TOM GALLE & JOHN YUYI
Tell us about your first collaboration “Charging Shoe Laces”?
TOM: This wasn’t our first collaboration actually. We did The Tinder VR, Macbook Selfie Stick and a few others including some with our friend Moises Sanabria. The Charging Shoe Laces was the last thing we did before Yuyi flew back to Taiwan. Back then we were way less calculating and organized. We just did what we felt like, we had shitty cameras, and didn’t have any expectations for the turnout. Somehow most things we did before got a huge reaction on the internet and this one was no different. This image series became one of our most popular yet. It travelled to all corners of the internet and is still being used today in numerous memes on some of the biggest accounts out there.
YUYI: When I was taking subway, I was watching passengers’ shoes and then I was thinking!!! We can make it into cable to charge. And then I told Tom, so we just did it.
Both of you make internet-related work, but from very opposing perspectives. What do you learn from each other?
TOM: Visual aesthetic. My work was never very visually driven, I only started taking photos 2 - 3 years ago for example. Yuyi has an extremely strong eye for visual aesthetics and composition, which contributed to our work, and from which I learned a lot. Her concepts translate a very simple visual language, which are very different, and often complementary to how I approach conceptual thinking.
YUYI: I learn a lot of technology stuff from Tom. He’s like big brother to me. He told me the value of art, and a lot of things on how to fight the real world.
TOM: Yuyi also taught me about urban survival, something she’s an expert in: basically coming up with a practical, DIY solution to any type of problem you might encounter in daily life. Essential if you want to survive in NYC.
Your work shares a similar obsessive desire to adapt the body to technology, stretching its aesthetics to a virtual reality. How do you think the body will change in the next decades?
TOM: I’m guessing shifting away from external, relatively ‘dumb’ devices and graphic interfaces towards smarter, integrated technology. We see it already with voice commands, sensory experiences such as VR, driverless cars, etc. The smarter and better tech becomes, the more it should disappear and blend in naturally with our lives.
YUYI: I think a lot of people will be blind. (Laughs.) At least I’m worried about my eyes.
as technology changed us for better or worse?
TOM: Both. The internet is the latest and biggest technological revolution since the Industrial Revolution. The best thing that came out of it is that it democratized a lot of things, from flow of information / learning to all kinds of means for expression and opportunities for anyone. I remember the beginning of the internet being some sort of wild west; you could find anything, there was no control, and there were opportunities for everyone. The worrying thing is that today we’re leaning towards a completely controlled internet, both by the biggest corporations and states. The ‘free internet’ dream which was the original idea of Tim Berners Lee, among others, seems to be further and further away at this point.
Do you believe in digital love?
TOM: If you mean digital love in terms of maintaining a healthy relationship mostly through means of technology as means of communication, I would say definitely no. We’re still human (lol) and last time I checked we don’t yet have the means for real affection through technology.
YUYI: Yes digital love is happening. It’s the digital love era. For instance I love the movie Her; it’s the best digital love movie. I won’t say it’s worse or better. People will follow the flow. It just changed because we want it to, we needed it to. Maybe worse, maybe better. It’s a human need.
Tom, you’re from Belgium and Yuyi, you’re from Taiwan. How does your upbringing play a role in the work you make?
TOM: Compared to the US, Belgium is an extremely small country. It’s smaller than most states, and has less habitants than New York state. Personally I think coming from a small country made me more eager and focused. If you’re ambitious, very quickly you’ll hit walls and run out of options. So it made me more curious of what’s beyond those borders and pushed me towards traveling to the US and Japan to experience different things and develop my artistic voice and ambition. Having travelled for a while now, I do feel that I’m still closest to European values, and I’ll probably end up in Europe later in my career.
YUYI: Umm.. not much related. My upbringing is very conservative. You know, typical Asian culture, Asian family, Asian education. But maybe that’s why I don’t care that much now? Because in my past we care about what people think way too much!
Your work is rooted in the medium of the self-portrait. How do you find working with yourself as subject?
TOM: I think it’s simply a product of the digital age. We’re mainly working with social media as platforms to express ourselves, so using ourselves as subject is often inherent to the work. The work we make is very much about ourselves, how we feel about internet-related subjects such as constant exposure, selfie culture, emerging technologies, etc. Putting ourselves as the main actors seems not only logical, but in my opinion also make the ideas stronger. Our personas become a blend of performance, self-critique, examination, humor, etc. And it allows a continuous output using those platforms.
YUYI: Number one: fastest way without a budget. Number two: build a persona.
How do you come up with ideas?
TOM: The easiest way to explain how it works: just to be really obsessed with what I’m interested in. Constantly indulge in it day and night. All kinds of Tumblrs and stuff like that. Kind of like training yourself in getting an idea. Whatever idea matches, we collaborate and work together. We try to make it as fast as possible. The way people used to make art before… I feel like people had a lot more time. We try to produce a lot, and we succeed to some extent. The pace of the internet is so fast that people forget really quickly. So we make a lot of work that easily goes by, so you have to constantly make new stuff. It’s challenging and fun because you’re producing so much more. It can also feel like labor. It’s very daunting to constantly come up with new ideas and make stuff.
YUYI: My ideas come sometimes from the internet, sometimes my observations, sometimes daily life. I always say that but it’s true. When I’m doing something random, I always think like, “oh that would be cool to combine with my art.” I also like conceptual stuff. But sometimes my stuff is more visual. I think it’s because I don’t read books, I only look at images. That’s how I receive messages and that’s how I express messages.
Your next collaboration will take place at Art Basel. What are you showing?
TOM: This will be with Moises as well. We’re still developing this but it will mainly be a print show with some existing and new work—and probably some type of physical work.
YUYI: The day we were going to discuss, I went to the ER. So I don’t know that yet. (Laughs.)
TOM: That’s true, we need to fill her in.
And what are you cooking?
TOM: We’re working on a very cool VR piece for a show in September, then Art Basel, and Moises and I will have our first solo show in Upfor Gallery in Portland at the end of the year.
YUYI: I microwaved two bagels this morning, one for my boyfriend and one for me.