An afternoon in Geneva, during the last edition of Mapping Festival ( I had the opportunity to meet and interview Sougwen Chung that during the festival was presenting her new installation Chiaroscuro at the Bâtiment d’art Contemporain (BAC).

Sougwen Chung is an interdisciplinary artist whose work explores transitional edges – where the mark-made-by-hand meets the mark-made-by-machine, where light meets sound, and form meets formlessness. If drawing is an analogy for basic human expression, then what does that mean when drawings are hybridized/catalyzed with software, sound, light, and space? Working across print, digital and environmental mediums, Sougwen’s immersive work plays with contrasts and transitions, when those liminal experiences where our human-ness is thrown into high relief by our use of and ever-deepening relationship with technology.

Chiaroscuro, as the title suggests, explores the relationship between light (Chiaro) and dark (Oscuro), between the outer and the inner facets of our existence. In a world overwhelmed by digital artistic productions, Sougwen is able to create a liminal space through the accurate construction of a personal visual language and the combination of hand-drawn abstracts forms, haunting sounds, and projected LED lights.

It was a great pleasure knowing and talking to Sougwen about what today being an artist means, and learning how passionate she is about exploring new trajectories to express herself, always pushing the boundaries between tradition and innovation.


Donata Marletta: Can you tell me something about your artistic background?

Sougwen Chung: I am a Canadian-born Chinese-raised artist. I have a formal education in fine art, digital media, and interactive art accompanied by a classical training in violin from which a fascination with abstract form and the interdisciplinary process has developed. My work has grown out of an exploration of the parallels between instrumentation (creating sound composition with gesture and direct tactile input) and mark-making (creating visual compositions with gesture and tactile input), often expressed through drawing in some form. I am fairly transfixed by transitional edges — broadly the space in which the hand-made interacts with the machine-made, the performative with the digital, the intuitive to the technical, and how investigations in that expanse can augment or distort simple expressions.

Donata Marletta: Tradition and Technology seem to be common threads in most of your artistic production. How do you blend such different and contrasting elements together?

Sougwen Chung: I don’t see tradition and technology as oppositional or mutually exclusive. I utilize the technology of tradition, and are we not growing into a tradition of technology?  In so-far-as we can frame a narrative around tradition as that which is made by hand, and technology as that which is made by machine, the work I’m doing is certainly an exploration of the possibilities in the intersection of both… one that is gaining clarity the further along I go. One could say I’m investigating the mediums in which I work as the development of a finished work is a inspired by how the piece transmutes between mediums. Shifting between the real to the virtual and back again.

Thus far these investigations have taken the form of installation, performance, and still image — developing organic abstraction with a keen sense of the role of sound and/or score, coupled with an affinity for somewhat obsessive detail, form and composition. 


Donata Marletta: What’s the main concept that inspired you for your latest work Chiaroscuro?

Sougwen Chung: The installation displayed upstairs here at the BAC for the Mapping Festival is called Chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is a term describing the interplay between light and dark; it is an old painting reference that I sought to reinterpret in this space. The installation exists in two modes; Chiaro: a large-scale sculptural drawing piece and Oscuro: as projected visuals and layers of interior and exterior light. Chiaroscuro’s strength is in its intricacy and formal composition. When illuminated by the LED strips and projection, it creates an interplay in between light and shadow that communicates an abstract narrative and envelops the viewer. The optical illusion created when the interior and exterior illumination intertwines affects a hypnotic and expressive state. 

Donata Marletta: Can you tell me something about the process of installing Chiaroscuro? How did you interact with the exhibition space?

Sougwen Chung: The piece at Mapping Festival is the largest installation of Chiaroscuro  thus far.  It’s a highly craft-oriented and bespoke installation process; a combination of assembled large-scale hand-cut drawings as well as line-work drawn on site.  Each installation is unique to the space in which I install. As it has been quite a physical commitment to construct the form as a single person, the installation process ends up taking on some performative qualities as I immerse myself fully into days of on-site improvisation. There’s a suspense to the making that fuels the creative process, which, in the future I intend to document.

The success of it relies on the effect of numerous minute details that flourish to compose an otherworldly, intricate environment of abstract organic form. In future iterations, I aim to build upon the performative qualities of the mark making that comprises the making of Chiaroscuro. As the layers of light transform the sculpture,  the construction of the sculpture transforms the space. How would the piece communicate if both were unfolding in real time under the gaze of an audience?


Donata Marletta: What kind of tools/materials do you use (analogue/digital)?

Sougwen Chung: Paper and black ink, as well as canvas and paint… charcoal and cloth…magnets, steel rods, LEDs, wood, film, acetate… silk… Photoshop, Illustrator, Cinema4d, Processing, nano-controllers, electric violin, Wacom tablet, Arduino, projectors, madmapper…  I use pretty much any material/tool/software I find inspiring at any given time. 

Donata Marletta: How do you select the appropriate sounds for your works?

Sougwen Chung: With Chiaroscuro I had the pleasure of collaborating with the talented and prolific NY-Based composer, Praveen Sharma (Sepalcure / Braille –, a rare talent whose evocative work spans multiple genres and mediums. In general, certain composers / compositions have a particular resonance as I tend to gravitate towards sounds with a particular texture or compositional arc. I’ve been experimenting with creating soundscapes with an electric violin that could function as either a controller or an audio input to drive visuals for a forthcoming project

Donata Marletta: Would you like to create a piece in a specific site/venue?

Sougwen Chung: I’d like to… if the right space or opportunity presents itself.


Donata Marletta: Are you working on a new project at the moment?

Sougwen Chung: I’m working on a solo show in partnership with Public Functionary in Minneapolis (US). Over the course of the next few weeks, their space will be transformed into several rooms, showcasing my work across drawing, projection, film, and installation. I anticipate it being an immersive linear progression that I’m excited to share. I’ll be posting updates on my website and social media channels.