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"The word 'still life' was interesting to me because when I think about it, life is not still. When something is still, it's usually no longer alive. I think about bugs. When they're flipped over before they die, they try to move their legs, and that is a sign that they're still alive. But when they die, they don't move. So that imbalance or that movement was a sign of living."

Eunice Choi

Unlevel Level, 2023

Wantong Yao: Could you share about your relationship with Unlevel Level and how this piece fits into your broader practice?


Eunice Choi: During the summer, I was in a very off-balance state, and I felt quite off in general. I was trying to manage my emotions, my reactions, and my daily routine. I kept thinking about my thesis work that I finished in May, which was titled In Between Letting Out and Holding In. I was always interested in these in-between concepts. I would take photos of the glue left on the wall, you know, when you put a poster on the wall when they remove the poster, there is a glue mark left, and I always found that fascinating, something that was holding the poster and the architecture wall. When you're putting up glue, you don't really consider the aesthetic of the glue painting. And then, when you rip it off, you don't really care what's left. But I was always interested in what is in between in that sense. Also, when I tried to figure out my emotions, I felt that I wasn't able to have a solid state. I wasn't able to say I am what, period. I was always debating about am I this? or am I that? or going back and forth. So this state of in-between was something I was drawn to a lot, and when I saw the level with the little cylinder inside, which holds liquid and a bubble in that constant back-and-forth movement, it was something I felt resonated during the summer. It's really hard to hold the level with your body and then stay still, and when I tried to hold the level to make that bubble stay in one position, my body got really tense because I was putting a lot of force in my muscles. It's similar to how I was trying to make myself be in a certain state during the summer, to be stable as I was tired of being back and forth or not knowing what state I was in, but then me trying to force that also made my body and my mind really tired. So, I started to become interested in using level as my main medium. 

I got a lot of spirit level in Korea and then see how I feel about them being multiple. That's why I started making little sketches and drawings of what type of level I feel like. Usually, a level is just an industrial tool that is cast so it has an opaque, one-tone color, yellow look. And it's meant to be flat so it can perfectly measure. I wanted to make that strict object flexible and unable to manage. So, I thought about what type of material is more organic. Usually, measuring tools are made of plastic or metal so that they can be manufactured in a certain way. But I was drawn to more organic ones that respond to my body's pressure and movement, like clay or wood. Wood is still pretty solid, but I find it softer than metal. That's why I was leaning towards those two materials to make my levels.

Unlevel Level, 2023

Eunice Choi: At first, I wanted to make a snake level. I was going towards very specific metaphors. Because, at the time, I was still obsessed with trying to make myself level. And now, this prompt of being balanced was getting scarier and scarier. Although I am fascinated by snakes when they move, there is a part of me that is scared of snakes. And their movement is very slow, almost unexpectable, so I was thinking, what if it's like a snake that has a spirit level in its body, that you really don't know where it's gonna go. But later, I started to feel like, oh, maybe I'm focusing too much on the negative emotions I have in levels. 
 
I am considering doing more iterations of custom levels. And I think at one point, I want to make a snake level. In this iteration, I focused more on my emotional reaction to what I was feeling at the time, myself, and how I was responding to things. As it was my first iteration, I didn't want to put too much metaphor in one object. So, I tried to break it down. One was the clay one, which is softer. It has three steps for each object that is becoming more and more flexible. It's not something you interact with. But you see the step-down and see each object transform, which suggests this stiff, straight object becoming more and more responding to gravity.


Wantong Yao: It's like a stop-motion animation juxtaposing each frame together.

 

Eunice Choi: So that was one level I made. Another one was the circular one that rotates. I knew I wanted to use multiple levels at once because of the feeling that I tried to manage one thing in my life, and then another thing happened, and I felt shaken, like this continuum of leveling. So I was trying to make one object that contains a lot of levels that you really can't level everything at once. I guess there was a part of me trying to tell myself, oh, we cannot make everything perfectly still. At that point, when I was thinking about the word still, I was thinking about still life painting. I remember when I was learning painting during my undergrad, you set up the objects for a still life painting. The word "still life" was interesting to me because when I think about it, life is not still. When something is still, it's usually no longer alive. I think about bugs. When they're flipped over before they die, they try to move their legs, and that is a sign that they're still alive. But when they die, they don't move. So that imbalance or that movement was a sign of living. That was something happening in my mind at the time.

Wantong Yao: You mentioned that it's actually very difficult to keep the level horizontally perfect and still when you hold it with your body. I think that suggests a performance potentiality of the piece, which is now partially visible within the interactive component of the circular level. Also, I want to mention the tragic accident happened during the exhibition opening. Someone accidentally broke one of the non-interactive levels because they wanted to touch it and hold it with their body so much.

Eunice Choi: When I experienced that during the opening day, I was shocked. But part of me took it as a compliment.  Whenever I make something interactive, it will be broken by the end of the exhibition, so I was kind of used to it. For my projects that happened in UCLA Design Media Arts (DMA) in the past two years, I somehow didn't push the interactivity that much as a core thing compared to my undergrad projects. In my undergraduate studies, I pushed interactivity as the main thing. And then here, I was trying to figure out how I respond to the question I have that leads to not necessarily inviting or interactive work. But Unlevel Level happened to be in a situation where people wanted to interact, and things got broken. Somehow, I found it pleasing to see. Especially the one at the bottom, I think people wanted to put it in their body curvature. People were sharing feedback they wanted to put on their shoulders and around the body, trying to measure things with that distorted level. I think that's interesting. I would like to have a level that needs multiple people or a distorted level that tries to measure other things. I think those are things that I can explore. I was also thinking about that shape level I put in my belly, and I quite like how it hugs my belly. I think the relationship to the body is interesting.

The Squishy Project, 2018

Wantong Yao: It is interesting to hear that interactivity used to be a major part of your focus or part of your design consideration. My first encounter with your work was your BFA thesis work at SAIC, The Squishy Project, which invited people to touch and squish the objects in a water tank. The objects suggested interactivity and provoked play. I notice that interactivity, the meaning or the use of it in your work, has changed over time. For example, your work In Between Letting Out and Holding In also has that component of interaction where viewers are welcomed to open the refrigerator door and hold the metal book in their hands. I feel like right now, interactivity is no longer an intentional design decision but is instead gently embedded within part of the experience.


Eunice Choi: Thinking about that shift, when I was starting a project during my undergrad, I already had a specific audience in mind, and that led to having a specific interaction setup. For example, for the work I did in the Children's Museum, I knew it was going be a family audience, it's gonna be children, so I made the object or material choices based on my audience. However, most of the projects that I've been doing in DMA just started with my own questions and struggles, as I was very confused about different types of things. I was trying not necessarily to find a solution but to understand. So, for me, my project doesn't hold an answer. It is in progress because I don't know the answer. 

If I can specify the audience, I would be the main audience of my project. But then I was also sharing my project that was made for myself with the public. I am still processing how I am positioned or what direction I'm trying to take. I think this piece (In Between...) was the one that I felt most difficult to figure out because I was having a difficult time figuring out my own emotions and then gauging how I would feel if I shared this with other people or something beyond my bandwidth. So, I tried to figure out what I would be comfortable doing and what I would like to allow in the space. I had some unexpected interactions or feedback with audiences. Many of them were unexpected, unexpectedly good, that I can be vulnerable with people I didn't have the chance before.
 

In Between Letting Out and Holding In, 2023

Eunice Choi: I was afraid of getting personal with the projects. During my first year, I was trying to make work from the questions I was struggling with or trying to figure them out. And somehow me focusing on my own question felt very foreign to me. I felt like I shouldn't do that. Then I realized that for my undergrad projects, I unconsciously tried to avoid putting myself in the project. They might have a specific style, but then I didn't really share my identity in the work. I show my way of processing the material, but then it's not really me or my life. Now, when I make a project, I have to include myself because I was coming up with the question and my own struggle and reaction. The thesis piece was the most different project I felt because of the context, but also because of how personal it was. For many projects, I like when people respond with laughter or when I see the joy as they interact with it. For this thesis piece, I wasn't able to make any kind of work like that. I think that was the very, very opposite emotion I was trying to figure out, and I haven't really tried to make a project with that type of emotion.

I don't know how to frame it, but making that piece did have an effect on my practice. I think now I'm trying to do more. When I think about the projects that I'm interested in right now, they are related to wetness, which is also coming from the cucumber and tears. So we'll see, as I'm trying to figure out what my way of being personal would be, and what direction I would take in the future.

In Between Letting Out and Holding In, 2023

Wantong Yao: Here is our next question. I’ve always thought of your work as poetry or metaphor materialized in object forms. Through seeing, playing, and contemplating with these objects, I learn and unlearn the associations between self, others, and surroundings embedded within my unconscious habits. I wonder how you see/define your own objects. Are they sculptures, installations, instruments, playthings, tools, or anything else?

 

Also, one thing that stands out to me is that, usually, for your exhibition, you don't have just one central object, but instead, you create this interplay of multiple interconnected objects juxtaposed at the same time and space. I think each of your objects plays a row of a line of poetry. Together, they compose that poem for me. 
 

Eunice Choi: When you mentioned the individual lines, I really love it because that's what I'm hoping to do for the next iteration with the level piece. Because with the thesis piece, I really wanted to have a space that I could surround myself with and where I could be. And as I often start a project, I get motivation or inspiration from my mundane environment. If I'm in a certain emotion or certain mood, some objects or environment lingers more in my head, I will notice more often, or certain things will show up more when I walk around. Maybe because of that, I wanted to create a space that has the same language that I'm seeing, like the cucumber for the thesis piece. All I can see was in the context of sadness, confusion, grieving, and then every object that I see, even if they don't have any connection, to me, I read them in that perspective. So it was almost like having a filter. I remember having a conversation with Professor Jenna Caravello about this: when you cry, your eyes are covered with the liquid, so everything gets distorted. I think that was kind of similar to how I was feeling, that I was seeing the world in a certain state of mind. And I love children's picture books. So I want to have an installation that feels like a children's picture book like you're reading its visuals and storylines. Maybe it's linear, maybe it's nonlinear. But when you're reading the book, as you flip the page and read the story, you absorb the visuals and the metaphors.

The Dog and The Socks, 2022

Eunice Choi: I guess that's how I want my audience to feel in the space: you go in, you see the objects, maybe you see them in a certain order, maybe you don't, maybe you walk around, and some object speaks more to you. But then, I guess as one package, I want my objects to be like a story. 

And for your question, I don't know what the right word to call them would be. I often call them sculptures, objects, things I've made. But they do have this overlapping quality. When I think about my process, I try to write down all the fragments that are happening in my head, almost like a messy notebook where some parts are diaries and some parts are sketches. Then, some come more often, or some have overlapping features, and that becomes a connecting point or a metaphor. That's how I made my solo show piece, The Dog and The Socks. I was writing about how stressed I was at the time. I saw a lot of dogs in the sculpture garden. So, it was like there were little doodles of dogs. And I saw dogs smelling something or being very obsessive with things. Then I saw there were overlapping things, with me getting obsessive with my thoughts and dogs being obsessive with certain objects. So, I decided to use this as my metaphor or keywords for the project. I think that happens often. I have a bunch of fragmented thoughts or lingering observations, and somehow, they kind of match together.

Wantong Yao: Would you mind describing your solo show?

 

Eunice Choi: The Dog and The Socks is a solo show installation that I made with paper mache. There are three dogs, multiple socks, and one small couch that has a hidden sock underneath it. As I explained before, socks represent my thoughts, and dogs are myself. There are three different types of dogs. One dog is in the center of the space, and it is a blue dog looking up. And there's a rotating hanger with a bunch of different socks in different shapes and different colors. That is like me trying to look at the thoughts, like a train of thoughts that is looping. There are different socks; some of them are paired, some are not, some have holes, and some are very different in form and color. That is me having a lot of thinking happening. There's a dog pulling the long sock, and there's no end of the sock. That's like me trying to figure out one thought, but I can't really figure it out, so it's like dragging all these socks for thoughts. The last one is a dog on wheels. And it is wearing socks on its paws. I came up with this metaphor because I saw this video on the internet that dogs wear shoes or socks, and their body movements become very rigid. That is me when I'm thinking in a certain way or when I'm trying to force myself to think in a certain way, and my movement or my thoughts become very rigid or awkward. The other socks iteration, for instance, the one under the couch, is about how dogs sometimes hide their toys somewhere they can reach privately, and I felt like that's kind of like me trying to hide away certain thoughts for a while. Also on the wall, there are other sock iterations: a sock that looks like dynamite, a sock that looks like grapes, and a sock that looks like a mother duck and duckling ... Each was me trying to figure out these explosive thoughts, so it's like a dynamite; I have thoughts that come as a package so it's like grapes; mother duck and duckling is like one major thought and the baby thoughts that come along. So, I was trying to make metaphors for my thoughts to break them down and categorize them.

 

What I like about this project a lot is that dogs were responding. They tried to smell the butt (of the paper mache dogs), and they got angry. I felt really honored.

The Dog and The Socks (Dog Interaction), 2022

Wantong Yao: I'm going to move on to our last question. I think you have elaborated on part of your methodology during our conversation about the Dog and the Socks piece. I wonder if there's anything else you want to add and maybe share more about your process of making.

Specifically, I am also curious about your relationship with technology. Within the digital media arts sphere at DMA, does technology influence your artistic process? Is consideration of technology part of your artmaking? If so, how? And if not, why?

 

Eunice Choi: I am curious about that too. I think I'm still digesting my experience in the grad program. When I started, I expected myself to go towards more digital forms. Yet somehow, I always ended up with the physical forms. I think one part is that I had this desire for physical things more than ever. So, even though my process includes using fabricating machines like I would do 3d modeling, I would CNC or 3d print some of them or either casting, or sometimes I will scan them for post-processing or for another iteration. Then, I somehow always came back for material exploration with physical materials. What I also tried to understand is that I started to respond more about the error or the mistake or something leaking in the process. I think my first project in DMA was me trying to respond to the coding class.

 

It was a really great class because Professor Chandler McWilliams was trying to help us learn coding as writing. It felt like learning a different language. My first language is not English. So when I do projects or just try to process thoughts in general, I often do research, like finding the definition. Because people in different countries sometimes use the same word in different contexts. They have different synonyms for each word. Sometimes, they match in different languages. Sometimes, they don't. I think that is similar to how I process metaphors, that finding synonyms is trying to find the overlap in a different context. But going back to coding language, as it was like learning a new language, I try to understand what I can understand, what I am used to, or what I feel foreign about. Often, my coding was not working. I wrote something, but there was something missing. I didn't speak that language well, so it's not activated or functioning. And that's the part that I found really interesting: when I translate something in English or in Korean, there's something that is missed, mistranslated, or there's a term that cannot be really translated into different languages. That type of error was something I found similar to those experiences that I tried to translate. 

 

And then, when I think about my response to technology in this department, my daily life always incorporates technology. I use my phone all the time. I use a Mac. I'm exposed to people using different types of software and different languages. I think that gives me an opportunity to expose, almost like a foreign country, and you learn languages. As I mentioned, I'm learning English as a second language, and translating or finding synonyms gives me inspiration. I think it's kind of similar to how I feel about technology.  There are technologies that I feel comfortable with, like fabricating machines, but there are technologies that I feel are very foreign, like AI. But then trying to engage with it is interesting for me. So, I'm curious whether I will be doing more digital work in the future.

INTERVIEWER: WANTONG YAO

CURATOR: KE ZHANG, WANTONG YAO, CHENYU LIN

EDITOR: WANTONG YAO, YUXUAN WEI, CHENYU LIN

GRAPHIC DESIGNER: YUXUAN WEI

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Eunice Choi is an artist who creates sculpture and installation as an instrument to revisit mundane experiences and self-reflective questions.

  

  

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