PhD Student Hye Yeon Nam Combines Art and Digital Media to Reflect Society

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The Digital Media program is home to students of many foundational backgrounds, ranging from not only computer science and engineering, but also humanities and art. PhD student Hye Yeon Nam uses her art and design educational background and combines it with what she is learning in the Digital Media program to create innovative pieces of art.

“I learned traditional art media such as video, silkscreen, glass, and sculpture before I experienced cutting-edge technology,” says Nam. “At Georgia Tech, I’m not only learning the influence of digital technology on traditional medium and how I can collaborate with the two.”

Nam’s primary focus has been incorporating digital technology into her artwork to create interactive installations. She recently completed a piece entitled “Hooray.” In “Hooray,” 208 human figures individually bow when participants approach.– when the participants’ shadows block light sensors, motors are activated, which cause the figures to bow.

“Hooray represents a power relationship in society,” Nam explains. “When participants get closer to Hooray, their shadows seem like overwhelming small-scaled human figures, which bow to show their obedience to the participants. I think our society is not really a democracy. An individual’s money, power, and reputation are still organized in a hierarchy. Society sometimes subtly misguides people through mass media, policy, or laws because they opt to represent people who have power and influence.”

In addition to the interactive element, “Hooray” also includes a video of an Asian woman bowing and smiling for 10 minutes.

“This video specifically represents Asian culture, which expects women to be sweet and submissive,” says Nam. “‘Hooray’ represents a general concept of a hierarchical society with the video showing a specific example of Asian culture as two works in a set.”

Images from Nam's piece "Self Portrait"

Another one of Nam’s installations, entitled “Self Portrait” is currently being exhibited at the Asia Society Texas Center in Houston until April. It previously showed at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery last year. In May, the exhibit will move to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles until September.

“‘Self Portrait’ is a performance video, which conveys my personal feeling of alienation and isolation,” Nam says. “It consists of four video projections, and in each projection, I perform simple, everyday tasks, such as eating, drinking, and walking. However, in each situation, I have difficulty completing these tasks.”

The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s description of her piece says, “With her patient and resolute response to the difficult situations she encounters, Nam provides a reminder that ‘fitting in’ requires constant negotiation between the self and perceived expectations — a challenge to which we can all relate.”

 

In addition, Nam also has a solo show, “Unfamiliar Behavior” at the Telfair Museum in Savannah until the end of April. This piece reflects the complexity of social relationships by making the familiar strange.

Nam’s interactive installations and pieces that reflect Nam’s own feelings of fitting into society are beautiful examples of how art and digital media can come together seamlessly to create compelling works of art.

“I research new affordances of digital technology and aspects of interactive installations as particular forms of engagement to their

audiences that provide different experiences,” Nam says. “I clarify instances of interactive installations surrounded by digital art and performance theories within the subgenre of digital media. I want to contribute to the study of performance theories and provide different perspectives for looking at work in the digital art community.”

For more information on Hye Yeon Nam’s work, please visit her website.