Espoo Museum of Modern Art

Sougwen Chung: Assembly Lines

Sougwen 愫君 Chung is a Chinese-Canadian artist and researcher, and the founder and artistic director of Scilicet, a London-based studio exploring human & non-human collaboration. 

A former research fellow at MIT’s Media Lab, Chung is considered a pioneer in the field of human-machine collaboration, exploring the mark-made-by-hand and the mark-made-by-machine as an approach to understanding the dynamics of humans and systems. Their speculative critical practice spans performance, installation, and drawing. In the work, Chung’s art and research contextualises the process of working with AI systems and robotics as collaboration, most prominently recognized in Drawing Operations Unit: Generation 1-5.

For EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Chung created Assembly Lines, a large-scale kinetic installation featuring a new multi-robotic system Drawing Operations Unit: Generation 5 (D.O.U.G._5). D.O.U.G._5, explores spectrality – utilising an E.E.G headset and biofeedback technologies linked to Chung’s brainwaves while engaging in centering rituals like drawing and meditating. In the work, the stillness of the human subject is the conduit for painterly machine gestures.

Assembly Lines  begins with a live meditation that forms the basis for a 24 minute performance in which Chung creates with D.O.U.G._5 across three canvases. The performance is an improvisation – exploring instinctive rhythms of painting through human and machine co-creation by intertwining the gestural authorship of biological and mechanical subjects in the space. The role of biofeedback in the system further complicates the role of human intent in the creation of the canvases. Far from the established use of robotics as tools of automations in assembly lines in factories, Chung’s Assembly Lines explores the exhibition’s theme ‘In Search of the Present’ as a ceremony of closeness and collaboration, between the biological and mechanical, performer and audience.

The synchronicity of movement results in visual artefacts and an immersive sonic environment. Real-time sonification and spatialisation of the robotic gestures are recorded through the use of contact microphones within the space. Movements of Chung and the robotics reverberate as they make contact on the surface of the performance platform – as brushstroke meets canvas. 

The echo of artist and robotic mark-making in collaboration are transposed through an octophonic sound system. Placed across the room, the sound immerses the audience in a multi-sensorial environment, creating a composition of neural and synaptically linked gestures.

What new relational perspectives can emerge when human and machine subjects create on the same plane?

The resulting paintings form part of the Assembly Lines installation, created during the performance between Chung and the robotics at the opening of the exhibition. Accompanying short film Assembly Lines: Expanse [extending], can be viewed within the exhibition space.

Scilicet Credits:
Concept: Sougwen Chung
Robotic Development: Sougwen Chung
Technical Direction: Sougwen Chung
Production: Tessa Nijdam
Sound Composition: Aquarian
Spatial Sound Design: Neda Sanai

Film Direction: Sougwen Chung
Director of Photography: Peter Butterworth
Storyboard: Pierce Eldridge, Tessa Nijdam
Film Editing: Peter Butterworth
Film Production: Tessa Nijdam
Sound Composition: Aquarian

EMMA Credits:
Curation: Ingrid Orman, Arja Miller
Project Management: Milja Liimatainen
Construction of Platform, AV-rentals, Backline, and Technical Consultancy: Lasse Lindfors, Olli Lukkari, Sami Supply. 

The work premiered at EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art in the exhibition In Search of the Present in 2022 and was produced as a collaboration between Studio Scilicet and EMMA, generously supported by the Saastamoinen Foundation.  


Curatorial text by Sougwen Chung and Studio Scilicet.