, it was just myself and the text. I felt this while reading the Frost poem to the TEDx crowd—the entire hall was dead silent in contrast to all the other times I was up there. (That was quite fun, actually.) But doing a talk that involved not just a Keynote presentation but an actual creative activity was another world altogether—it’s difficult to assess if everyone was enjoying the activity, although what was great about having a particularly open audience such as this one was that they weren’t afraid of trying new things.

For the next time I do something of this nature, I would have a card that had explicit instructions not to use the objects inside the kit unless asked. Although I anticipated this by making sure the envelopes were sealed, I did catch at least one person eating their candy before lunch. (We were running a bit late, and I suppose he was hungry.) One thing about having a sealed and long candy stick was that it affords a long eating session; they wouldn’t have finished it to begin with and they could just put the candy back in the plastic and in the kit. Hard candy was definitely the way to go.

Also, I would have split the third talk (Smellbound and EatPoetry) into two and let each project have its own 10 minutes. Thus, I would have placed EatPoetry for the fourth talk and followed it with a short summary of the senses. When I went up for the last talk and said that “Ok, I’m not going to make you do anything now,” I could swear I felt the disappointment of some people. If the schedule allowed it, giving each project its own time in the spotlight would have allowed the audience to absorb the concept more fully, instead of rushing to the next project right away. I can’t wait until I develop these projects more and more, and see what I will ask people to do the next time.

Finally

I have to say, I love this format of getting the audience to actually do something creative in a talk, instead of me just standing there telling them about myself. Thanks again to the audience for being open to these ideas, my friends and colleagues for helping me pull this off, and to the wonderful team at TEDxNewHaven who worked tireless to make it all happen!

Thanks to Kate Russell and Liz Danzico, my plus two!