Dr. JINJOON LEE FRSA
NEW MEDIA ARTIST / PROFESSOR
# New Media Art # Creative AI # Total Experience
# Future Opera # Sound Sculpture
DPhil Fine Art, University of Oxford
MA Fine Art, Royal College of Art
MFA Sculpture, Seoul National University
BFA Sculpture, Seoul National University
BBA Business Administration, Seoul National University
PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF
I am Dr. Jinjoon Lee, currently serving as an assistant professor, honoured to lead the Art and Technology Center at KAIST. My multifaceted background encompasses roles as a sculptor, new media artist, and creative director, offering me a diverse perspective in my artistic endeavors. Over two decades, my work is firmly rooted in the convergence of art and technology, aimed at broadening human perception and redefining our interaction with the ever-evolving digital landscape. Within my research and installations, I delve into the realm of 'liminoid experiences.' These unique phenomena manifest in transitional or 'liminal' spaces—those that exist in a state between here and there. My focus lies in exploring empathic spatial encounters generated by intangible elements such as light, sound, and space. I am intrigued by how these elements can be harnessed to stimulate contemplation and evoke emotional responses, enriching the human experience.
I hold a Ph.D. earned from the Ruskin School of Fine Art at the University of Oxford, and MA from Royal College of Art in London after graduation of SNU. As a principal investigator, I lead the TX lab (Total Experience Creative Media Lab) at KAIST. Within this creative haven, we are fervently pushing the limits of what can be achieved in the realms of Data-driven Art and Design, Sound Art, and XR Performance for Future Opera. In essence, my life's work revolves around a profound quest—an exploration into the intricate relationship that binds humans, technology, and the spaces, both tangible and metaphysical, that they inhabit.
HOW YOU FIRST GOT INTO ART SEEMS OUT OF THE ORDINARY. WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO START ART?
Indeed, my journey into the world of art may seem rather unconventional, as my academic background initially was in the Business School of Seoul National University. However, I always felt an innate pull towards the creative and expressive dimensions of human experience. My interest in art was not sparked by a sudden epiphany but rather grew out of a gradual realization that traditional academic and professional paths could not fully satisfy my curiosity about the complex interplay between technology and human consciousness. From a young age, I found myself drawn to the ethereal qualities of immaterial elements like light, sound, and space. They spoke a universal language that transcended cultural and linguistic barriers. When I was exposed to various artistic mediums and technologies, I saw the immense potential for a new form of artistic expression—one that could meld the emotional resonance of traditional art forms with the ground breaking possibilities of modern technology. In particular, the phenomenon of synaesthesia had a profound impact on me, as it blurred the boundaries of sensory experiences and offered a fresh perspective on human perception. This blend of the logical and the transcendental, of art and science, fascinated me to no end, and I felt an irresistible urge to delve deeper. So, I pivoted towards a more creative and interdisciplinary career, eventually obtaining degrees in sculpture and then branching out into new media art. Over time, my artistic endeavors have become a synthesis of these diverse influences, combining rigorous academic inquiry with creative experimentation. They serve as both a mirror and a magnifying glass, reflecting and examining the liminal spaces that exist between the digital and the physical worlds, the objective and the subjective, the natural and the human-engineered. Looking back, it's undeniable that every step of this journey was guided by a force greater than mere chance—it was, in essence, destiny.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TEACING ART AS A PROFESSOR AND PRODUCING ART AS AN ARTIST?
In the realm of academia, teaching art necessitates the articulation of ideas, methods, and theories to facilitate comprehension and discourse. It's a process of scaffolding the intellectual journey for students, guiding them through established philosophies and techniques, from François Jullien's concept of 'de-coincidence' to Walter Benjamin's musings on the 'aura' of artworks in the age of mechanical reproduction. Teaching is fundamentally an act of translation—taking the often 'unfathomable' richness of artistic perception and transforming it into structured pedagogy.
In contrast, creating art as an artist is a more unbounded endeavor, a personal and often solitary exploration where one grapples with the 'unfathomable' in real-time. The ideas and theories are not just discussed but lived, breathed, and molded into sensory experiences. As an artist, I operate in what Jullien would describe as a state of 'de-coincidence,' where the convergence of thought, material, and sensation is anything but preordained. The work may manifest as a media installation or sculpture, but it is always a complex choreography of shadows and light, sound and silence, the internal and external—each piece a microcosm of relational systems in the vein of post-humanist thought. While teaching gives me the platform to analyze and elucidate, artistic creation allows me the freedom to question and explore. One offers a lens to interpret the world, while the other provides the canvas upon which the complexities of that world are rendered in all their 'ambiguous' nuance.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE ART EDUCATION (OR ART IN GENERAL) AT KAIST DEVELOP IN THE FUTURE?
In the future, I envision KAIST emerging as a beacon for the seamless integration of art, science, and technology. While KAIST has already achieved global recognition in fields like engineering, computer science, and artificial intelligence, incorporating a strong art program could be the next logical and transformative step. This would not merely be an adjunct or elective track but an integral part of the core curriculum. To be specific, we could start by offering interdisciplinary courses that tie in elements of art, design thinking, and aesthetic philosophy into existing STEM courses. The idea is to foster an educational ecosystem where students learn to apply their scientific knowledge in artistic ways and vice versa. This 'cross-pollination' of ideas could lead to innovation at the nexus of these disciplines. Workshops, seminars, and even specialized 'Culture-Technology' labs could serve as platforms for students and faculty to collaborate on projects that bridge the gap between these two seemingly disparate fields. Whether it's developing software for virtual galleries, using AI to understand human creativity, or applying mathematical principles to visual design, the possibilities are vast and invigorating.
Additionally, I see an opportunity for KAIST to collaborate with international art institutions for faculty exchange programs, research partnerships, and student internships. Such alliances would not only enrich our educational offerings but also place KAIST on the map as a progressive, forward-thinking institution. Given that we are in an era where technology pervades all aspects of life, the importance of understanding its broader implications is critical. Art, with its ability to probe the 'unfathomable,' can provide the much-needed depth and breadth to our understanding of technology's impact on society. And let's not forget the 'unfathomable,' those elements of human experience that evade easy explanation. While our scientific endeavors aim for clarity and quantifiable results, art offers us a way to explore the intricacies, the mysteries, and the indefinable aspects of existence. As we stand on the cusp of technological advancements that could redefine what it means to be human, giving space for the unfathomable within our educational paradigm becomes not just a luxury but a necessity. Overall, by embedding art education into its DNA, KAIST has the opportunity to break free from traditional academic boundaries, producing graduates who are not just technically competent but also socially aware, ethically grounded, and creatively inspired. And it is precisely this type of education that the world needs right now.
WHAT IS YOUR GOAL AT TX LAB?
The goal of the TX Lab (Total Experience Creative Media Lab) is to serve as a global leader in the intersectional field of art, technology, and humanities. Guided by our three core pillars—creator group, creative technology group and humanity group. We aim to pioneer innovative methodologies that transform abstract data into human-centered experiences, integrate the arts and humanities into technological environments, and explore the boundaries between diverging realities like the virtual and the real. Our vision goes beyond traditional academic disciplines; we aspire to foster an environment where technology enhances rather than diminishes our shared human experience. More recently I intend to publish a substantial number of textbooks with the goal of fostering a robust ecosystem for media art in Korea. Through rigorous academic research, creative projects, and global collaborations, the TX Lab is committed to shaping a future that is not only technologically advanced but also profoundly human
AS A NEW MEDIA ARTIST, YOUR WORK LARGELY INTERSECTS WITH THE REALM OF TECHNOLOGY. THIS IS STILL A RELATIVELY NEW FIELD; HOW DO YOU THINK THAT KAIST AND OTHER TECH INSTITUTIONS IN KOREA SHOULD EXTEND TO THE ART SECTOR?
As someone deeply involved in the confluence of art and technology, I see immense potential for institutions like KAIST to play a pivotal role in nurturing this interdisciplinary sphere. With my experience as the organizing chair of the International AI ART Symposium at KAIST and affiliations with entities like the Korea Creative Contents Academy, I believe there are several concrete steps that can be taken.
First and foremost, education should be the foundation. KAIST and similar institutions should offer specialized curricula that bridge the gap between art and technology. This could be realized through courses that combine artificial intelligence, data science, and material science with elements of visual arts, music, and storytelling.
Secondly, we need dedicated research hubs similar to what I've observed in institutions abroad, like the Creative AI Lab at the Serpentine Gallery. Such centers would not just be 'labs' in a conventional sense but rather ecosystems that foster a symbiosis between technical prowess and artistic endeavor. These hubs could serve as platforms for artists and technologists to co-create, experiment, and innovate.
Thirdly, Partnerships between tech institutions and existing art organizations can lead to a richer, more nuanced field of study and practice. From my interactions with the likes of Kay Watson, who leads the Creative AI Lab at the Serpentine Gallery; Richard Kurin, a distinguished scholar and cultural anthropologist at the Smithsonian; and the late Peter Weibel, who was a seminal figure at ZKM in Karlsruhe, it's clear that global partnerships can significantly enrich the local ecosystem. Joint exhibitions, symposiums, and public lectures can serve as viable platforms for knowledge exchange and mutual growth.
Lastly, the focus should also be on social and cultural impact. New media art has the power not just to create aesthetically pleasing work but also to address complex societal issues. Technology can amplify this impact, and academic institutions should offer platforms where such socially impactful projects can be developed and show cased.
WHAT WAS THE MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU HAD AT KAIST?
In that case, the 2022 'What is Art in the Future?' lecture series became an intimate dialogue, a series of deep, one-on-one conversations between me and the invited guests that were as illuminating as they were varied. Although I was the moderator, I found myself in a unique position to delve into the intricacies of each guest's expertise while also being the bridge that connected these disparate perspectives into a coherent narrative about the future of art. Among these conversations, the lecture by the renowned poet stood out as a high point in the series. The retired professor brought an artistry to his words that was mesmerizing to witness. Every pause seemed intentional, filled with the kind of thoughtfulness that invited the audience into a moment of reflection. His vocabulary was a carefully chosen palette, and he wielded his words like a master artist applying deliberate brush strokes on a canvas. This lecture was more than just a well-articulated presentation; it served as an exemplification of how language itself can be an art form, elevating everyday communication into something transcendent. The room was held in a sort of reverie, collectively experiencing the gentle ebb and flow between language and silence that the poet so skillfully navigated. It wasn't merely about the spoken word; it was about the pacing, the tempo, the silence—all elements coming together to produce an emotional impact that lingered long after he stepped down from the podium. To me, this was a vivid reminder of why art matters. In a world where we often find ourselves engulfed in streams of data and ceaseless communication, there is a fundamental need for these types of 'pause'—moments where we can detach, however briefly, from the incessant noise and reconnect with deeper, more introspective states. The poet's lecture encouraged us to consider the beauty that can be found in deliberateness, in taking the time to truly think and feel before we speak or act. This emphasis on depth and reflection is something I wish to carry forward, not just in future editions of the lecture series but also in my role at KAIST. As we contemplate how to integrate art and technology, these humanistic aspects must not be overlooked. While we often focus on innovation and progress, it's essential to remember the value of contemplation, of appreciating art for its capacity to elevate our human experience beyond mere functionality or utility.
PLEASE GIVE ANY ADVICE TO STUDENTS WILLING TO PURSUE MEDIA ART AT TX LAB, KAIST
I offer this advice: Pursue your creative instincts fearlessly, and let your art be a reflection of your unique perspective on the world. Don't be confined by traditional boundaries; instead, use your technical strengths as a creative asset to explore new realms of artistic expression. Embrace intellectual risk, be a lifelong learner, and seek interdisciplinary collaborations that challenge and enrich your work. Remember that your work can be a force for change, so create with social consciousness and share your wisdom with others. Maximise your platforms for influence and feedback, and, above all, maintain enduring resilience and mindful patience in your artistic endeavors. Your pursuit of art at the intersection of technology is a journey of boundless possibilities – stay true to your vision, take risks, and let your creativity flourish.
In this era of unprecedented technological advancement, I extend an open invitation to you to join me in this exploration, as we collectively navigate the complex terrains of art, technology, and human experience. With an interdisciplinary approach, my aim is to enrich our academic community by introducing new methods and perspectives that bridge the gap between the sciences and the arts. Through this, I hope to contribute to the shaping of a more holistic, integrated understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in our rapidly evolving digital landscape
PLEASE TELL US ANYTHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD
As we stand on the precipice of this new era, the words of Lewis Mumford, an American historian and philosopher, continue to resonate:
“Why have we become technological gods and moral devils, scientific supermen and esthetic idiots?”
-Lewis Mumford, 1951
In this age of unprecedented technological advancement, it is crucial that we, as creators and innovators, tread carefully and reflect deeply on the implications of our work. We must harness our technical prowess not just for the sake of progress, but with the wisdom and responsibility that Mumford spoke of.
Art, in its most profound form, has always been a reflection of the human spirit. It is a language that communicates with our emotions, experiences, and existential journeys. Can a machine, devoid of consciousness and human touch, genuinely partake in this intimate dance of creation? I find myself pondering these questions as I gaze upon the recent world. To navigate this novel landscape, we, as humans, must embrace AI's potential while maintaining a profound appreciation for the "humanity" at the core of all creativity. As we transition into the era of AI, we can look forward to a future for art that is rich, diverse, and exciting, marked by a vibrant fusion of human and artificial creativity. Alongside this evolution, the ability to create or appreciate art will become the ultimate hallmark of a person.
Now I cannot help to say that it's time to return to the "poetry,”to read verse, to teach it, in order to unlock the words that our souls long to reach.