Daniel J. Chung was born in Seoul, South Korea. He now resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he is a graduating senior at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) studying Communication Design and New Studio Practice with emphasis on Photography.

Daniel is a first generation Korean-American and his work narrates the interplay and complexity of two cultures that significantly influences his personal, cultural identity. With his multi-cultural background and perspective as an outsider, he explores a prolonged investigation to seek and clarify his conflicted identity.

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Lost in Translation

2016 - present

The body of work Lost in Translation explores the notion of communication and how language barrier can transform one’s personal identity. Constantly struggling and overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers, he is submerged and lost in the gap between two distinct cultures and languages, where he feels conflicted and disassociated. Through the process of decoding and translation, he strives to clarify the structure of language and in hope to define his true origin and identity.

When and where did Lost in Translation begin? 

Language barrier has always been present ever since I moved to the United States. It is immensely embedded within my daily interactions and often distorts the way I perceive and intake information. Through the process of translation and delivery, the message often gets fragmented and leads to miscommunication. This can become a hinder in exchanging conversations and forming bonds with peers. Especially being in an institutional setting, this has been a perpetual challenge feeling discouraged to verbally seek help, because of the lack of ability to do so. This left me with no choice but isolation to avoid judgement on my noticeable accents, what is commonly known as “broken” English. I didn’t want to be an outsider in what was my newly home. Therefore, I was compelled to adopt to unfamiliar cultural norm and slowly became distant to my origin.

Not only I am barricaded linguistically, I am also culturally alienated, not exactly knowing where to place myself in context. I am now at my halfway point where I resided in Korea for 12 years and in America for 12 years. This balanced, bi-cultural background placed me in a mediating position where I consistently fluctuate between two cultures and languages. As this is an internal conflict, it remained under complex layers of how I define myself as a Korean-American. The work Lost in Translation has surfaced the need for a definitive identity and provided an outlet for addressing the constant obstacles and coping behaviors of language barrier. Becoming vulnerable in front of the audience has been a healing process and allowed me to embrace how I present myself in everyday interactions.

Where do you see this project going?

The initial approach of the work was to set foot on an prolonged investigation where I am endlessly encountered by repeated success and failure of communication. Left with no clarity and a sense of belonging, the search continues and deepens to collect fragmented parts of my lost identity in hope to fulfill the void. Unless I arrive at a full understanding within the complexity of language, there is unfortunately no tangible solution that provides closure to the work.

The current state of the work has shifted and developed into the form of exhibition design, as I am preparing for my Senior Thesis. It really is a gratifying moment to see the gradual progression of a body of work. The seed was implemented when I created an autobiography article spread in 2015. The interview portion questioned who I define myself as bi-lingual and bi-cultural. It was one of the very first moments where I deliberately exposed a part of me that had remained in the inner core of my subconsciousness. Now the work as a whole strives to construct a sense of enclosed space and invite the viewer into an accessible and structured pathway to experience the process of translation. In the process, one is faced with various types of barriers that delay and alter the outcome of the overall meaning and message.

Lost in Translation has been exhibited locally and nationally in gallery settings and online platforms, and will be showcased in an upcoming juried group exhibition Manufactured Truth at The CASP 5 & J Gallery in Lubbock, Texas. The opening reception takes place on December 1, 2017 from 6PM to 11PM. If you happen to be in the area, I would encourage you to stop by and engage in a conversation with the work.

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

Being in the mode of a graphic designer and photographer, the aspect of storytelling through various types of visual language has been a cornerstone in creating and narrating a body of work. Visual communication has enabled me to express emotions, share feelings, tell stories, and convey complex messages in a way I couldn’t fully deliver in a foreign language. Whatever it is that I am creating, it is gives me a sense of individuality. A voice.

I am one of the founding members of ISO Photography Club and it is a student-run organization where we provide students a photography learning resource, opportunity to attend lectures, studio visits and workshops allowing deeper interest in photography and professional practices. Through these events, it really motivates me to see positive relationships being formed within the local community by a group of students from diverse backgrounds. This adds value to my practice, creates an inclusive environment, and most importantly embrace diversity and what it can bring to the table.

What’s next for you?

As of right now, I am curious to see the progression of Lost in Translation in 5 years but also afraid to see the end result if it comes to it. I would also love to hear the project is perceived and discussed in my home country, and if the message and intention still resonates within the new environment and the viewer. With that said, I want to create opportunities where I am able to travel back and forth and remain a perfect balance in my practice and identity.