Art, New York Artists

Poetic Computation: The Handmade Computers of Taeyoon Choi

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Designers praise Apple for covering their circuit boards in clean, curved skins. Consumers demand software that is unobtrusive and hardware that is small and tucked away. The rising Internet of Things fills the human habitat with computers that are only distinguishable from analog objects by the intelligent behaviors they exhibit when no one is watching.

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In a market driven by invisibility and utility, the handmade computer installations of New York and Seoul-based artist Taeyoon Choi are more likely to remind the casual observer of “toys” than “machines.” Toys and art have a core value in common, so far as the general public is concerned; no one expects them to “do” anything. Well, nothing productive anyway.

While the tasks that occupy Choi’s computers are often inscrutable (animating cutlery at Ikeaconducting measurements of personalised time), it is not their whimsical programming but rather the bright colors and blinking circuit boards that make it challenging to categorize the objects as computers.

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Apps and user interfaces that feel alive and welcoming are normal in day-to-day life — even expected. However, the general picture of the hardware under the surface is drab and gray. No one expects a computer’s guts to be warm.

Yet here they are: sprawled across a table, requesting interaction. Primary colors help decipher the hidden meanings of their connections. Helpful hand-painted cartoons encourage the viewer to approach the objects as friends.

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Asks Choi, “What if our computers are handcrafted with love, much like the early homebrew computers from the 60s, but for today’s needs?” The question that remains is, what are those needs? Perhaps, in part, for a consideration of our relationship to computers — their physical presence in our lives — as much as for the functions they serve.

—words by Jameson Zimmer