echo(); Listening to the reflection of obsolete technology

by Leo (Laewoo) Kang


‘echo()’ is an ongoing series of multimedia art projects that intends to explore alternative and creative uses of obsolete and broken technologies. Currently, two versions of echo() have been developed to provide experiential spaces in which the audience can playfully and creatively interact with diverse mundane and obsolete technologies around our daily life. Main idea of this series is (a) to highlight the potential creativity embedded in reflective and reuse practice of obsolete technology, and (b) to provide heuristic spaces where people can think and discuss about this topic in both aesthetic and critical ways.

In this project, various mundane and obsolete electronics, such as B/W tube screens, old radio, cassette player, and electronic typewriter have been collected from local streets, second-hand stores and personal donations. After collecting, the author began the process of ‘reflection’ in which he actively explored the inner working and logics as well as material aesthetic in collected technologies by means of diverse craft and repair tools.

On the process of this reflection practice, the author often encountered unexpected joy, challenge, mystery and artistic inspirations from the functionality and materiality embedded in these outdated technologies: after-image effect of old tube screens, dragging sound of tape-player, weirdly big design of old electronics, and others. Those things are still alive around us providing its own and unreplaceable aesthetic and functionality, which are often considered as useless or mundane things in our function-oriented society.

Those inspiration and discoveries naturally led the author to think about the reuse of them beyond the contexts and functions. In other words, what naturally motivate the author to use the obsolete media was not only ecological responsibility on E-waste, but mainly inquisitiveness on the function and aesthetic embedded in outdated and broken technologies. From this combination of reflection and reuse practice, two installations are produced.

The first project, ‘echo() I ’ is comprised of six obsoletes B/W tube screens, and other light sources. This installation interacts with the audience’s sound received from the standing microphone. These old screens are standing tilted on the floor, entangled with incandescent lighting sources and other obsolete media. When the audience makes sound on the microphone, the screens start printing out diverse pattern of characters, and the brightness of the lights changes according to the volume and the frequency of the input sound.

echo interacts with Lascia ch'io pianga from Rinaldo

‘echo II’ is an eight channel electronic controller where a user can automatically switch eight different obsolete technologies on and off according to the selected tempo. Diverse electronics such as broken typewriter, cassette player, metallic fire alarm have been repurposed and connected to the custom-designed interface to create rhythmical patterns of the sounds and visuals of the connected electronics.

The process of building these works also have been also studied through a general auto-ethnography study with an extensive process of documentation and reflection, captured through a rich combination of cameras, video, and self-interview. The motivation of this study is to understand how our creative cognition interact with the situation of repairing and reusing broken and obsolete technologies. Main contribution of this project is to provide useful examples that presents how design creativity may be emerged though reflective and reusing practices of broken technology can promote art and design creativity.