To most people, art and technology are worlds apart — one is all about creativity and expression, while the other is bound by precise algorithms that leave no room for error.
As far as Eugene Soh is concerned, however, there’s no difference between the two. Better known professionally as The Dude, the 32-year old “tech artist” has spent the past seven years masterfully marrying his love for both to create some truly unique pieces of art.
Perhaps the only thing more interesting than Eugene’s pieces is the journey he took to get here, so I spoke to him to find out more about the man behind the dude.
The “Accidental Artist”
Strangely enough, it was never Eugene’s intention to become a full-time artist. As a fan of video games his “rough plan” as a youth was to become a game designer (“who knows what they’re going to do as a teenager?” he exclaims in our interview), and he learnt the basics of programming by joining his secondary school’s IT club.
But Eugene’s talent — and, perhaps more importantly, his unapologetic willingness to go against the grain — seemed to have always been there.
At that time a newly-opened Republic Polytechnic (RP) was touring schools to test the syllabus of their Information Technology diploma, and taught students how to create a computerised version of Tic-Tac-Toe to build interest in the course.
Eugene thought that was too easy and decided to create a Street Fighter-esque fighting game instead, which led to him completing his first programming project before even entering a tertiary institution.
He would further hone his skills by pursuing the aforementioned Information Technology course at RP, followed by Interactive Media at Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) School of Art, Design and Media.
Eugene’s big break came in his first year in NTU, when local publication Campus Magazine approached him to photograph the centrefold for an upcoming issue.
As his interest was still in programming, he decided to create a symbolic “goodbye piece to photography” by shooting a localised version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper with hawkers in Maxwell Food Centre.
The recognition was not instantaneous, though — The Last Kopitiam‘s first appearance in the magazine went relatively unnoticed, but would go viral on social media two years later in 2012. The reignited interest in Eugene’s work led to art galleries approaching him for collaborations, and thus…
A Dude Is Born
While it was photography that got his foot through the door, it wasn’t long before Eugene started experimenting with other mediums.
His background in programming — coupled with a philosophy of trying everything at least once — led to him using virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence to create out-of-the-box content.
“When someone comes to me with an idea, it’s usually because no one else has done it before,” he said. “I’m more of a “do first, ask questions later” person, so behind this facade there’s a lot of failed projects, but also a lot of successful projects that I’m very proud of.”
Eugene’s unorthodox style earned him a reputation in the arts scene, which led to a consistent flow of commissions after graduating from NTU.
As his list of clients grew to include government agencies he realised that a company would help to streamline payments, and thus created Dude Studios “out of necessity.”
While Dude Studio’s extensive portfolio could probably warrant an entire article on its own, one of the more notable projects in the company’s history is Instagram filters.
Through a combination of being aggressively active in the AR community and a bit of luck, Eugene was invited by Facebook to join a closed beta group that developed filters for the social media app.
Eugene has since created seven official filters (along with hundreds of unofficial ones) that you can try for yourself here, and holds the title of being the second person in the world who isn’t a Facebook employee to upload a filter on Instagram.
Don’t Mind (Palace) If I Do
In addition to Dude Studios, Eugene also founded a social enterprise called Mind Palace in 2018, which uses customised VR technology to slow down the effects of dementia in nursing home residents by keeping their minds active.
And in what was becoming a recurring theme in Eugene’s journey, the decision to start a social enterprise kind of just…happened.
A former-journalist friend had invited him to bring VR headsets to a nursing home as an experiment of sorts, and after seeing the positive effect it had on residents kept going until he eventually found himself making visits on his own.
After clinching first place at Startup Weekend Singapore’s Mega Hackathon, Eugene then decided to turn Mind Palace into a fully-fledged company.
Apart from nursing homes, Mind Palace has also expanded their scope to other health facilities such as hospitals and the Institute of Mental Heath as well.
In the same vein as Dude Studios, Eugene employs a wide range of methods to help patients, including everything from Kinect boxing to “mind tours” that use VR to transport less mobile individuals to faraway places in the safety and comfort of their nursing homes.
Mind Palace even collaborated with Michelin star awardee Hawker Chan to create a 5D experience that gave patients the experience of ordering a plate of chicken rice (and subsequently eating it, of course).
“I Would Be Lying If I Said That I Had All This Planned Out”
When I tell Eugene during our interview that IT and art are two very different fields, there’s a certain sense of exasperation in his reply.
“So many people say that. It’s very stereotypical,” he mutters (almost) in amusement. That same exasperation comes up again when I tell him that the two require different skill sets, and he wishes people didn’t restrict themselves to such rigid notions.
“That’s what people tell themselves, then they get self-fulfilled prophecies.” It’s clear that Eugene doesn’t believe in confining himself to a single label, and perhaps the biggest contributor to his success is his willingness to just try, and try again regardless of whether he succeeds or fails.
It’s standard practice in an interview like this to ask what his future plans are, but after 35 minutes of talking with Eugene I felt like I already knew the answer. He’ll no doubt continue building on the work Dude Studios and Mind Palace have done, but for the most part he’s just going to go with the flow.
And if his career thus far is any indication, he’s probably going to ace whatever comes his way.
If you want to experience some of their projects for yourself, Eugene and the Mind Palace team will be showcasing some of them at Fusionopolis on the 13th and 14th of September, as part of the ongoing Singapore Science Festival. Eugene has also created an Instagram filter/game specifically for the festival, which you can play here.
The Singapore Science Festival — which takes place from now till the 14th of September — is an annual celebration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in our daily lives. Jointly organised by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Science Centre Singapore, there’s a multitude of exhibitions, shows, workshops that cater to anyone and everyone.
For the full list of exhibits and activities, visit Science Centre Singapore’s website.
Feature Image Credit: Vulcan Post