“Digital Dreams” Artist Interview: Jung In Seo & Dalma Földesi

Interested in learning more about the artists on display at Emerson Contemporary‘s Media Art Gallery? Read about Digital Dreams artists, Jung In Seo & Dalma Földesi‘s journey and process.

Where are you both from?

Jung: I was born in Korea and I came to the US when I was 14. I studied architecture at UC Berkeley, then I took some time to work, and was in the military. I went back and forth between the US and Korea. Then I came back for my Master’s degree.

Dalma: I’m from Hungary, and I grew up there, but I completed high school in Singapore. Then I came to the US for undergrad. We went to grad school together at MIT. We just graduated, and this project began during our last semester.

What do you feel you do as artists?

Jung: We’re trying to figure that out. We’re looking for an exit out of architecture, so to speak, because we’re really interested in many different layers or mediums of work. Part of it is the digital exhibition and the other part is the objects themselves. We make the machines that make the objects.

Dalma: I think how we conceptualized it in the beginning was sort of different from what we even presented at Emerson. The current work that you see bleeds even more into the virtual sphere while also showing the misalignments. It really began more as a sculptural, object-based study, and it only split into the online experience later on. Because of COVID, we were supposed to show some of our objects earlier at MIT, and we started brainstorming what kind of platforms we could use to reformat our work that could go beyond just putting it on display.

Jung: Here, we’re putting on the architect hat again, and we designed a space instead of making a presentation.

Considering this COVID world, where do you find inspiration?

Dalma: We’re actually in New York City right now and things have cautiously reopened. We started making things again, which was really inspiring. We’re working in a robotics lab at Pratt right now, so we’re kind of back to ceramics though not in the same way. In the city, we’ve been going to see some shows. We got to go to the MET for example, and we got to see so much art from ancient to contemporary ceramics.

Jung: Regardless of COVID, we were drawing on online sources heavily for inspiration. We were looking at methods other people were using. Specifically, for the website, or the digital exhibition, we were trying to do what’s not been done. We were looking at examples to see how we could do it differently.

Dalma: As far as making things, we’ve been excited to get back into galleries to see art in the real world. We’ve always been looking into the virtual world as well.

You talked a little bit about the role of material in this work, and I’m wondering if you could expand on those ideas and those thoughts. What is the role of materials in your work?

Dalma: It plays a huge role! Especially when you go back to the point of origin, where there was no conception of an online presentation or virtual gallery or 3D scans on the website, back at the starting point, it was only an investigation of the material itself. We as architects or designers specified what kind of form it could take on, so that’s where this whole thing started. We learned a tremendous amount about clay, which we weren’t familiar with. All the ways of working with it, like traditional pottery versus architectural clay.

Jung: Like she said, it began as a material investigation and how architecture engages with material in a way that perhaps is too destructive, in our opinion. We were working on how we can reorient the view of material, not much as an endless source of things we can carve away and repurpose for our own desires, but giving it its own agency and finding ways to work with it instead of enforcing our design intent or formal agenda. It took another turn when we had to think about how to represent it in a virtual environment, where material becomes kind of difficult. To convey the textures and capture the detail. It’s evolving, I guess. There were transitions from representation to manufacturing, back to recordings for 3D scanning. From virtual to digital to physical, and back again.

Dalma: But, I think, in terms of the material itself, we learned about different types of clay and all the things you can do to create different compositions, and how that affects what you’re trying to make. It was all very exciting.

Would you say that the transformative relationship with material would be the key take-away for the viewer? Would it be something else? What do you expect the audience to take away from the work?

Jung: In the title, Misalignments, there are always misalignments in these transitions, and we are trying to expose that so viewers can have a new perspective on how they view materials, for example, or how they view online exhibitions.

Dalma: Previously, we focused more on being exact in the way that we made everything, and so this showed the misalignments between the initial practice of making and the process of scanning or digitizing what was made. Even in the videos that are in the gallery, there’s tension from the instability of these clay structures. The walls are wobbling. Something that architects and builders in general do not want to live with is that amount of uncertainty, but we wanted to speak to that limiting of tolerances by proposing these risky objects. They’re imperfect and imprecise.

Jung: We want to broaden what we consider acceptable or as beautiful. You can conceive of a perfect sphere and draw it in the 3D modeling software, and then render it beautifully, then you try to mimic that idea or schema of the sphere by manufacturing it into a perfect object. In that process, you are carving the material violently and disregarding its properties in some ways, which produces a lot of waste. It’s in that misalignment of perfect geometry to physical artifacts to digital representation that we want to explore.

Dalma: So, I take it back, I wouldn’t call them inexact or errors. It’s more so that we’re trying to expand a space of toleration.

Have there been any responses to your work that you’ve gotten from viewers that were unexpected? Did anyone see anything in the work that you didn’t necessarily even think was in the work?

Jung: So far, in the venues we’ve presented in, our audiences have been architectural academics. They are bound to ask questions about scale and labor and practice of construction. We answered them by saying that we, at the time of the thesis, were mostly interested in the frame-work of thinking about material rather than an actual feasibility study. There are actual practitioners who are investigating these abilities. Like, if we can do this on Mars. We’re not trying to work towards that. They’re so focused on minimizing error and replicating what they understand as a perfect surface.

This exhibit is called Digital Dreams. How do you feel that your work challenges or fits into this idea?

Dalma: The immediate thought I have is that there is the virtual gallery. And now the virtual gallery is being re-represented as a physical space. What that does is create a loop between the virtual and the physical. It’s not a one-way experience. It’s like a simulation. The objects in the exhibition almost represent now the virtual gallery.

Jung: While we were installing the objects from New York, however much we could bring, we still had the virtual version in mind. We framed it in such a way that it mimics the setting in the virtual gallery.

Dalma: There’s this moment where you’re standing with the two drawing stands in the virtual space and with the physical drawing stands outside, and it becomes uncanny.

(Interviewed by: Miles Thornton)