On view through June 17th at the Jack Straw New Media Gallery is an installation by transdisciplinary artist Chanee Choi. Born in South Korea and now based in Seattle, Choi is a PhD candidate at DXARTS at the University of Washington, investigating the artistic potential of new and experimental technology. Her latest endeavor embraces cutting edge machine learning to reveal the mysterious and poetic aspects of neurodegenerative disease.

Remembrance: Magma is an immersive animation that explores, in the artist’s own words, the poetic and painful processes of memory degeneration. Citing a known family history of dementia, Choi describes the piece as “an attempt to process [my] grief and fear by creating an aesthetic contemplation… that incorporates the current scientific understanding of the disease.” By weaving together elements of surrealism, Jungian symbols and literary inspiration from her childhood, Choi creates an experience that feels at once both singular and universal.

Despite the pandemic-driven flood of online exhibitions and virtual gallery tours, Remembrance can only be viewed in person – at least for now. Comprising several chapters, each segment is played on loop for a period of two to three weeks before the next is revealed, which means that to see the full animation requires multiple visits.

Choi designed the installation specifically for the New Media Gallery, mapping the size of the animation to the interior architecture of the space, and giving the viewer a sense of being completely enveloped by the experience.

Vivid, dreamlike landscapes undulate across three walls of the gallery, overtaking the viewer’s field of vision while an atmospheric soundscape loops overhead, recalling terrestrial field recordings and solar wind storms. We struggle to make literal sense of fish swimming through a tree canopy, or a body drifting through a mirrored portal – yet every scene seems to resonate on a deeper, intuitive level across the unconscious mind.

“The narrative of Remembrance,” Choi explains, is a rumination on the inevitable chain of family and disease, centering first on my mother in Korea before moving back through our matrilineal heritage – her mother, her grandmother who also had dementia, and then at last, “I bring it into the present, to me.”

The unexpected source material for Remembrance is a volume of the collected works of William Butler Yeats, beloved by the artist and her mother. Choi deployed AI-based generative software  to deconstruct and reconstitute segments of Yeats’ poetry.

The first program produced an original Yeats-like composition, which the second program then rendered into digital images to be arranged in narrative form for the final animation. The result is a total reconfiguration of the original data, with Yeats embedded throughout, though unrecognizable.

Choi’s technique is a refreshingly innovative take on the classic surrealist ‘cut-up method’ in which a written text is literally cut up and rearranged to create something entirely new while still embodying the original meaning.

Because the environment produced between Choi and the AI software is so perplexing, she incorporates first and third person perspectives of a single protagonist (a familiar element of modern video game design), allowing the viewer an easy point of orientation from one scene to the next. The protagonist is patterned after photographs of the artist and her mother, reinforcing ideas of lineal memory and the shared experience of hereditary disease. As this symbolic figure moves through Choi’s uncanny interior worlds, she and the viewer glean momentary glimpses of the familiar while wayfinding through uncharted terrain

“The memory of a person with dementia slowly disappears,” she explains, “but the brain is a sensor that continues to desire data. What do we become in this state?”

Choi will give a talk on her installation on Friday, June 3, 2022 at 7pm (PT) in person, on ZOOM, Facebook or Youtube. Free. Regular hours are M – F, from 10 am – 5:30pm. Free but you must make an appointment by calling 206-634-0919 or emailing [email protected]. 4261 Roosevelt Way NE in Settle’s University District.

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