Yujin Son believes that humans will develop new dimensions of perception through AI. Based on this concept, her work conveys a state of deep meditation that alters the viewer’s mindset and aims to provide a feeling of boundlessness.
Transcending borders, nationality, and language are core principles embedded in Son’s work that reach back to her parents’ move from Korea to China when Son was young. She didn’t speak the language, making it challenging to develop friendships in real life. Instead, Son found communication and interaction through the internet—a window of subcultures, online novels, and manga anime. There, she was exposed to raw ideas and explicit content, leading her to start drawing anatomical figures and expanding her interest in avatars and virtual identity.
We spoke with Yujin Son about internet art versus traditional forms of art, the metaverse, and how Mother Nature plays a role in her mixed-media work.
Yujin Son’s inspiration and exploration of video, 2D, and 3D
What inspires you to create?
Yujin Son: I like being surrounded by nature and observing it. It leads me to imagine particles or plasma of energy. I go into a trance-like meditative state when I watch patterns in nature. I picture how AI would learn by breaking it down into the atomic level, and branching out in every direction. It soon turns into an imagination that I often had as a kid—pondering the patterns of its cells, seeing their connections in cubic forms, which then expand out into infinite gears that eventually shape into a flower or flames with vivid colors. I am interested in the energy of the Earth, the cycle, the wheel of life—like in Buddhism. Sometimes it feels like I, as a living being, have been made into an avatar by nature to try out this world and I recreate my and others’ experiences as stories. I believe in my feminine side, and that my connection to Mother Earth allows me to open up and understand organic energy, the human mind, and AI, which is genderless and borderless.
Why are you currently exploring the intersections of video, 2D, and 3D?
Yujin Son: I am interested in illustrating the live motions of our minds through the digital medium. Mixed media is how we process and perceive. I picture the intersection of the human mind and mixed media. For example, a VR video with 2D video embedded in it, is what it looks like inside our brains when we are spacing out or dreaming. Our brains are never sleeping, constantly processing the information we gather during the day. As we lay out linear information, we simultaneously think about it—we imagine, predict, transform and combine. It leads to my research about how an AI “thinks.” Connecting it to my theme, exploring the human mind and history with some reference to religion, symbols can be subliminal, but also linear for the narrative part. My artistic expression is limitless in the virtual environment. I think mixed digital media is the best way to tell a story while also foreshadowing the background knowledge or inspiration of my projects.
Internet art and Yujin Son’s processes
What are some of the major contrasts between internet art and traditional art? How do you play with this in your work? Could you explain this to us through a specific artwork example?
Yujin Son: Internet art is very easy to share, bringing people together and transforming it into a new collaborative artwork. The metaverse is a good example, where people can see and share their creations immediately and allow their artwork to be edited by others. Here, creation means the 3D environment, 3D character models and their appearances and more. In that sense, internet art is evolving into a reactive, living being that can branch out in a multidimensional way. Traditional art allows a more in-depth mental process and includes relearning and unlearning processes before we talk about an artwork.
I aim to illustrate organic recreations in my art practice, combining digital art with feedback from intellectual beings, including AI. I interact with AI programs through creative writing and art, which is a very fun proces—as if I’m playing catch with a human friend inside the computer. For example, I type in an excerpt of my concept and let the AI continue the story. Or, I put in a 3D body scan of myself and let AI create a character from it. Then, I turn this experience into a story.
Balancing creativity with business demands as an artist
What’s a typical day like for you? What did you do today?
Yujin Son: I have some things that I never skip in my daily routine. I go to the park or somewhere into nature once a day, eat an apple, stretch or exercise, and space out with no electronics for a bit—usually at night.
How do you balance the creativity of being an artist with the business demands of being an entrepreneur? What are the biggest challenges that come with both?
Yujin Son: I spend a good amount of professional time working on client projects. I do my best to give my creative guidance to my clients’ visions and work towards achieving their goals. When I’m working on my projects I like to experiment new things and leave time to stay creative and focused on my personal research and art. My goal is to turn my entrepreneurial activity to be an extension of my creative mind.
If you could give your past self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Yujin Son: Don’t be afraid or too self conscious.
Animation of 3:29 mins, 2021.
“Birdstory” explores, compares and merges two versions of the human mind, the original and the new version of mind. Believing that A.I is a study of our mind, “Birdstory” reinterprets the creation story based on the mechanical environment and digital identity in the 21st century. Multi-sensory technology can reshape our physical and mental identities, which can give us a clue about the unexplored dimension by providing us alternative ways to absorb information.
The animation was inspired, scripted, and planned during the lockdown. The lockdown pressure (zoom classes, losing a job, not being able to travel to visit family, and in-house conflict) pushed me into heavy self-reflection. The more I dive in deeper, the more I discover about the human mind- that we can be ‘free’ from the reality we live in that we believe it’s real. As a defense mechanism against overthinking, I recreated the creation stories in my way, developed the character and story concepts in various mediums such as VR painting, 3D characters, and made frame animation. Working on this animation was a process of understanding the interaction between reality and my mind, and I felt like I had a breakthrough after finishing this project. I was less pressured about life stress and ready to move on to the next step, which is creating with AI.