"When she finally recognized this, she had a joyous attack from the waves of new ideas
Her mouth became free of sand."
Soyoung Kwon describes, in poetic fashion, what once felt like a mouth full of sand unable of swallow: "The small particles encroach into the softest part her body, near the throat, gets in between unreachable parts of teeth gaps, takes away the pleasure of thinking about delicious food and inhibits [the ability] to speak out."
She is referring to feeling obligated in some way - which then became a fixation - to write and make work that discusses her identity as a Korean female immigrant artist. She describes writing her masters thesis and searching for frameworks that were tangible, meaningful, and troubling to unfold. This joyous attack of new ideas Kwon describes is when she realized her fixation on identity was limiting her curiosity and she could express her experiences regardless of identifying herself as a Korean female immigrant.
The Retirement House of the Roomba comes out of that sudden release of ideas. It is an envisaging project she comes to the institute with to explore and build on. Here, we see Kwon’s imagination project toward a desired future. She asks: “How can we learn to live with failed machines in the future?” With the retirement house, she personifies the robot vacuum cleaner as a device that needs an after-life after labouring tirelessly to keep on top of dust in the home. Kwon shares an affinity with the machine as an Air B‘n’B host who constantly needs to keep her lodging spotless of dust. But also, as someone who generally has a hard time throwing things out. “Instead of having them go to waste, I am making a house for them” Kwon expresses. She continues, “I am empathizing with these machines that have been helping me clean for so long, have died, and have to go to this electronic waste.”
This invented house she foresees would will be made out of organic material or things that do not need maintenance like “a rock”, she exemplifies. “The existing rumba isn’t functioning on their own terms, and in this future, I want to liberate them and have them function on their own terms.” She illustrates further in a poem/script she recited in performance: "I want a house where they can dance, write poetry on dust, slow walk, meditate in safe architecture."
Kwon mentioned that one of the useful outcomes of her time at the institute was how it gave her the space to expand on different speculative stories. And how she can transform them into written form, including script. She told me how she was shuffling through different possible narratives and futures the afterlives of the robot-vacuum could take, including a future where buying a retirement package for the vacuum is not only acceptable, but ethical.
"I am interested in how speculation and representation can make you think about all the different possibilities. I want it to arouse a different way of thinking about the life of machines, human labour or retirement. Also thinking about the future of consumption and production—whether that’s negative or positive. I don’t think I know that. I don’t want to necessarily think this might work for both a negative or positive. It is nice that it can bring out diverse reflections rather than upsetting or happy outcomes. Multiple ways of sensing and moving through space. Not just thinking of the space from my own eye or perspective."