Dialog in Common

Taeyoon Choi: On Menaningful Participation

Taeyoon Choi [TC] is an artist based in Seoul, Korea, working in and with urban public as well as mediated spheres.
pressEmail conversation with Markuz Wernli Saitô [MWS] in April, 2007.

Sell Your Morning Walk

Sell Your Morning Walk in Seoul: the artist as guide and medium

What means good participation to you?
When participation works it's a nice journey. People get to know each other, keep in contact and share a wonderful time. 'Sell Your Morning Walk' was the best experience. It's a simple project of me guiding group of people for a walk. I gather people through online announcements and did the walk in Seoul and Oklahoma.

Why did you say 'Sell' in the title of 'Sell Your Morning Walk'?
TC: I enjoy taking walks in the morning. Also it is inspired by Ben Russel's Headmap Manifesto (PDF, 2.4 MB). There is this line in the manifesto: "imagine you can sell your morning walk". It's a creative research project about possibilities in locative media and new social networks. The manifesto interested me very much, and I strongly agreed with it. Here follows the Ben Russel's text excerpt:

* * * * *

Headmap Manifesto

Headmap Manifesto, Location Aware Devices (2004, 95 pages) by Ben Russel: "Know your place."

(Headmap Manifesto, pg. 53)

If you are native to a city and a tourist asks you for directions to a place, you do not necessarily tell them the way you yourself would go, which might involve convoluted shortcuts and complications, you tell them the shortest clearly describable route. Map the way people get from A to B, and establish that tourists travel one way, locals travel another way and commercial drivers yet another. A tourist could access that information to get a different view of the city, finding out which way a local would go, or maybe a specific individual would go. Mapquest finesse there routefinding capability using information from commercial drivers (making it difficult for a rival service to easily duplicate what they have with a pure static technology solution to routefinding).

You could sell your morning walk... consider everyone selling their morning walk.

Market research used to be labour intensive and data was expensive to gather. Now the job is being pushed out on to the internet and we all indirectly gather data, by navigating the internet and filling in forms, and buying stuff. Beyond studying our habits as we sit in front of the computer comes to the point at which everything that is static in the world is mapped and everything that moves (vehicles, portable stuff, animals, people) is tagged, location aware and on the network. Consider the patterns of migration and ebb and flow that might emerge when that data was harvested. The maps and the visualizations of that data. Beautiful, useful and terrifying (like any good technology). The dark implications are similar to the web based counterparts, with an emphasis on spatial monitoring and control.

* * * * *

Can you explain the action a bit more, what do you say through the megaphone? Why a megaphone?
TC: A local person, the 'seller', gives information about certain details during the walk. It is very casual and mediocre stuff. About the convenience store that has the best sushi, about the graffiti writing on the wall, about some favorite restaurants, etc. It's information that can be valuable to the foreigner. The megaphone is an effective media tool to get people's attention. It is very portable media.

Can the participants influence the walk?
Do they determine the final outcome?

TC: Participants are heavily involved in the making of the walk, but the seller decides where to go and what to do. There is no fixed outcome from the walk, it's the experience of the whole day.

How did the participants know about the signup on your website? How do people know about your website?
TC: The gallery advertised the projects online and in an art magazine. It was a very exciting exhibit titled Urban Vibe, The Art of Playing City in 2005 at Art Center Nabi in Seoul.

Sell Your Morning Walk

Sell Your Morning Walk in Oklahoma

If you compare your sell-your-walk in Soeul and in Oklahoma: did the project get a different meaning because it took place in a different culture?
TC: Of course. Oklahoma was a supremely interesting, exotic experience. Nobody walks in Oklahoma city. It's a highway city and the only people who walk are homeless. The city is vacant for most of the time (at least during my stay in Early December). The group of us walking around downtown, was such a spectacular sight. Cars stopped to watch us walk. The content was different as well. Since I am not a local to Oklahoma, I was the moderator of the walk and also interviewing local participants. We walked to the Oklahoma bombing memorial. It was impressive and serene.

Did you ever realize a project where people would influence the concept before you even started a project?
TC: Many times, and I try to avoid it. Especially influence from the exhibiting institution or gallery is usually no good. They try to shape your project so it fits well to the exhibit or the space. Other artist's creative influence is good, if you don't listen to them.

Do you put yourself into the perspective of your participants to make the experience better for them?
TC: Sometimes but not always. I don't really have to be in their perspective to experience the gig. Sometimes it's better to be upstage rather than among the crowd.

What happens when people really participate (or not)?
TS: The interesting thing is, some projects are wildly successful in getting people to participate and others completely fail in getting any kinds of interaction.

Can you see a tendency for what projects are more likely to 'succeed' in getting participation and which less likely?
Or is it often like a lottery?

TC: My assumption is that relaxed and easy going projects are more likely to get a feedback. Some of my projects are based on intense research and planning, but it might not have the good interaction, because I was so much focused on the process of completion (research, prototype, etc) and not enough time was spent on bringing the piece into the real world. One project that failed was 'Object of Desire'. I was wondering around the tourist sites of Seoul, dressed with multiple cameras that take picture according to my heart beat. I was waving my hand and trying to get picture with them. everyone ignored my action. The artist, myself, becomes desperate for more interaction and tries to pull out few comical gestures but it doesnŐt work.

Did "Object of Desire" fail to attract people because it was maybe too artistic, or too experimental?
TC: I regret calling it a failed project, because I succeeded in other ways than I expected. It was more artistic than the others, and audience, were not given specific information on how to react to it. I wanted people to take a picture of me. Only one person did. If I do the project again, I might find smarter ways to bring out interaction.

Are there also projects where you are NOT interested in participation and just do your self-indulgent thing?
TC: Surely. I do paintings, PPT slide show pieces, and video works. But performance projects are at their best when there is interaction with participants. Oklahoma was interesting because its an automobile city and nobody else was walking around and my semi-tourist group was a such an exotic site for drivers.

Good point, there are not only the immediate participants of your group, but also the secondary audience.
TC: Web based platforms. where people can leave messages and photos. This provides the chance for ongoing participation.

Do these web-based exchanges influence/inspire your work and upcoming projects? In what ways?
TC: People can upload information about their work and price it so people can bid on it. And when you win the bid you get detailed information of the walk. Website was never completely finished, and I don't have the temporary site anymore. I will give you documentation when it's done. Only few people participated.

What is your role in initiating and making participation possible?
TC: My character as the rather funny, little bit strange guy...

So are you in the role of a director? Choreographer?
Comedian? When you realize projects with your participants?

TC: All of the above, and sometimes just a guy who pays for your lunch. I am very interested in the public sphere and mediated public sphere, including the participation in new public sphere is my focus.

Taeyoon Choi is a Seoul-based Artist and Tourist. Choi delivers critical perspective on the contemporary use of digital technology through humorous interventions and participatory practice. Choi's works have appeared in I.S.E.A. 2006 (San Jose), Upgrade! International (Oklahoma), Dislocate 2007 (Yokohama), among others. Choi is the Commissioned Resident Artist at EYEBEAM Center for Art and Technology (2008), and previously the Artist in Residence at Art Center Nabi(2006), Art Space Hue (2007), and his project has been funded by Arts Council Korea (2007). Choi has a B.F.A. at S.A.I.C. (Performance/2004) and M.S. at KAIST (Culture Technology/2007).

externalTaeyoon Choi's website