Internet, interact, and body agency

an interview with new media artist Echo Tang talking about the way our body are jarred and unhinged in today's techno-pop culture.

July 31st, 2022

Echo Tang

Growing up chronologically with the modernization of media as TV, personal computer, smartphone, and VR headset, Echo Tang researches, practices and pursues projects on how our body & mind are jarred, unhinged, and sculptured under the context of techno-pop culture, usually with the intervention of feminism as a decolonial tool. She now works and lives bicoastally in New York and California.

Her Body and Other Mukbang, Video Sculpture

Can you please tell us about your latest work Her Body and Other Mukbang? Where did this title come from?

Mukbang, a Korean but now universal word for eating broadcast, usually takes the format of consuming food in front of the camera on streaming platforms like YouTube and TikTok, and is now prevalent among GenZ and a broader audience of internet users. However, starting as a comforting, recreational show, mukbang has marginalized towards sexualizaition. After years statistics indicate that petite, skinny Asian female Mukbangers get the most subscriptions and more and more of them are paid to eat food which is highly sexualized or sensationally high in calories. The audience would also require mukbangers to record gulping ASMR with satisfying groans. The action of watching and subscribing has transformed into gaze and fetishization, through which the immaculate, obedient asian female body manifests stimulating contrast with orgasmic gluttony. The viewer is the actual consumer, meanwhile the Aasian female body metamorphoses into food. Using satire as a tool for decolonizing, Her Body and Other Mukbang seeks to recontextualize this techno-pop culture phenomenon of Mukbang, and restore agency for East Asian feminine bodies.

Her Body and Other Mukbang, Video Sculpture

The project starts with creating an Asian female mukbanger, with a delicate face but sexualized body for overturning East-Asian beauty standards. Through her provocative invitation to a physical mukbang banquet, a series of screen-based 3D rendered TikTok videos is presented as main courses on a dinner table, where the mukbanger’s body deforms into various types of food relative to discriminatory food slangs and racist terms. 3D printed food echoing the video contents are also served. Therefore by exposing the audience to the frenzied, rebellious dance of an East-Asian female body, they are turned into the “true mukbanger”.

The title is a reference to Her Body and Other Parties, a modern parable by Carmen Maria Machado, about all kinds of women and their alienated bodies. 

       Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

What techniques do you usually use when making your work? Can you tell us a bit about the process of making your work?

I’m still in a very early stage of exploring but recently Unreal, more about 3D printing, and all the time anxiety. 70% time of looping between over-planning, anxiety, anxiety, pivoting, replanning, anxiety, and 30% of actually making.

You use different mediums in your works to create an immersive and interactive environment for the audience. What is your logic of using mediums and how important are they to your works?

My friends from grad school always jokes about how I can’t make a project without a triptych of ipads residing in a certain scenario, which I think somehow interprets my ideology towards “interactive and immersive environment”, especially now when teamlab and other great artists have already disenchanted this concept for us. If more than visually gigantic and sensing your presence, can the next step be on the level of consciousness?

I’d like to think about my multi-mediums as a fictional recreation of daily life scenarios, but with the uncanny rhetoric of technological imitation, implementing satire towards our obsession towards modern technology, which lurks everywhere. Like how I decided to use ipads as the tri-folded mirror in the bathroom, and how I set up a dinner table for Her Body and other Mukbang for the audience to consume. Being immersive is more about embodying, and the reflex and memory evoked is approaching interactivity. My joke back is by calling this “cyborg life, a life scene and style with both organic and biomechatronic.”

Bathroom Triptych, Interactive Installation

What does modernization of media mean to you? How does it influence your work?

Despite all the flaunty ideas undergrad’s sociology class taught me, modernization of media means nothing but some repetitive phenomenon or phase that we are currently in. We are boxed by media we have right now so we are at the same time enthusiastic but nonchalant about it; we consume it on a daily basis but we are dared to run away, as it’s always more fascinating to analyze historical or daydream futuristic ones, so we leave out very little brain power to acknowledge where we stand right now. It’s ubiquitous therefore ambiguous, even ineffable.

It’s the same way I feel about my living and learning experience so I’m constantly dared to present my presence in the Present, and try to write or make things about it. It’s less about pursuing objectivity, but more a gesture of taking action, right now.

How would you describe the relationship between the internet and the body in your work?

It’s both a lens of medium and a new habitat. Because of internet and pop culture and contents, the body is being alienated into food, a piece of ornament, or an ultimate otherness; but it’s also an updating new habitat where we will reside our avatar body in, calling for our rebellion and more decolonial approaches to regain agency. If inevitably our body is uploaded to Mark Zuckberg’s sci-fi, how can we decolonize digital space? Especially for what I discussed in Her Body and Other Mukbang, us Asian femmine cyborgs?

Her Body and Other Mukbang, Video Sculpture

What are some references you draw upon in your work? Any themes that come from social issues or personal experiences?

This work specifically I had this Freudian slip of making a homage to the famous Dinner Table, from Judy Chicago. But in a more general scope, I found myself constantly circling back to the theme of “feminism in the techno-pop culture”, out of the three dichotemies from my own life experience: being raised in Canton in a immigration family but educated in the West; facing male gaze from Asia and white gaze from the West; residing in a yellow female body both physically and digitally.

My “character” is always trapped between two states, like between Madonna & whore, werewoman & idol, food & human, it’s always neither and either, hardly still and never will be.

RBG (Really-Bad-Girl), 3D Animation & Music Video

Who are some of your favorite artists? Who has inspired you

I’m one of those cheesy lovers of Namjun Paik and Tony Oursler and their reflections on the relationship between the body and modernized media at their time. For Her Body and Other Mukbang, I want to dedicate to my writer list, Carmen Maria Machado for the title, Anne Anlin Cheng for Ornamentalist, and Yihan Lin, whose work I desperately hope can be translated into English.

What’s next? your future plan?

This was my original plan but I’m working on a live episode for Miett. It’s exciting to think about how I can discomfort the audience by making her more interactive and immersive, I'm a malicious maker.  It’s also my guilty pleasure to set up a huge streaming screen and force people to participate. What if I demolish the gap among us, “modernized media”, and present even more?

Also I want to spare more time for my series of “decolonial trails”, such as building a small 3d scan database for feminine body.

Her Body and Other Mukbang, Video Sculpture

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