Alphaville: Canadian born, Chinese-raised, swedish educated, and now New York based, it seems fair to say that your formative experience was distinctly international. Recently, you’ve also been traveling through China, Korea and Japan. Given your multifarious cultural experiences, how would you say different geographies and senses of place inform your work, and where are the places which you’ve found most inspiring?
Sougwen: It’s been fun, so far, I’ve been on a bit of a sojourn. Vietnam is next.
I took the opportunity this fall to return to the village of my ancestry in XinHua province in China. That’s where the trip began, and it’s continued on through several places… Naoshima, a small island off the coast of Japan being particularly stimulating. I’ve been developing a new installation for 2014 in a mobile studio setup as I’ve been moving through cities. I’ve been drawing, taking some notes, some field recordings, capturing textures and images…
As a whole, I think our conception of geography and place is shifting as our reliance on devices enables a sort of ambient, ubiquitous telepresence. On a functional level it facilitates the ease by which we can commute but I find that it also fragments the experience of space for me, personally. As an antidote to that, seeking geographic flux.. commuting without a fixed point, enables a fuller experience of inhabiting space (by contrast).
If commuting is the geographic experience of flux, and flux can be regarded as the capacity for change, travel sets up a fairly ideal condition to stimulate creative making and thinking.
Alphaville: This past year, you held your first large-scale installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Geneva in addition to your first solo show. The realisation of some of the installations, in particular Chiaroscuro, involved collaborating with a range of practitioners working on the technical direction and musical composition. How fruitful do you find working with others, and what opportunities do you think are afforded by creative co-operation?
Sougwen: My aim is to develop work that inspires the imagination as to what is possible (to be very broad). That pursuit has lead me to think of collaborating as tapping into a sort of interdisciplinary ecosystem of co-creation. It’s remarkable, actually, when the mutual aim and shared creative pursuits can facilitate intersections in a relatively organic fashion, spanning culture and geography. In terms of the work itself, the distinctions that separate a film from a website or an installation are becoming less definite, so the parameters that comprise creative collaboration are afforded new variability. Space to reinvent itself, as it were.
Alphaville: Chiaroscuro is a portmanteau of the Italian for light (chiaro) and dark (scuro), and exemplifies a dualisitc tension that characterises much of your work. Arguably the foremost of these dualisms is the interplay between technology and more traditional artistic processes such as hand drawing. How do you view the relationship between art and technology, and what do you think are some of the possibilities on offer when manual, tactile creations co-exist with virtual and digital forms?
Sougwen: Coming from a performance and fine art background, I have a deep appreciation for a “virtuoso” artistry.. a result of years of practice and dedication. It’s a masterful, and uniquely extraordinary form of the human element. It’s compelling to examine how these deeply-honed modes of artistry can be augmented, distorted, transmuted — and to what effect, by technology. In as much as it affects process, output, and presentation… And in that shift, what is gained and what is lost? Can the process of making be both intuitive and procedural?
I often find myself ruminating on these processes drive that artistic output, and the inherent tensions that arise from inventing these new ways of making. Maybe as artists the inventiveness in our approach to technology can act as some sort of microcosm for how we can utilize technology in everyday life. Are we able to incorporate technology as a true creative extension or as simply a phantom limb?