Review by Beccy Kennedy
Globalisation theory uses the term “time-space compression”1 to elucidate the concept of a new world without distinct nations, where borders are malleable and hours are reconfigured into seconds through the single tap of a plastic key, where won transmogrify to dollars through the single swipe of a plastic card. Each single transaction is at once plural. Each plurality is a reoccurrence of regime but not of a moment. The art works at Arcadia exhibition both confirm and reject ‘time-space compression,’ creating new moments of cultural insight that transcend nations, empires and histories.
The curators at I-MYU, JeongAe Im and Eunbok Yu, address the historicism of the Greek term ‘Arcadia,’ as it has been used to refer to ‘landscapes,’ examining it through differing ages of perception and expectation. Here, they aim to translate the term via the works of three international artists from East2 and West, positioned within the context of a contemporary East London arts space. The juxtaposition of two artists from Korea, Jin Kim and Dae Hun Kwon, with a British artist, Victoria Hall, is wise, as it realigns the theme of translation across nations whilst reasserting the boundlessness of globalisation. Kim and Hall reclassify classical scenes and echo each other’s ostensible fascination with traditional British décor or decorum; Hall (above right) posing as protagonist in her photographs of reformulated regal-esque oil paintings by masters such as Gainsborough and Orchardson, and Kim expressionistically painting urbane living rooms or old-fashioned garden sheds, taken from photographs of English country interiors. Via their transcriptions of the original images, from painting to photograph or photograph to painting, Hall and Kim attach their own ideological imprints, suggesting how the scenes could be both created and seen, through another author’s eyes, from another era, class or nation, in another’s moments. This ‘other’ is the artist and the viewer, as we collectively stand distanced from the Greek classicist, the Georgian painter, the Victorian interior designer, and draw new horizons unto our past and future historical landscapes.
The process of redefining ways of seeing is the main focus of Dae Hun Kwon’s paper and mixed media sculptures. In fact Kwon’s sculptural works appear at odds with Kim and Hall’s pictorial pieces until this is realised. Kwon’s illuminating landscape, ‘The Forest’ (above – click to enlarge), uses tiny pieces of paper, raised off the canvas, which cast shadows with the help of an automated, transitional light mechanisim, creating a 3D, fleeting, shimmering pattern. ‘The Forest’ of paper pieces resembles a backcloth of trees, where the trees are just a term, as the branches and the spaces between them realise new forms depending on when and how you look. There are no clear signifiers or signifieds3, and Kwon appears to promote this aspect. Beside the image is a book of his own forest photographs, with identified shapes highlighted in different colours, where he has seen faces, which have later become crumpled masks in his other installations.
There is a figurative presence in all three artists’ works. In Hall’s reconstructions, the figures are clearly of herself and her child, in Kwon’s coppice, the viewer is left to identify their own versions of sentience and in Kim’s interiors there is either a noticeable absence of presence, or sometimes his portrait indicates a presence of absence. In his untitled scene of what appears to be a garden shed (above), you see his portrait but you have to look hard, as he melts into the coloured strokes of the setting, his body dismantled into the location, his aura becoming the decor. Whilst Hall makes a conscious statement about the changing role of portraiture and women’s place within it as it transcends to 21C time, place and medium, Kim and Kwon, perhaps, articulate more latently, the role of the migrant as this transcends through inter-nations to supposed trans-nations, Empires to ‘globe’.
Time-space compression may be the easing of actual global movement but almost expects the easiness of its ideological upshot. Yet, through recent conversation with Kwon and Kim, it seems that living in the UK can sometimes feel alienating, Korea distanced in both time and space. It can get dark as early as four o’clock in London in winter and still people leave their soiled shoes on when they enter the comfort of their own home. The keyboards on their laptops use English letters, for this is the global digital language, yet at home in Korea, hangul letters are present too. The histories of nations, of roles from the ‘ancients’ of civilisation to the currents of digitalisation, are omnipresent, like inside the trunk of a tree, compressed but extending far beyond the freshest bark. We shouldn’t just scratch on the layer of what is immediately visible, but try to unpeel the other layers, not just of one tree, but of the whole budding forest.
- Arcadia press release, LKL 19 November
- More Victoria Hall images at I-MYU site
- More Dae Hun Kwon images at I-MYU site
- More Jin Kim images at I-MYU site
- Harvey, David (1990) The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
- Whilst it can now be considered outdated to use the terms ‘East’ and ‘West, ‘ because of their rich Orientalist, Colonialist connotations, I have used them here within the context of the exhibition’s focus on changing historicisms and against the backdrop of I-MYU’s location in what is still known as ‘East’ London. In other writings, I would favour the fresher terms of ‘North’ and ‘South’.
- Saussure, Ferdinand de. (2006) Writings in General Linguistics, Translated by Carol Sanders, Matthew Pires, Oxford: Oxford University Press.