Sougwen Chung: Where Creator and Creature Meet

Art is no longer mankind’s property only. A strong sentence, don’t you think? We can analyse it, vivisect it, try to enter into its deepest meanings and even oppose to it. Today, however, if we want to be honest with ourselves and others, we are forced to confirm this. Art, or better still, artistic disciplines are no longer exclusively monopolised by us as human beings.

By now we have all realised that art and technology have merged, we know how useful and how much beauty can be produced with mixed techniques. The most sophisticated editing software compete over which one opens up more possibilities and creative outlets for the artist, and we watch these virtual battles in the name of better customer service. We then experience the outcome of said battle third hand.

Furthermore, 2023 curtain has opened with a huge amount of information and news about the world of AI and development in fields related to these technologies. There are those who hate them and those who love them, and then those like us who analyse them. Then there are those who, like Musk, financed them and are now afraid that they might steal his job.

The fear for many is tangible, but someone has managed to find common ground.

Soungwen Chung – Chinese-Canadian artist & (re)searcher.

Soungwen Chung, former researcher at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and artist, has found the balance by establishing a ‘dialogue’ between her ability to innovate and her assistants.

Robotic assistants, let’s be clear. Given her studies and her background as a former researcher, Soungwen has created a blend of what is human and what is robotic. Her story, which seems straight out of one of Isaac Asimov’s short stories, tells the human-machine dichotomy, showing different shades of both sides.

In fact, as she herself says, her work is based on empathy that is created through the shared exercise of faculties such as memory, mimicry or observation.

Drawing Operations (2015) by Soungwen Chung and D.O.U.G._1

Drawing Operations (2015) represents the origin of this interesting investigative journey. A live collaboration between her and D.O.U.G._1 (Drawing Operations Unit: Generation_1), a robotic arm that mimicked her movements and helped her create an abstract work on paper, with an unexpectedly inaccurate result. What might have appeared to be a mistake turned out to be an added value and given the different results obtained in different performances, the artist rediscovered the potential of her robotic collaborator, trying to bring it ever closer to human thought and psychology.

Maintaining this constant for each generation, Soungwen has been able to develop robotic assistants that, thanks to her machine learning, are able to operate in different fields, helping her to express the world around her.

Omnia per Omnia Copyright 2018 Sougwen Chung Photo by Aki Akiwumi Taken at Mana Contemporary Sougwen Chung, Omnia per Omnia (Performance), 2018 —— Only Human E.A.T. Exhibition, Mana Contemporary —— Courtesy of the Artist ——

Going through different topics such as nature, crowd flows in cities and bio-feedback between man and machine, Soungwen Chung is changing the game by bringing with her a concept that I interpreted as: let’s humanise them. His work is not just about building machines that with sequential data execute orders. Soungwen is trying to push machines to their limits by taking them on an educational journey similar to what is done to children.

May this conversation become the new way of working? I leave the rest to you for the moment.

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