TTC: I use the technology, or whatever’s available nowadays to have some sort of contemporary touch.
TTC: So I can use physical computing which is much easier. I use the 3D printer so I can design by computer and print it out and design my own movement.
TTC: With the crows it’s all about the failure of artists basically, so the crows simply keep repeating all the rejection letters I received for failed applications I have done through my life. It always begins like: Dear Mr Chang, you have such amazing work but unfortunately…
SS: ...but however, nevertheless, with enormous sadness, we have to tell you to go away and do something completely different.
Because there’s always an issue between an automaton maker and what the automaton then does. Precisely because, and this is one of your things, because of the programme, right? That on the one hand we absolutely know when we’re looking and listening to these birds, that they’re not going to do anything that’s surprising to you because you’ve programmed them. But they’re surprising to us.
So we’re always in this very unstable situation when we see an android or an animatronic or an automaton on show. We absolutely know it’s programmed and we have no idea what’s going to happen next and 250 years ago that was a way of making sense of the problem of free will. So, one of the things I adore about the game you’re playing with these birds is that they stand for repeated failure.
TTC. In a way its robotic, pre-programmed, so they just need to change the name on the letter. From Simon to Bill to Peter... So in a way, HOW OUR world in THE CONTEMPORARY LIFE is full of robotic things.
TTC One, there is about what is real, what is dead things and what is artificial things. I use the real crows, cut it open and make it into a robot. Secondly, it’s about how you see the idea of the artist behind it. This is why I programmed it to speak, WHY ITS A DIALOGUE -- but at the same time, you don’t really know if I’m being really serious or not. There’s always some sort of ambiguity between the audience and the artist if it’s authentic or not
SS: Seeing what’s really going on in the world is always also seeing the machinery inside and seeing what’s behind. And I think that’s part of what is going on here.
SS: Is that a Daoist idea?
TTC: The Daoist idea would be more about what is appearance. Like there’s, for instance, a crow, there’s a pigeon, seeing like different, individual living things but actually everything’s related in a way. They call it Dao, they call it the linkage between the sky and the earth, it’s about some sort of circulation behind everything. So, in a way -- it’s related
SS: One of the things that I think is very striking about the Orientalism of automata in European culture is for a very long time. For Europeans it was the East that was the land of the automatons, for three reasons. One is that the easterners peculiarly love automata. Secondly, there was a kind of paranoid conspiracy theory Europeans often have which is that Easterners want make everybody else into robots. And thirdly there is the European idea that Easterners are fatalists, that they don’t have a very strong idea of individualism or freedom. So for those three reasons, they like automata, they want to make us automata, and that they basically are automata. There’s always been that Eastern theme, in this kind of design and construction, and this is also absolutely what’s at stake here.
We are at a moment now where the whole politics of mobility, migration, labour and skill is right at the top of the agenda. Partly because of racism, partly because of xenophobia, partly because of bad and good reactions to certain kinds of globalisation. It seems to me a lot of that is going on in your work, especially in this set of installations and I think that animatronics is a very interesting way of thinking through and showing some of what’s at stake there, precisely because of, precisely concealment, invisibility and amnesia. What the new information technology revolution means is a much greener, less exploitative environment.
This is, of course, rubbish. And one way in which it is obviously rubbish and yet, hides the fact that it is, is by systematically drawing our attention away from the production of the commodities on which objects like this depend. So all the rare earths inside the circuits that drive the crow are invisible to us, just like all the assembly lines, which make all the machinery on which we depend.
TTC: Actually a lot of parts I take parts from toys – mass produced toys. So it’s always fully covered, you have to open it up but you don’t know how many messages are there within the mechanism. I have to work with the right message with the circuits board. So a lot of them are Chinese. So everything is in Chinese, something like “Sam Chang was here”, or “don’t copy these circuits”, some people write “help me” or something