DOO-SUNG YOO has been re-contextualizing discarded animal organs in installations, robotics and performances since 2007. The mechanical sculptures of Organ-machine Hybrids have evolved into Vishtauroborg001.OMH5, a "performance project that incorporates robotics, electronic music and sound, dance, visual performance, and industrial design." Vishtauroborg Version 2.6 was featured on the cover of the 2013 summer edition of Media-N, a new media art journal. Doo-Sung's solo exhibition Replay: Red, Stench, Shriek, & Heat will be on view at the Columbus Metropolitan Library Gallery in Columbus, Ohio from November 9 to December 12, 2013. Doo-Sung has two MFA degrees: one from Sejong University in Seoul, South Korea (2003) and the other from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio (2010), where he now teaches several courses.
DooSung Yoo: Vishtauroborg is a compound word: Vishnu, minotaur, robot, organ, and cyborg. The 001.OMH5 is the artificial species’ number. Vishtauroborg is the fifth character in my Organ-machine Hybrids project (OMH), for which I reused and recontextualized discarded animal organs in installations, robotics and performances. The OMH characters—low-art-hybrids or low-artificial-animals—are ancestors to Vishtauroborg’s characters—high-art-hybrids or high-artificial-animals.
Both projects aim to create a hybrid through artistic synthesis: physical transformation, as opposed to genetic modification. Both combine animal organs and electronic devices that collaborate with live animals (fish, for example) and human performers. The Vishtauroborgs are more technically advanced hybrid models and involve interdisciplinary media, exploring more complex experimental articulations. While the early organ-electronic devices are visual metaphors of transforming the body through mechanical means, Vishtauroborg explores how the mechanical motions can be harmonized with the human body and how artists find possible solutions for the disjunctions that occur when the natural is combined with the artificial.
OPP: Do you have a favorite version/performance?
DSY: It is really difficult to choose a favorite. As the director, I, of course, like all five of Vishtauroborg’s versions because each one has different theme and focus with different characteristics. However, if I must decide, the 3.1 performance was the best so far. It was romantic; it combined Kazuo Ohno’s style of butoh improvisations and Merce Cunningham’s western style of improvisations with mechanical and random motions. The exaggerated facial expressions and improvised dance created a balletic harmony with both the organs and machines. The makeup designer also perfectly understood my vision, including androgynous characteristics and the combination of shamanistic visualizations of Japanese natives and Native Americans. It seems that art movements like contemporary dance can extend their life span with technological augmentations or evolve into new "species" of fine art.
The performance day of 3.1 was also very dramatic. Believe it or not, the crew of Vishtauroborg 3.1 and I had only two hours to set up and test the machines— ideally five to six hours are needed—due to the horribly unlucky break down of my car on the way to the Ingenuity Fest 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. The machines worked well, although a part of the sound sensors was broken in the accident. It seemed to me somehow there was a spirit in the machine that automatically controlled itself through intelligence without the technical team’s perfect maintenance. It felt like a car racing competition: eight hours lost on a track, two hours with the car technician team and 30 minutes on the dead run to the finishing line. Unbelievably, we won the race!
OPP: You are usually the director, not the performer. But you wore the suit/exoskeleton at the Vishtauroborg project's inaugural performance at the ROY G BIV Gallery in 2011. What's it feel like to have it on?
DSY: It’s just like carrying two-year-old twins on your chest and back. Luckily, we don’t need to tie/untie the carrier of machines to change diapers! The machines weigh approximately 30 pounds each, but they are very stable and easy to balance the front and back for performing motions. Wearing one felt like exercising with dumbbells attached to my body.
It was quite strange to feel the wriggles, shakes, vibrations and pressures and hear the sound effects, which were mechanically created to react to the motion of my arms and hand. It gave the illusion of being a robot or cyborg, but my physical feelings were still in disjunction with the mechanical movements.
Interestingly, I don’t feel any elements of fantasy or physical phenomena when I use a computer or smartphone. I cannot imagine how wearable technological augmentation, like the Google Glass, might expand our five senses at this point. The wearable devices will probably result in an experience of revulsion—as Masahiro Mori’s uncanny valley theory states—due to disjunctions between our organic, human senses and technology.
OPP: For the performances you direct, are you choreographing the dance or collaborating with dancers who improvise?
DSY: I collaborate with professional dancers in the sense that
I design the scenario for his/her own choreography within my artwork.
The dancer’s choreography and improvisations have to illustrate the mood of
each scenario of the performance. For instance, the introduction and the
climax require different motions, sounds and other visual effects. The
dancers must be able to create natural improvisations or choreography
beforehand that works in conjunction with the articulations of other
media, especially the mechanical motions.
As a director, I interweave visual and audio narratives from multiple media into a real time and place. It’s like recontextualizing material and expression, which creates new visual and audio metaphors and contexts. I ask questions when creating the scenario: What motions and expressions could be useful in the multiple performances? How do the choreographed motions (acting) connect with different media simultaneously (installation, sculpture, sound, makeup, costume, lighting, color, place)? What moments of harmony or disharmony of multiple media could be aesthetic metaphors? How do choreography and improvisation incorporate the mechanical motions in real time? How do the dancing motions enhance the visual narratives (like Mis-en-scen in cinematic and theatrical production) and create a mood, such as verisimilitude or surrealism?
Preparing for the performances of Pig Bladder-clouds in Rainforest, for example, all six dancers and I had many meetings and rehearsals for designing their choreography and allowing for improvisation. I recorded videos of all their practices and rehearsals. These were good sources to develop the art plan with other collaborators, including the mechanical engineer, the sound designer and the industrial designer. One day, I drove four hours round trip to capture Merce Cunningham’s original Rainforest (1968) video with my camera because only two libraries in Ohio have the original video tapes, and they do not check those tapes out. I showed my dancers the clips and other reference videos to influence the choreography. Also, I collected and recorded a lot of sound samples as references for the sound designers to create background music and sound effects.
It is not always easy to match my ideas with other collaborators’ creations. However, I am a driver of the art bus. The driver has to guide the project to a desired destination safely. Sometimes, my passengers cause a stir and suggest different routes. My art bus has been on a few happy journeys so far with my excellent passengers.
OPP: The feedback between movement and sound in the Vishtauroborg
performances creates a different mood—for me, it's more cerebral, less
visceral—than in your earlier robotic sculptures. I've only experienced
sculptures such as Kinetic Pig Stomach (2007) and Lie: Robotic Cow Tongues
(2007) through the video documentation on your website. Even though
I've never seen them in person, I become very aware of sensations in my
own body. I feel nauseous as I watch these dead parts moving. Do you
have a strong visceral response to the organic materials you use?
DSY: I love raw flesh, meat and animal entrails in my art work. However, ironically, I am a vegetarian. Touching raw flesh and organs is still uncomfortable for me although I have used them for seven years. I observed more than three hundred butcherings of hogs, cows and lambs in slaughterhouses when I was collecting pig bladders and other organs for my pig bladder series. I still remember the red color, the stench, the sounds and the temperature of those horrible moments. As an artist, I challenge myself to transform disgusting materials into art. I ask myself, “How can discarded biological materials be used in art? How can a spectacle be both repulsive and beautiful at the same time?
OPP: Your work explores both negative and positive aspects of the human body’s response to an increasingly technologized society. Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about technology's effect on the body and on our lives?
DSY: I would prefer to be optimistic about technology. I do not believe that technology can solve everything, and there are risks associated with its effects on our mental and physical health. Human beings may encounter the tragedy of genetic catastrophe and the destruction of the human form from the evolutionary decay caused by technology. Or, dominant genes could ultimately choose technology to reconstruct new bodies to survive as the natural selection in the technological evolution.
The futurist Dr. Max More’s Technological Self-Transformation is quite interesting for me. Dr. More champions Extropianism, which argues that human beings may overcome biological, physical and mental constraints to improve human conditions with science and technology. The ideal human ultimately ascends to be a more advanced species or to move beyond the conventional parameters of human nature. Humanization of technology could save humans from the force majeure and extend human lifespans, leading to a techno-utopia, which conveys the notion of the human being’s rebirth with technology.
OPP: In other interviews, you've mentioned art-world influences including Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys, Damien Hirst, Duchamp and Stelarc. What fictional representations of cyborgs or human-machine hybrids are interesting to you?
Most sci-fi cyborgs or robots embody fantastical fairy tales. They are
much too exaggerated, likely in order to create a strong enemy for
plausible stories. I do not believe that human beings will create an
artificial intelligence that surpasses the human brain or organic
processes. Android robots or humanoid machines would need to mimic a
living being’s neural network to be lifelike entities capable of to
overcoming their limited algorithms and forms. Cyborgs, which extend the
existing human form and expand physical abilities, are possible.
In Robocop, police officer Alex Murphy, who was already murdered, is revived as a cyborg policeman. However, that story is still chimerical idea in physics. Can the human’s dead organism be revived in a machine without incorporating another living organism? Could the mechanical system perfectly cover or functionally replace the dead organism without inserting cloning and growing stem cells? How can the revived natural body in the cyborg sustain its life?
I agree with Stephen Hawking’s opinion that a disembodied human brain (data) could live permanently in a computer network, although it is just a theory for now. So, could the humans’ spirit (data) experience a revival into the digital network, like Major Motoko Kusanagi, the heroine of Ghost in the Shell? Kusanagi’s spirit-data briefly appears through hacking (connecting network) a gynoid (adult doll-female-robot) in the next series, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. I believe that those ideas could at least contribute to develop artificial intelligent systems in the robot industry. However, the duplication of human brain’s data and memories with/without an avatar or machine could be lifelike, but not a real-organic-existence. So, could we define that immaterial entity as a human? The current technology is still a small leap in the long voyage of those ideals.
My favorite robot character is the only surviving Laputan soldier in Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, which is a very optimistic narrative of the human-nature-machine world. Lichen live on the robot’s shoulder and other animals play on the gigantic, walking robot’s body. The robot soldier is devoted to keeping bird’s eggs and gives flowers to other destroyed robot soldiers. It ultimately rescues the main human characters, illustrating robot goodwill toward humankind. Miyazaki’s robot soldier is a perfect example of an advanced machines that enhances the lives of humans and the natural environment.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.