Briefly describe the work you do.
Why does one care for certain people, yet regard others almost like living objects? Why does one form prejudice against others? We tend to ignore the intrinsic human qualities of others as we walk around in the public; we don’t perceive others as entities with lives just as complex and aspirations just as concrete as our own. We easily form assumptions of others through superficial cues, and forget the inherent similarities we share. My works are interactive structures that attempt to subvert these social tendencies and connect two strangers on a simple yet emotional level. They take on utilitarian appearances similar to that of public facilities such as playgrounds and phone booths, and are placed in public areas. I utilize these familiar forms to suggest possible ways of usage, and encourage passersby’s voluntary interaction. Once two participants activate the structure, they are prompted to playfully interact with each other through limited methods such as eye contact, and perceive each other’s presence from a different perspective. These structures pronounce certain biometric and emotional features of the participants, such as eyes, hands, and breathing, and allow them to examine each other closely. The simultaneous action of observing and being observed puts participants on an intimate level often deliberately avoided in public settings. By disrupting our social settings with discordant and distinctive structures, I challenge our habit of shielding ourselves from strangers, forming judgments from superficial cues and regarding others as persons of less substantial humanity then ourselves as we coexist in the public realm.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
My earlier years in college spent around many activist friends shaped my determination to challenge the status quo. I realized issues such as gender equality and racism are built in to the foundations of our society. We are brought up in environments with pervasive sexist and racist ideas, and we have trouble imagining how our world can be otherwise. These issues cannot be changed by laws and policies alone, as they require an update to our mindsets. With the rise of Humans of New York to popularity, I started to investigate our mental process of perceiving strangers in public. How can we alter our environment to facilitate an empathetic approach towards others? How can we modify the design of our streets and public transportation to encourage a fundamental understanding of our fellow humans?
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I have a studio space that I spend very little time in, because most of my research takes place in public areas. The studio space is just a temporary resting place for the interactive structures I created. In a way, the city is my studio; it is where I learn and develop ideas.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I adopted a pedagogical approach in the beginning of my practice. I created pieces that embody my beliefs, and presented them as objects from which the viewer draws information, and this resulted in a distance between the audience and myself. Recently, I turned to interactive works that are only activated when two participants interact with it simultaneously. I consistently found myself acting as a mediator between my sculptures and the audience. This happened specifically when I placed my works in public areas, where passersby are generally cautious toward unusual objects. I had to actively invite strangers to interact with my works, and explain my intent clearly and succinctly.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
The most coherent ideas come to my mind past midnight, when a sense of quiet stillness spreads over my room. Worries and obligations from the day temporarily fade away as I plan out my new works, and leave me with the capacity to critically assess my concepts.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
Five years ago, I started creating sculptures out of materials gathered from a nearby dumpster. I couldn’t quite grasp the impact that art and artists create in our society, but I wanted to improve our lives somehow. These sculptures presented the effect human waste had on our environment, and aimed to persuade viewers into adopting more environmentally friendly lifestyles. I continuously questioned the extent to which my works contributed to the fight against pollution, and found my approach to be ineffective. I started to evaluate the strengths of art as a tool for driving change, and realized that art is extremely effective in instigating emotions. Simultaneously, I transitioned to interactive art. By having the audience adopt an active role in their perception and become co-creators of my sculptures, I attempted to shift the audience’s focus from what is presented to what they feel.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Artists such as Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and George Ferrandi both create works that question the idea of a “stranger”, and have inspired many of my pieces.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
At various times of my college life, I had sudden urges to stop making art and become an urban designer, architect, astronomer, industrial designer, or even a physicist. However, these bursts of determination are generally short-lived.
Daniel Shieh is from Taiwan, and currently studies Fine Arts in Washington University in St. Louis. He aims to alter the way people perceive each other in public, and creates interactive sculptures that encourage strangers to see each other in a new perspective.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.