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Tell us a bit about yourself...

My name is Freddie Hong, and I am a robotics researcher and computational artist living in London. My creative work explores how emerging technologies affects our relationships with the physical world and society. I make interactive art works that challenge the boundaries of authorship and control in Human-Computer Interaction. My goal is to reflect current topics in digital technologies and create captivating interactive artworks that encourage participants to experiment with smart technologies and start conversations about the impact of digital agents on our lives. I also have been a running creative coding workshop at various Universities in London.

What made you choose this career?

I have always enjoyed making things. I love using my hands, touching materials, tools and seeing an object form. As I pursued my higher education, I became more fascinated by tools and machines. From simple tools like hot-wire cutter, pottery wheel, power tools, to bigger machines like 3D printer, CNC router and milling. So I started to make machines myself. I was interested in inventing new tools and machines because they allowed me to work with the materials in different ways and create something unique. The first machine that I made was a hot-wire form cutter that could be operated by an Xbox game controller. I could use the controller to move the hot-wire with motors and cut Styrofoam in a new way. I had wanted to make this machine for a long time, but I did not know how to do this exactly. I needed to learn programming, electronics, and mechanical engineering. So I joined an MA program in Computational Art that taught me the fundamentals of programming. For most other parts, I searched online and watched YouTube tutorials to learn the skills.I was very happy with myself for building the machine from scratch on my own. It felt like creating life out of metal parts! After I built the first machine, I wanted to keep making more devices, and I looked for opportunities to do that. I didn't have a specific career goal, I just searched for something that interested me at the time, and something I felt somewhat capable of doing, something that would make me feel like I acquired something new by the end. 

Now I am part of robotics research group and here I am learning more about advanced electronics, programming and AI.

Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not please explain your journey. 

I completed formal educations; I received a BSc in Architecture and Masters in Computational art degree. After working for a few years at an architecture studio in London, I began a PhD studentship in advanced manufacturing and emerging technology that took four years. I also learned skills from workshops and classes that were independent of any institutions, such as welding, woodworks, pottery, and programming, and many YouTube tutorials.

Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?

The formal education I received has helped my career a lot. When I look back, I am very happy that I began my education in Architecture, because it taught me a wide range of skills, from physical skills like drawing, model making to digital skills like CAD, rendering and digital fabrications. I have been very lucky with my tutors and professors who helped me to become better designer / artist and I keep in touch with most of them and sometimes they offered me some important career opportunities.What I appreciated more was meeting many friends and colleagues, who I still work with. It's great to share experiences with the colleagues and support each other to grow. I also improved my technical skills and experience outside of the college, and while working in an industry as a designer and artist assistant.

For me, I had to pursue a formal education, because as an international student, I needed to be part of an institution to get a visa to remain in the country. Some of the best people I am working with now don't have a formal education. But they are all very enthusiastic about their field of work. I think the most important thing is to have fun and take advantage of the learning opportunities while you can. 

Who inspires you?

Many artists and scientists inspire me. I enjoy works that are both playful and serious. When I was studying, I was very interested in the works by Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley, I was fascinated by how they combines elements of architecture, performance, body, and play in a single installation. I also admired the works of a collaborative called Xijing Men, their humorous, sarcastic, and absurd expression influenced how I make artwork. I saw their exhibition “World of Xijing” at MMCA Seoul in 2015 and it is still one of the best exhibitions I have visited. I also find inspiration from artists and makers around me, having friends who I can talk to frequently about ideas and artworks is really helpful.

In a more technical field, I have always been excited by the research of Tangible Media Group by Hiroshi Ishii, how they blend the digital world and physical world through use of physical computing. I learned that you can be creative not just in an artistic practice but also in a technical industry.

What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of creating interactive installations with tech is the opening night. When your goal is to convey a story through interactive, kinetic, and electrical artwork, it's very disappointing when the artwork doesn't work, and there is nothing worse than the audience having to read a text to imagine how it would look if it moved. The opening night is always stressful because there are many audiences at once and you don't know for sure if the system can handle it.When I create an electrically interactive artwork, I always make sure that I have at least 1-2 weeks before the opening just tests all kinds of ways to make it fail. If I can reproduce a failure, that's a good thing. I also spend many hours trying to make the operation of the artwork as simple as possible, so whoever is running the installation, doesn't need any knowledge about electronics, but just plug and play for them.

What do you want to change about your industry?

I don't have specific suggestion on what could change in the industry right now. But for people who are in the industry those who see themselves as artists who use technology in their creative practice, I hope we can be more careful about how we tell the story of technology. I frequently encounter misappropriation and exaggeration of current issues in digital culture in artwork. AI is particularly relevant for this. I believe that people with experience in digital technology should assist audience in understanding the technology.

What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?

Don't be afraid of experimenting with different tools and techniques. You can learn a lot from trial and error, and sometimes you might discover unexpected results that inspire new ideas. I also recommend collaborating with friends or other makers who have different skills or backgrounds. You can benefit from each other's expertise and experience and create works that are more diverse and meaningful. I would proactively reach out to makers that you want to know more about their practice. I contacted various makers asking questions about their techniques and when available went to their classes to understand their methods and have a closer look at their creations. Most importantly enjoy the process of making and learning. Don't be discouraged by failures or difficulties but see them as opportunities grow. 


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