Taehee Kim

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Artist Statement

Our world is thought to be an organism in which all elements affect all others. Nothing functions independently from the dynamic influences of all elements working in concert. This dynamism raises a question about identity: Do I mean anything in an empty world? One could perhaps never imagine something that could exist in the world alone, or even without a world. What would the world look like if one could eliminate the concept of objects and see only relationships? Or how would it look if we saw time as the primary or sole dimension?

One day, when I was walking down the street in Edinburgh in the early 90’s, I happened to kick a small piece of rock loose from the ground. The force of the kick almost knocked me over. In that moment, I realized that autonomy is not only mine, but belongs also to the static objects around me. Other things determine my individual existence. I saw the world from the rock's point of view, partly under the ground and partly exposed to the air, sitting there, waiting for somebody to kick it. It said to itself: "If somebody kicks me, then I will alter their steps." Wait a minute. What was I thinking? This kind of "If... then..." logic is an atomic element of intelligence that a computer programmer would employ. Not to say that inanimate things cannot operate with "if ... then" reasoning—a thermostat does it all the time by heating a house when the temperature goes below a set level. But a rock—intelligent? The instant I thought this, I felt that the rock was a part of me, because I was changed by the rock and my identity could not be defined without the existence of the rock. I realized that I had to extend my concept of identity to include all the objects and opportunities that had influenced me. In fact, everything in the universe had to be included. This was a spiritual moment. I felt everything was part of me; my self suddenly disappeared and all became one.

This experience in turn prompted a rather technical question: "If an intelligent robot is not given a world in which it can demonstrate its intelligence, is it still intelligent?" I concluded that meaning can be significantly affected by where and how a subject is situated. In time, my interest in situatedness, relationships and interaction led me to study art. In the Digital+Media Department, at Rhode Island School of Design, I have explored the characteristics of meaning that emerge in relationships.

My study to discover meanings between materials and relationships in the context of interactive art makes the assumption that whatever is perceived by humans is abstracted, and thus phenomenological and virtual. My work criticizes emergent characteristics in interactive artworks in the context of phenomenology. In the multi-modal and multi-perspective situation, my work introduces virtuality in criticism in order to look into the characteristics of mediation of meanings. 

I agree with the phenomenological standpoint in artificial intelligence and robotics, where the intelligence of an autonomous agent relies on the observer's mind rather than how it is built and programmed. Where it is situated, what material it has been made from, and what body structure it has all affect how the agent behaves, and, furthermore, how others perceive the way it works. An agent cannot be separated from its environment—the situatedness plays a crucial role in qualifying the subjectivity of the agent. I introduce the concept of extended self in this context because an agent interacts with its environment through media, and the boundary of the subjectivity can hardly be determined. This concept lies on the same trajectory as the "nothingness" and "commonality" that have been widely used in art in the 20th century.

My work also analyzes the deterministic characteristic of subjectivity from a viewer's perspective. Discursive subjectivity is introduced as an explanation for the phenomenological aspects of third party observers. Looking is an observer's business, and it does not necessarily contain any part of the intrinsic subjectivity of the object. Virtuality can be understood from this point of view.

Discussions continue on the meaning of material, relationships and interactions in the context of extended self and discursive subjectivity. While a rock is substance which has no sense of interactivity in a general sense, a rock can contain many narratives: history, memory, materiality, relations and, most importantly, potential to be read by an audience in various ways.

I use robots and computational means as the primary form for my art works. I investigate the characteristics of raw materials and natural relationships between parties in order to allow meaning to emerge.