Cornell University
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Leo Kang, InfoSci PhD

NameLeo (Laewoo) Kang

HometownSeoul, Korea

Introduce yourself briefly:

I am a contemporary storyteller who has a desire to share time and the world with other people.

In order to deliver my stories, I use multiple and diverse mediums that luckily exist in today’s society such as technologies, academic publication, essay writing, painting, sound etc. I am currently a third-year Ph.D student in Information Science at Cornell University. My current art and academic works are strongly influenced by the ideas from Steven Jackson, my committee chair and advisor, and committee members Phoebe Sengers and Trevor Pinch, all of whose ideas are interconnected to many social theorists, scientists and artists. My solo and collaborative works have been widely exhibited including HCI academic venues, Korean literature, international art exhibitions, and diverse media broadcasts and press.  If you are more interested in my stories, please visit my website.

What is your about research about?

My research interest is broadly about how contemporary technologies can be interpreted in aesthetic and sociological ways. The research I am currently working on, which is supervised and led by Steven Jackson and the Intel Research Group (ISTC), is focused on how we can re-think the value embedded in broken and obsolete technologies.

We meet and talk (ethnography) to diverse people around the world who fix, restore and repurpose existing technologies. This helps us not only to understand the values that have been ignored and overlooked in forgotton technology, but also to advance the concept of making and design in contemporary world.

If you have a further interest in this project, please refer following academic papers : “Rethinking Repair (2013)" by Steven Jackson, and "Breakdown, Obsolescence and Reuse: HCI and The Art of Repair," (2014, not published yet) by Steven Jackson and Leo Kang. If you want to see the art format of general idea of such theme, please refer our recent art installation, Scale in our website. This project was well received at World Maker Faire 2013 with 4 Editor’s Choice blue ribbons, and media coverage from several venues: The Verge and BBC.

Can you explain more about your integration of academic research and visual art?  What drove you to combine the academic study with visual art?

A single idea can be expressed through different languages. For example, the idea of social interaction can be expressed as a CHI paper, a fictional essay, painting or Bach’s music.

I think the idea of obsolete and disappearing technologies (the topic I've been focused on) is not created by anyone. It was already there and Steven’s eye found it, and he expressed it through academic writings. At the same time, there are also many artists who are expressing such essence in their own ways. What we did in the Scale project was to make a bridge between different networks (art - social theory - technologies).

Once such interdisciplinary happens, its idea become far-reaching, so many people can listen to. 

I am an artist. My work here is to share good stories with people around me by using my own language. 

What most excites you about your research?

When you encounter new people, your world gets extended. I love using ethnography as a research method because it always broadens my perspective. I love meeting people because it ultimately enables me to find the many values that I wasn’t able to see before.

What do you find most exciting, challenging or frustrating about pursuing a PhD in Information Science at Cornell?  

Before working on my Ph.D at Cornell, I always assumed that I should not do non-academic activities (art, essay, painting) to support my academic research because the institutions that I had been involved in the past usually said, “You should not do such strange things here since it is both unrelated and distracting!”

Fortunately, people at IS Cornell say differently and even encourage me to integrate such non-conventional academic works with my Ph.D research work. I think I am just one of any-people, but I always have the desire to find the place where any of my ideas can be communicated. I finally found the institution that “any person can find instruction in any study”; that’s the most exciting thing about being at Cornell IS.

If you had one bit of advice for incoming PhD students, what would it be?

Talk to people before you come or apply! When you encounter people, your world gets extended.

You will discover more values, challenges, good or bad things that you might not be able to find now in your screen on your desk. You are always welcome to send me an email if you have questions.

Who is your advisor and how has he or she influenced your experience?

Steven Jackson always creates space for me where I can really, enthusiastically enjoy thinking and contemplating, imagining and making, and studying and discovering.

Among the uncountably many lessons I have learned from him, what I value most is the meaning of becoming a professor, leader and educator. He allows and supports me to imagine a new world in my own fashion. I think this is the role I would like to play once I need to teach and guide someone.