JLS Ganwish is joining the Communications Committee, conducting interviews to feature NMC artists and members. This Member Spotlight we present Sue Huang
Would you tell us where and who you are?
I’m a new media artist. I live in Brooklyn, NY. I teach at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Digital Media and Design.
What would you like to tell us about your professional or personal history that brought you to the new media caucus?
I have been in the new media art world for a long time. I got my start back in 2003 as a graduate student at an art and technology program in Sweden and then went on to do my graduate work at UCLA in the Department of Design Media Arts. I continued making work after graduate school and I taught as an adjunct for a long time before joining University of Connecticut full time.
I am involved with new media art on many different levels both in making work, teaching, and service to the field. I collaborate with many different artists, including my longtime collaborator Brian House. I mentor a lot of students now as well. I joined the New Media Caucus a number of years ago through some work I was doing at CAA.
Initially I had some colleagues who were involved and then I got involved. It’s been a really fantastic community for both meeting other people in the field but also giving back—building up the community, connecting students, teachers and practitioners, and so on and so forth.
Could you tell us what that term new media art means to you?
When the field started out, new media was a little bit of an outsider in the art world. So it had a little bit more of a home in academia really because that was an area where there was some acceptance. And there was theory from many different fields which could feed into this growing area of emerging technologies.
So there was computer science and there was film and there was design and there was art of course. And all of these areas fed into this new growing field.
And I think over the years, I’ve watched new media transform both in academia as more and more programs have popped up to support this growing field—there’s been more student interest, there’s been more faculty, of course, generated in this area. And then I’ve also watched new media grow in the commercial areas where there’s been more interest, of course, on the industry side. But also on the art side, there’s more been more interest in new media as a stand alone artistic field and that’s all been really, really interesting to watch.
And so when I think about what new media art is as a field—and I always define fields by the people that are involved in it—so I think when I think about people who are involved in new media art, it’s people who are really invested in the intersections between emerging technologies and our human endeavors. And and then that can take many different forms. So it might be installation or screen based or performative and interactive, or programmatically based or not. The thing that I’m really interested in with new media is how it is able to intersect with all of these other fields and expand in all these different areas.
Could you tell me a little bit more about your collaboration with Brian House?
Yeah, Brian is a long time collaborator of mine. We started working together, well, we actually met in grad school in 2003. At this program in Sweden called Art and Technology, which was at Chalmers University, and we had a first student project together, which got picked up by the culture house in Stockholm, Kulturhuset.
And it got shown there and that was our first big show. And then we started showing more works together. Our next show was at the Beall Center in Irvine, UC Irvine in California. And then year after year, we kept getting commissions for different institutions and our most recent project Post-Natural Pastorale has been with the Freshkills Park in Staten Island, which generated a piece which we’re currently showing. And that’s been a really fruitful collaboration.
I also make work in my solo practice, as does Brian. But you know, every few years we come together to do something together, and it’s something which I find feeds into my overall practice in a really holistic way. And it is a really nice way of diversifying my practice by feeding together different ideas and then kind of seeing what emerges from that.
Would you like to talk more about your project with Freshkills?
So the Freshkills project is something that we started a couple years ago.
We were invited over to the Freshkills Park in Staten Island, which used to be the Fresh Kills landfill, which was once the largest landfill in New York—one of the largest landfills in the world, actually. And we were invited to create an artistic creative project based on some of the research that was being done on that land. So the Freshkills land is a really interesting area that’s been in the process of being reclaimed, regenerated into a public park—a process which is going to take several decades. The land there generates a methane gas and leachate from the waste that is currently decomposing under the caps that are on the land. And so as they’ve been reengineering this land, they’ve also been capturing a lot of data from the process including data around the vegetation growth, on the return of trees and wildlife to the area like birds, etc. And they’ve been recording all of that data. So the Freshkills project that we ended up creating from understanding the research and the data that was being generated from the land was an audio/sound and video project in which we created a musical score that was based on eight temporal layers—so we were looking at different temporalities of the land, all the way from geologic time—thinking about that underlying geology of the land—all the way to year to year time, looking at vegetation growth. And then all the way to month to month time, looking at the tidal data for the water in the area and moment to moment time like traffic patterns in the area.
So we took each of those data layers which were mapped to a different temporality. Those were converted into a musical score—notations for a musical score. Then we worked with a musician named Robert Black—he was a double bassist for Bang on a Can All-Stars—and we worked with him to complete these performances at different locations on the land. The whole score was created so that the eight temporal layers could be remixed into any formation to generate an endlessly new sound experience.
So we have created that work currently as a single channel video sound installation work. But the work conceptually could also be shown as an eight channel video/sound installation in which the sound is constantly remixed depending on how one were to walk through or work their way through the space. Currently we released it, because of the pandemic, as a single channel work which has a predetermined sound composition generated from those eight temporal layers.
Robert Black passed away recently and so we’ve gone through a period of mourning the loss of our collaborator on this project. We did manage to show the work together with him once through Bang on a Can All-Stars and were glad to be able to release the work for the first time together with him. We are planning to show the work again this summer with Baruch College at their New Media Artsspace in an exhibition called Grounding and then hope to continue sharing that piece elsewhere as well.
Where else can people see your work?
If people want to look at my work, it’s available online at https://www.sue-huang.com. I post my work there. And also something I started doing more recently, was showing my works in progress, so actually showing projects that are not complete but rather are projects that are in progress. And that that was part of my progress as an artist—this decision to start showing a little bit more of that back end. The growth process, which all artists go through, which is—sometimes the work comes out in one iteration and then there’s a different iteration. And then sometimes it makes its way through many different forms before it reaches a final kind of state of being.
And so I’ve been experimenting with that over the last few years and that’s been really fruitful.
The other major project that I’m working on right now is a solo project which is called Total Archive. Total Archive is an offshoot of a language project which I’ve been working on for several years.
Total Archive itself is a sci-fi work which takes the form of installation and performance. It’s based on a narrative about a time capsule from the future. The time capsule from the future holds a number of documents and artifacts that have been prepared by a government intern from the future who has been tasked with going through and documenting a number of objects in a government agency archive. Through this process, we come to understand that there are a lot of objects in this archive which she does not recognize or understand, but which we do recognize. And so we begin to understand that there’s been some event which has occurred, in which there’s been like a substantial loss of of beings from this earth. The the first document that I’m preparing right now is a government agency document. It reads like a government report and I’ve currently been workshopping this project as a performance piece—performance readings actually—kind of a dramatic reading which is accompanied by images and video.
Part way through the reading, she explains her encounter with a particular object which brings her into a hallucinatory state. That part of the reading, then goes into a long form poem which is in an erotic ecological poem. This erotic cological poem part of the reading is actually algorithmically generated from a combination of texts from the Smithsonian field book archives and Internet-found erotica—amateur written erotica. So these texts are combined together using natural language processing and other computational methods and are generated.
And it basically takes the form of an erotic story in which the framework of the sentences are erotic but with ecological bodies as opposed to human bodies. So the the work is exploring lost landscapes from our past —or some people might think about them as ghosts or haunted landscapes. Anna Tsing, Elaine Gan, Nils Bubandt, and Heather Swanson present this idea in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet. I’m thinking about these lost organisms and and then reanimating or reenergizing them into this erotic landscape. So that that’s a project I’ve been working on, but still very much a work in progress. But I’m starting to test it out by doing some readings and then going back and reworkng it, etc. I presented this at two art salons earlier this year in New York and then I’ll start submitting it now for some other festivals and reworking it for other spaces.