Viz prof earns award for hybrid creations from area art council

Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo

For making lasting, impactful contributions to the Bryan/College Station area with her creative efforts, Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo, Texas A&M assistant professor of [visualization] ( , was named the [M.L. “Sonny” Moss Artist of the Year] ( by the [Arts Council of the Brazos Valley] ( .

As the founding head of the Texas A&M [Soft Interaction Lab] ( , Seo collaborates with visualization students to discover new ways to combine plush toys, houseplants and other comforting objects with digital technology to create interactive experiences for all, especially young children and the elderly.

One such creation, “ [Touchology] ( ,” is a series of real and artificial plants that, when touched, produce sounds of running water or bird songs from electronic components in their bases.

“We took the plants to a local nursing home, and the residents just loved them,” Seo said. “The nursing home’s activity director said residents were smiling the entire time they interacted with the plants, and that they had never reacted so positively to something brought to the facility.”

The “Touchology” plants are meditative, relaxing and bring nature to elderly people who aren’t able to garden anymore, said Seo. “Activating the sounds in ‘Touchology’ plants provides a little bit of interaction and physical activity, even if it’s in a really limited environment.”

“Stampies,” another interactive item developed at the lab, are soft, colorful toys made of wool felt, thread and fabric that challenge toddlers’ mental and motor skill abilities as they interact with the toys via a tablet application.

Seo and her collaborators also developed toys that are a hit with autistic children who sometimes resist social touching or refrain from touching objects that, based on their appearance, seem threatening.

During a November 2014 [Autism Awareness Family Celebration at the Dallas Museum of Art] ( , children played with toys created by Seo and former graduate Visualization students Sungkajun and Pavithra Aravindan.

“A cat pillow that glowed with embedded LED lights, vibrated gently and made simple sounds when touched was very popular,” said Seo. “Kids touched it, hugged it and wanted to take it home with them.”

Interactions with the cat pillow and similar toys could be a boon to autistic children’s development.

“Making social touch more rewarding early in development might further help autistic children learn social skills, since learning is heavily dependent on pleasure,” said Time magazine’s Maia Szalavitz in an [article] ( about autism. “And, because later development relies on early experience, such a strategy could improve the children’s overall development.”

Seo and her students have also enlivened the local arts scene with a series of exhibits and installations.

Visitors to the Arts Council’s gallery, where Seo has conducted interactive art workshops since 2012, enjoyed an exhibit of interactive pieces created by her students at “ PLAY inside the box ,” which included sound and projection installations, kinetic sculptures, an adult-sized device that produces an illusion of motion from still images, and more.

At a recent First Friday, a monthly downtown Bryan event, an audience saw video projections created by Seo’s students that preceded a [performance] ( by Texas A&M Dance Program and Performance studies at VizNorth Gallery.

[Projections] ( created by Soft Lab students have also illuminated some of the area’s landmark buildings, such as water towers on campus and near the H-E-B grocery store in south College Station.

Utilizing 3-D, stop-motion, and additional types of animation, viewers saw numerous, multistory images of fanciful scenes that included dancers, snowflakes, space shuttle launches, abstract shapes, flowering plants and additional scenes.

Richard Nira

posted October 2, 2018