Maybe I can call my generation the IKEA generation.
In this brand, I see a conflict of desires. People want to have nice furniture but they, or we, don’t have money for it. So IKEA products ask people to assemble and disassemble their own furniture to keep the costs low. DIY culture is marketed to us as a value, but it is really tied up with the capitalist system. Somehow this brand has found a way to turn our labour into something trendy. IKEA is not the only company to do this, but it might be the most iconic. Our economy is transitioning to a model where we perform tasks for ourselves that used to be paid labour by employees. This is disguised as a convenience but it’s actually creating more work and anxiety for this generation. We are paying the price for our “convenience” while companies profit from the unpaid labour of their customers.
We are the generation of shadow labour.
There is, of course, a diversity of relationships that people of my generation have with IKEA, however, one of the main draws of the brand for everyone is that it suits the culture of fast fashion. It can be bought cheaply and so thrown away easily. This suits the nomadic, unstable life of many in my generation. Fewer and fewer young people are planning to buy a prominent home and settle. In some cases this a deliberate choice, but in the case of a great deal of “millennials”, the notion of homeownership has never even occurred to them because the costs make it so ridiculously unattainable. The popularity of IKEA goes hand in hand with my generation’s constant state of impermanence. The idea of a permanent place or career feels like an antiquated notion of another time.
We are the generation of planned obsolescence.
When I look around I see the commodification of everything, even my own health. I can imagine a world sometime in the near future where this concept of DIY as a virtue creeps its way further and further into the realm of health care. The very companies that exploit us for labour will be the ones selling us DIY remedies for our health problems caused by our constant stress and anxiety. We must be the ones responsible for our own care so that we can stay happy and most of all productive! Is there a limit of the care one can be expected to be able to give to oneself?
This installation, I+CARE, mimics an advertisement and a set of IKEA-style instructions for imagined self-care, DIY medical equipment for a home in the near future. The work is a meditation on the alienation and anxiety caused by the shadow labour market of our neoliberal economies. The “Do It Yourself” culture constantly being marketed to us as a form of empowerment, is, in fact, a cost-cutting measure where labour previously done by employees is being offloaded on to consumers. These surrealistic instructions for home equipment mock the ubiquity of commercial ads for DIY products and expose their system of influence. These impossible health machine DIY kits portray a future where one imagines that every stress-related medical problem could be solved by oneself. I+CARE intends to illuminate the anxiety of living in non-permanent residences in a capital-oriented society as well as the rhetorical power of positive lifestyle marketing permeating urban culture through “do it yourself” and “self-care” commercial ads. The public nature and location of the Sightings cube make it an ideal space to display such ads that, sadly, could be taken as real in the surreal world of late-capitalism.
“Bun Shin Sa Ba” is an interactive video/sound installation that takes the form of a karaoke performance. The audience is asked to sing along with the melody to the popular song “My Heart Will Go On” with new lyrics generated by predictive auto-text type applications. By singing these words, we fill the public space with sound generated by data collected from private conversations. In the installation, there is a microphone facing a video screen that plays a karaoke-style video. The mic is attached to the sound system, and the audience is encouraged to interact with the piece by singing along with the video. If the studio space cannot support the sound set up, the piece can be played as a stand-alone video. Please see images attached below for technical details.
Predictive text algorithms collect the data from our private conversations and suggest the most commonly used word combinations across a large network of users. Based on my research the word combinations from these apps often reveal hidden messages of misogyny and racism. The piece asks the audience to speak aloud these words and confront their own complicity in the perpetuation of such hierarchies. All the song lyrics in the piece are culled from algorithmic suggestions in the English and Korean language from a variety of applications. For example, when the Korean word for “wife” was input into a chat app a suggested word combination generated by the algorithm is “wants to commit suicide.” This sentence has been reappropriated as a song lyric. The piece looks at two languages in the hopes to explore the similarities and differences across cultures. What might be the most common combination of words in English, for example, might not be the same in the Korean language. The first verse is generated in English and second verse is generated in Korean.
The title of the piece refers to a mantra chanted during a traditional Korean shamanistic ritual. In western culture, it could be compared to a seance. Usually, two people make a round shape while together holding a pencil above paper with letters written with one each hand then circle while spelling “bun-shin sa ba.” After repeating this motion several times, the participants are supposed to be able to communicate with ghosts much in the same way people in the west attempt to communicate with spirits through an Ouija board. The accompanying video to the karaoke combines imagery from this ritual together with images of a typical type of female ghost found across East Asian folklore.
In the digital era, I have found ghosts are a useful metaphor when looking at digital spaces. Algorithms guide our hands and thoughts like a spirit moving pieces on an Ouija board. They carry with them secret messages. They speak to us, and they speak about us. Ghosts are refugees. They are beings without a place and a voice. This work in particular, and my work generally, is interested in examining what the hidden messages have to say about the oppressed individuals in our societies. The topics and starting points for the words generated in “Bun-shin-sa-ba” are rooted in issues of feminism and critical race theory.
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Exerpts from video
Tangled Words II
Tangled Words III
The Room of History, The Trace of Sound
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The March to The Room of History
The March to The Room of History, 2014, Amp, Piezo Mic, Coins, Installation (Dimensions Variable)