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Engaging Artists

Two Subtle Bodies

May 1, 2023
Yeseul Song

Ahead of Gates, Borders, Barriers, a public activation of Fred Wilson’s Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds on May 19th, More Art 2022 Fellow Yeseul Song discusses her experiential artwork, Two Subtle Bodies.

“What I got was a tangible experience of what it’s like being in her space and her being in my space… Okay, I’m okay with this exposure, and I’m okay with being this vulnerable with you…” “It was so intense for me. Am I crying? Oh my god! I’m crying! What is this?”

— a couple who experienced Two Subtle Bodies at Hirshhorn Museum in Summer 2022

Two Subtle Bodies (2022) @Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum – project brief from Yeseul Song on Vimeo.

Itwas my first time seeing someone cry while experiencing something that I created. The feeling was unforgettable. It happened last summer when I presented Two Subtle Bodies (2022) at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. as a part of Sound Scene. Two Subtle Bodies is an interactive auditory and tactile experience where two strangers hear and feel each other’s peripersonal space. Two participants wear bone-conduction headphones and capes with embedded electronics, then enter a space and move together. As the two bodies move, they generate a sound composition that responds dynamically to their movements. The subtle body is a concept that appears in Taoism and Dharmic religions to indicate bodies that are neither solely physical nor solely spiritual, in contrast to the mind-body dualism that has dominated western thought. In neurology, the space surrounding a body is called Peripersonal Space and is enabled by visuo-tactile senses. With Two Subtle Bodies, people are able to extend the senses of self and others by recognizing and perceiving this soft and fluid space between us.

Yeseul Song, Two Subtle Bodies (2022) at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum. Image by Ninad Pandit.


I use interaction as an art medium to build spaces where people can discover their own sensibilities and creativity, and build new relationships with others and the world. Hence, my work starts its life not when I finish “building” it, but when people experience the work and become a part of it. The couple quoted above experienced the piece for about 15 minutes while a crowd surrounding them watched and appreciated their performance. Afterward, the couple came up to me to share their experience with tears in their eyes. There were some others who found themselves crying as they felt deeply connected to themselves and their co-participant through the work. I am still in the process of unpacking the experience and what these moments mean to my work and my creative process. Some of the participants described the experience as a gift—to me, their participation, reactions, conversations, and feelings are the most precious gifts.

Since then, I have started to understand that I make art to connect more parts of the world by letting people meet each other through my work. I want my work to be the opposite of shiny, huge, and expensive sculptural objects that overwhelm visitors with their own authority and aura. Instead, I am interested in putting the people who are experiencing my work in the center of the stage to empower them and challenge the traditional power dynamic between artwork and audience. This will enable us to think, converse, and imagine our world and future, collectively.

Yeseul Song is a South Korean-born, NYC-based artist who uses technology, interaction, and participation as art media. She uncovers creative possibilities of non-visual senses and creates new sensory languages using technology to advocate imaginative and equitable views of the world. With the belief that art needs to be accessible to everyone, she explores and occupies non-traditional public spaces to challenge commonly held ideas about access and accessibility of art. She’s best known for Invisible Sculptures (2018–2021), a series of non-visual experiential sculptures made of sound, warmth, air, smell, and thought. Her first solo institutional exhibition, Invisible and Existent, was shown at the Clayarch Museum in South Korea in 2021.

Yeseul is an Assistant Arts Professor at New York University Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program & Interactive Media Arts (NYU ITP/IMA). Her teaching areas span interactive art and physical computing.

Her work was shown at Clayarch Art Museum (South Korea), Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum (D.C.), New York Live Arts (NY), PASEO (NM), and Art in Odd Places (NY), among others. She has held residencies/fellowships from Museum of Arts and Design, Mana Contemporary, More Art, Future Imagination Fund, and Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy, and is an alum of New Museum’s NEW INC. Her work has been supported/funded by Wave Farm, NYSCA, Embassy of the Republic of Korea’s Korean Cultural Center Washington, D.C., Brooklyn Arts Council, DUMBO, GimHae Cultural Foundation, and more. Yeseul’s work won the iF Design Concept Awards and Communication Arts Interactive Awards, and her recent project has been shortlisted for Creative Capital 2023. | @yeseulsong_

Experience Yeseul’s Two Subtle Bodies at Gates, Borders, Barrierson Friday, May 19th at the site of Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds in Columbus Park, Downtown Brooklyn. This free event is produced through the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund, a grant that funds projects that serve to enhance public space, increase access to cultural programming, and connect the neighborhoods of Downtown Brooklyn and Dumbo.

This article was commissioned by More Art and written by Yeseul Song. Images and video courtesy of Yeseul Song.

This article is also published on More Art’s Medium site.

Two Subtle Bodies (2022) is a project by Yeseul Song with sound design collaboration from Jesse Simpson & Greg Halleran and garment design collaboration and production by Daniel Ryan Johnston. Two Subtle Bodies was originally commissioned and supported by the Korean Cultural Center in Washington, DC, Embassy of the Republic of Korea. Learn more about this project at