"Hello World" by Yunchul Kim

Electrohype meets Neutrohype

Electrohype: Lars and Anna
Lars and Anna from Electrohype

A couple of days ago I had the great pleasure of meeting with Lars and Anna from Electrohype, the art organisation producing the most excellent biennale for contemporary art in this region mixing arts and technology. Electrohype celebrates their 10th year of existence in 2010. They have managed to produce five large exhibitions and build a fantastic network of international artists and competence within contemporary art.

In our conversations about physics, technology and the crafts and creative processes in the arts, it became clear how these are all integrated and drive each other in the development of human culture and innovation. The Electrohype exhibitions are great in revealing these connections and stimulating new ideas, no matter which kind of visitor you are.

Personally, I have been at two Electrohype exhibitions so far, 2004 at Malmö Konsthall and 2006 at Lund Konsthall.

A favorite work at the 2006 exhibition was Yunchul Kim’s “Hello World”. I’m going to describe my experience of this work a bit further here just to give you a idea what can be stumbled upon at Electrohypes exhibitions.

Electrohype exhibitions
Electrohype exhibitions

My first impression is that Hello World is a aesthetically pleasing work of art, which is not always the case with contemporary installations where a lot of focus is put into the conceptual context. Its 246 metres of glossy copper pipe, twisted in some 2,5 meter straight lines up and down in the shape of a cuboid, express a kind of visalised mathematics. Such artifacts usually displays fascinating and beautiful forms.

When moving a bit closer towards this sculpture, one hears a quiet, pouring and shimmering sound emerging from the object. The sound of a digital flicker. Something which arouses one’s curiosity further.

You get something more than just the joyful impression in front of a funny machine. You get the feeling of a sympathetic robot, like R2D2 in Starwars perhaps. The artwork feels alive and seeks contact with me as a visitor.

There is a laptop and a small audio mixing console encapsulated in a glass box on the floor next to the sculpture. An audio cable transports the electrical signal of a sound from the computer up to a little black speaker attached to one of the corners where the 246 metre long copper pipe begins its extension in the room. Here the electric signal is transformed into acoustic audio signals finding its way further in the copper pipeline.

"Hello World" by Yunchul Kim
"Hello World" by Yunchul Kim

The audio flicker which is heard from inside the pipe is generated by two high frequency beeps sent out from the laptop. The combinations produced with this minimalistic musical material is actually a transformation of binary numbers in the laptop computer. Somebody who have happened to hear the noise of computer data stored onto cassette tapes (popular method during the eighties!) will understand how this artwork sounds like.

With the speed of sound (approximately 320 m/s) it takes about 0.8 seconds for the audio to travel from one side of the pipe to the other where a michrophone is attached. With the frequency that Yunchul Kim have selected for the oscillations in the audio flicker, he is able to transfer a memory capacity of about 1 kilobyte during these 0.8 seconds. Well outside the pipe again, the audio signal is electric moving through a cable back to the computer where the never-ending circulation continues in the next loop.

The data received is thus sent out once more, which expose the data to constant change due to wear and noise through the analogue part of the journey.

- “It is just how memories are changed. My friends face as I recall it, is an altered image – not a copy of is real face” says Yunchul Kim.

The little short message of text which the audio signal really represents, is constantly kept alive by being looped, a bit like how movie frames are repeated to give the illusion of temporal continuity.

The computer informaton also manifests itself in visual form, on a flat computer screen hanging on one side at the cuboid of pipes: “Hello World!”, the text flickers.

A Hello World code in C
A Hello World code in C

For everyone who has ever struggled as a beginner with some introductory tutorial for teaching a computer programming language, this wording is legendary.

By managing to get some computer code printing out the letters “Hello World” on a display device, simple computer science principles or elements of a specific programming language can be explained to novice programmers.

Let us now leave the physical part of this installation in order to examine the more conceptual:

Yunchul Kim says that his artwork Hello World! is an analogue memory. Every piece of information (data) is coded syntactically and needs a body which can work as a medium och storage device. The media takes part in defining the meaning by dynamically initiate a process in the receiver (the visitor)  – A process which not always turns out to become what the sender originally intended.

Yunchul Kim is of Korean origin, living in Germany. The idea to this installation, he got when opening a letter sent from his mother in Korea.

- “I’ve been living in Germany for over eight years, and my mother use to send me rice cakes from home. But they manage to become too old and bad before they arrive. I live so far away from my mom, and it takes such a time for the cakes to get here. The process of decay gave me an idea. What happens if I let digital computer data travel far?”.

Yunchul Kim (1970) lives and work in Cologne. He studied musical composition at the Chugye University in Seoul, and later art studies at the Kunsthochschule für Medien in Cologne.