Member Spotlight: Young Suk Lee

Young Suk Lee Website

Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist/ scholar.

I am a multimedia artist and researcher with a cross-disciplinary education in art, design, and technology. My work combines art, aesthetics, computing, and Human-Computer Interaction design. My formal training and disposition towards art help me bring unique and elastic templates of both theoretical and applied design to HCI, and my training in diverse aspects of art and design leads to an integrative path which expands my ideas and imagination. I see the potential in using computational media, aesthetic principles, and human behavior as applicable across a wide array of real-world needs.

I have obtained a BFA and an MFA, (Fine Art, Hong-Ik University. Seoul, South Korea) and I have gained the essential foundations of Art practice such as painting, sculpture, and printmaking. I further studied digital art while obtaining a second MFA with an emphasis on video art and interactive art (Digital Art, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA). Then, I expanded my interests in Human-Computer Interaction by earning a M.S degree (School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA).  Currently,  I am on leave of absence from an assistant professor position in the Integrated New Media Studies department at Indiana University, in South Bend, Indiana. I am currently working on my PhD dissertation (Design, Production and Management, University of Twente, The Netherlands) based on my body of work of interactive computational art & critical design. I will be working on developing and researching the Aesthetic, Experiential, and Experimental Interactions which I have been exploring over the past 10 years. I am developing a deeper understanding of the theoretical concepts towards designing everyday objects, and to facilitate their move from the gallery to being used in the field. 

What are some of your main influences?

I am a visual story teller, and I’m fascinated with using new media to communicate my ideas and share my story with others. My artistic ideas are shown through a series of tangible, digitally created objects that interact with everyday people in a surreal and whimsical way. This includes my wearable technology project, the interactive kinetic art installation, and shape changing furniture such as wigs, necklace, tables, chairs, chandeliers, and cigarette bag, as well as other projects. My creative motivations come from speaking at the personal level about my own experiences to tackling the habitual way of thinking about social and cultural norms. 

When we portray an inflexible belief, and project what is the wrong or right thing to do based on only one viewpoint, I experience that a forceful correction, pressure altitude, and even violent atmosphere can come into play. Even those interactions that are embedded into the daily system through design and technology can lead to restricting people’s idea, suppressing marginalized voices and also causing side effects of the main stream belief. The way we interact with habitual practice, customary acceptance, and our general tendency question me how much we take for granted while missing some of our human value. Also, we easily ignore the other side of genuine values that comes from the margins of the general discourse. Ultimately, my interactive critters are not only for displaying in a museum setting but also intervening in our everyday life as a living entity to evoke critical thinking, creative mind, and rich emotion. 

In order to bring a multisensory and interactive digital life into everyday objects,  I’ve crossed the boundary between art and design by utilizing computational elements. I am endeavoring to find an intriguing way to incorporate ‘a poetic use of technology’ that  challenges how we perceive the meaning of digital entities. I also seek to defamiliarize how we accept the influence of design and technology in our lives, and explore the further speculative possibility of integrating them artistically to enrich our life. 

The most common feedback I hear from people who have interacted with my works is the attraction of dual emotions; fun and scary, beautiful and grotesque, and elegant and creepy. Audiences experience these opposing emotions since I initially look at the conflicting values, the dynamic relations, and human complexities. I’m inspired by our relationships between own conflicting values; prohibition and desire, pleasure and guilt, love and pain, acceptance and rejection, enjoyment and violence, and privacy and connection. I reserve judgment when I embed the experimental interaction into my interactive pieces, but I seek to fertilize an imaginative experience that occurs with people’s sensual and ethereal engagement. The experiential, experimental, and aesthetic interaction aims to unfold the audiences’ own feelings and experiences, reflect on their behavior, explore their own human values and connect people each other.

New Media is …

…a multisensory interactive medium that enables new ways of expressing the creator’s ideas. In addition, it encourages the viewers/ audiences to explore different creative attitudes towards appreciating new visual, tactile, and auditory dimensions.

What is your typical day like?

This year is a special year for me, since I am a first time mom and my baby just turned 11 months old. I used to allocate a good amount of my time in teaching and preparing lectures, but I took some time off, and I’m now taking care of my family, creating new artwork, and working on completing my PhD thesis. Thinking, making, reading, writing, and talking with friends and colleagues about life (including joys and problems) allows me to continue to critically explore marginal perspectives, alternative ideas, and question conventional claims. This persistent process has been nurturing my creative mind, and at my core allows me to continue being authentic to myself as a creative and imaginative explorer/creator.

What are you working on now?

I just finished an interactive kinetic installation, titled “Footsie”. A couple years ago in a small coffee shop, I found that the flirtatious game “Footsie” between people was an interesting form of communication, and I wanted to re-create the questions that arose in me; it’s a game, but there are boundaries and potentially controversy in this wordless conversation. I believe that “touch” or “being touched” under the table can be understood as intimacy and romance but it can also be sensed as a violent, unwanted, or disgusting action. In “Footsie”, the robotic chair legs caress participants’ legs and the chair arms poke participants’ backs. One person can trigger the motions while silently touching the candle light, if he/she feels being ignored, when the other participant who is sitting across a table does not pay attention to him/her. “Footsie” poses new speculative human-machine interaction possibilities that explore the violation of privacy and connection with others. 

Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?

Yes, I respect people’s different areas of expertise, knowledge, experiences, and approaches. I believe that more collaborative opportunities enrich my work and the collaboration process nurtures me as a person as well. I recently collaborated with researcher Daniel Saakes on the Human Computer Interaction Design, and his expertise and his unique perspective helps me to complete the robotic components of the project, “footsie”.

What is the most recent thing you’ve learned?

In order to create organic structure and motion of “Footsie”, I had to explore mechanical principles and meta-material possibilities. I learned how to build pliable structures by programming process in the 3D modeling tool. It’s challenging and difficult for an artist like me who doesn’t have an engineering background to solve some of the problems I’ve come across, but our collaboration helped me learn about creating more elaborate motions, and I now have some great ideas for my next project!