December 11, 2014

Ten Years Later

by Jac Kuntz

Alum Byeong Sam Jeon (MFA 2005) spoke as the alumni guest lecturer at SAIC's 2014 fall Orientation for new students. He is a researcher, media-based artist, robotic scientist, and professor.

Jeon opened his talk with a story from December 2005—when he graduated from SAIC. "I had a dream...I promised to myself that I'm going to be famous in the field of art and technology studies. And then I will be back to SAIC in glory within 10 years." Nine, not 10, years later, he got that invitation.

Jeon first shared a video of a project he pursued in school, examining lapses in communication, based on personal experience. This project later led him to createTelematic Drum Circle (2007). A street performer on a Chicago corner made him think extensively about “non-vocal exchange” as an alternative means of communication. He created his own musical composition, with mechanical performers that would play in reaction to the public direction through Internet participation. Since its debut, more than 300,000 people have participated from more than 95 countries. These “tele-robotic sound improvisations” put him on the international art scene. They allow people from around the world to transcend obstacles of geographic distance, language barriers, and time zones to communicate and collaborate. 

The next project that he shared with those gathered was a clip from the Istanbul-Gyeongju World Culture Expo titled Heyecan (2013). What he called a 3D video painting was a 20 by 100 feet large video projection, accompanied by a theatric performance of mechanical robots and a musical number. Since its premiere in Turkey, more than 500.000 people come to witness the futuristic spectacle. 

Jeon’s current project requires him to travel often, spending time in various cities and laboratories, fully scrubbed up for empirical research. He has set out to make the world’s smallest color animation which will be smaller than 1/100th of a strand of human hair. 

In addition to his practice, Jeon runs a new company called the Korea Interdisciplinary Art Network (KoIAN). This robot and new media company directs and produces live, theatrical performances, puts on exhibitions, and makes both art and creatively designed products. Throughout his presentation, he joked about the strangeness of this innovative direction in the arts but it seems the public has been receptive and enthusiastic. In the past four years, KoIAN has made more than 100 products distributed globally that have been used by international companies and governments. 

He closed his talk just as he had opened it, with his journey’s beginning at SAIC and how that led him to artistic success and happiness through his work, “SAIC taught me the secret...it is really simple: you must watch, connect, and actualize.”