A Viewing Room – online artist video season

The KCC starts its 2021 exhibition season online with a season of artist video works. Viewing details will be available on the KCCUK website in due course.

A Viewing Room

6 April – 31 May 2021

A Viewing Room

A Viewing Room is an online screening programme of moving image works by Korean visual artists, presented on the KCCUK Website from 6th, April to 31st, May.

The Korean Cultural Centre UK is delighted to present A Viewing Room, an artist film programme featuring new and recent video works by eight contemporary Korean artists and artist groups, running from 6 April – 31 May 2021. Following the one-year anniversary of the Covid-19 outbreak officially being declared a pandemic, the works’ themes and concerns – psychological wellbeing, social solidarity, care systems, reconfiguring embodiment in relation to our environment, and the transition from offline to online – appear more relevant than ever.

Participating artists include Jeongyoon AHN, Jeamin CHA, CHA Ji Ryang, Taey IOHE, Jooyeon LEE, Minhwi LEE & Yun CHOI, RHO Jae Oon, and the Rice Brewing Sisters Club. Each artist or artist group has been nominated by a member of the exhibition’s curatorial committee, made up of Jaemin Cha (Korean Cultural Centre UK), Annie Jael Kwan (Asia-Art-Activism), Sun Park (Lux), and Adeena Mey (Afterall).

Each exhibition runs from Tuesday 10 AM (BST) through to the following Monday 5 PM (BST)

Exhibition Details

Tuesday, 06 – Monday, 12 Apr | Jooyeon Lee – Back to Back

Back to Back

In her research document, What Will Become of My Soul, artist Jooyeon Lee offers a list of poetic provocations. One of them writes, “Find a friend’s wavelength that gets longer as the distance increases”.

When our safety depends on keeping the distance between bodies, the tautness of threads binding us as a whole is more apparent and palpable than ever before. However, what Lee’s question conjures is the possibility of an intensified sense of connectivity as a means to register the complexity, fragility and reciprocity of relationships rather than a measure against a threat.

Responding to Lee’s provocation, two films selected for this programme address loneliness and interconnectedness, rendered invisible by social isolation. In both films, the loneliness experienced by an individual is inextricably enmeshed within the broader social structure. Meandering ambiguous boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, seemingly disparate images and stories collide to zoom in and out of the interconnected whole. They embrace the complex and fluid nature of connectivity while acknowledging our limits to understanding one another, inviting us to think with their unresolved and unending conversations.

“We were trying to search for our places in the world through the process of grieving. Instead, it unsettled the world as we knew it. As the conversation continued, we only came to realise how little we knew about our lost ones.” – Jeongyoon Ahn and Misun Ahn from Two Voice.

Jooyeon Lee, Back to Back

Jooyeon Lee’s performance film Back to Back (2020), commissioned for an online project Girls in Quarantine in South Korea, follows a night wanderer talking to an agent from a cleaning company on the phone. At the centre of the conversation is a broken and neglected fridge, filled with food, decaying. The agent’s nuanced questions reveal the intricacy of such care work: holding space for one’s loneliness, shame, and vulnerability. This transactional yet sympathetic exchange is enacted by the two jumping across the city in the night, back to back with their arms locked. The absurd and arduous performance embodies the difficulties of living in an interconnected world and caring for one another in a relentlessly individualised capitalist system.

Artist Bio

Jooyeon LEE documents and visually composes the political influence of clinical loneliness through films, drawings, and texts. She directed Golden Week (2018), Witch Wander Whistle (2019), The Ermines (2020), and Back to Back (2020). She has published a series of poetry and novels on the online literary platform D5nz5n (http://www.d5nz5n.com). Her works were introduced at the Seoul Independent Film Festival 2020, web exhibition Girls in Quarantine (curated by Jiwon Yu, 2020), etc.

JooYeon Lee’s interview

Credit

This video has been selected by Sun Park.

Tuesday, 13 – Monday, 19 Apr | Jeongyoon Ahn – Onlooker

Onlooker

In her research document, What Will Become of My Soul, artist Jooyeon Lee offers a list of poetic provocations. One of them writes, “Find a friend’s wavelength that gets longer as the distance increases”.

When our safety depends on keeping the distance between bodies, the tautness of threads binding us as a whole is more apparent and palpable than ever before. However, what Lee’s question conjures is the possibility of an intensified sense of connectivity as a means to register the complexity, fragility and reciprocity of relationships rather than a measure against a threat.

Responding to Lee’s provocation, two films selected for this programme address loneliness and interconnectedness, rendered invisible by social isolation. In both films, the loneliness experienced by an individual is inextricably enmeshed within the broader social structure. Meandering ambiguous boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, seemingly disparate images and stories collide to zoom in and out of the interconnected whole. They embrace the complex and fluid nature of connectivity while acknowledging our limits to understanding one another, inviting us to think with their unresolved and unending conversations.

“We were trying to search for our places in the world through the process of grieving. Instead, it unsettled the world as we knew it. As the conversation continued, we only came to realise how little we knew about our lost ones.” – Jeongyoon Ahn and Misun Ahn from Two Voice.

Jeongyoon Ahn, Onlooker

Artist Jeongyoon Ahn and her collaborator Misun Ahn have been recording their intimate conversations around death and loss as a mourning practice. Their slow and ongoing dialogue inspires a series of films, exhibitions and writings, engendering a collective practice of sharing and hearing grief. In Ahn’s 2016 film Onlooker, they share drawings of their dreams; Misun meets her injured cat, and Jeongyoon sees the death of her departed friend. These drawings give shapes to fear and guilt, longing and remembering through which they see the entwined relationship between life and death.

Artist Bio

Jeongyoon AHN deals with personal disasters and depressions. She produces video works by observing how people feel and express their fears of anonymous life and death and reconstructing them into her language. The Hymn of a Republic (2009) was screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and won the Seoul International New Media Festival’s Rising Artist Award in 2010. Onlooker (2016) won the Korean EXiS Award at the Experimental Film & Video Festival in Seoul and was selected as the best independent film collection project by the Korean Film Archive in 2016.

Jeongyoon AHN’s interview

Credit

This video has been selected by Sun Park.
The screening is organised in collaboration with The Stream

Tuesday, 20 – Monday, 26 Apr | Jaemin Cha – Sound Garden

Sound Garden

Living the times in which our physical and mental health are heavily challenged, Jeamin Cha and Cha Ji Ryang question the conditions of living as a human being and the psychological response to the complexities of the modern system.

In this rather dystopian era triggered by the pandemic, our society is met with collateral casualties who experience depression, anxiety and emotional contagion. Jeamin Cha’s Sound Garden (2019) focuses on the act of counselling as a tool for self-investigation, and the entangled relationship between mental health and neoliberalism. In her work, the act of counselling reflects its practicality as a systemic function of rehabilitation for people who fail to adapt to the highly-structured society, ultimately redirecting them to reality. Similar to her previous work On Guard (2018) where the protagonist’s social and private positions are contravened between the ideas of ‘caring’ and ‘guarding’, Cha again pinpoints this paradox of ‘treating’ and ‘training’ of patients through counselling within the context of capitalism. As one of the counsellor’s comments in the film, “Nobody can completely break away from the system that they’re in.”, the cultivated and transited trees for commercial use are reminiscent of us living in the moment. And Sound Garden further testifies that the roots of fear and confusion in the present society is not a mere product of the virus, but a result of our inability to heal our minds and the continued social neglect of these contemporary issues.

Whilst Jeamin Cha looks into the subjects of social structure, individuals within the system, and the alienated forms of people, Cha Ji Ryang unfolds his imagination through the cracks embedded in the social system. His work, After Life (2020) is a non-fictional video work produced through personal experiences of living in a small rural village called Naesae, which in English can be translated as ‘after life’. Through his soul-searching journey and voluntary migration to an unrealistically peaceful space, he celebrates a private but communal moment, recreating a ritual of community. In times when social distancing is perceived as a form of social vaccination, the viewers are invited to meditate on the life outside of the systems and our urban society, and re-think about individuals who negotiate daily under the unprecedented environment we are all facing.

Jeamin Cha, Sound Garden

Jeamin Cha’s Sound Garden (2019) captures scenes of large pine trees being cultivated, transported and installed by landscapers and developers with a voiceover of four female counsellors’ interviews about their patients and personal stories. The images of trees being farmed and transplanted for commercial purposes and the self-confessing voices of female counsellors combine to provoke an understanding of the human spirit that has been shaped and affected by our modern values and the ever-evolving social environment. Through the vocal display of a contemporary human figure, the film enables us to envisage an understanding of our modern society, its psychological landscape and the rather dislocated human emotions within the systems.

Artist Bio

Jeamin Cha works variously between film, performance, and installation. Her works are not constituted of synthesized images, but lens-based, and ask about the possibilities and helplessness of visual arts and documentaries. She approaches the reality of individuals through the process of interviews and field studies, and notes how society permeates their lives. Cha has participated in numerous group exhibitions and festivals, including: Asia Culture Center, Film at Lincoln Center; KADIST; Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art; Berlin International Film Festival; Gwangju Biennale; Seoul Museum of Art Biennale Mediacity; Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival; DMZ International Documentary Film Festival and the Jeonju International Film Festival to name just a few.

Jeamin Cha’s interview

Credit

This video has been selected by Jaemin Cha.

Tuesday, 27 – Monday, 03 May | Jiryang Cha – After Life

AfterLife
Living the times in which our physical and mental health are heavily challenged, Jeamin Cha and Cha Ji Ryang question the conditions of living as a human being and the psychological response to the complexities of the modern system.

In this rather dystopian era triggered by the pandemic, our society is met with collateral casualties who experience depression, anxiety and emotional contagion. Jeamin Cha’s Sound Garden (2019) focuses on the act of counselling as a tool for self-investigation, and the entangled relationship between mental health and neoliberalism. In her work, the act of counselling reflects its practicality as a systemic function of rehabilitation for people who fail to adapt to the highly-structured society, ultimately redirecting them to reality. Similar to her previous work On Guard (2018) where the protagonist’s social and private positions are contravened between the ideas of ‘caring’ and ‘guarding’, Cha again pinpoints this paradox of ‘treating’ and ‘training’ of patients through counselling within the context of capitalism. As one of the counsellor’s comments in the film, “Nobody can completely break away from the system that they’re in.”, the cultivated and transited trees for commercial use are reminiscent of us living in the moment. And Sound Garden further testifies that the roots of fear and confusion in the present society is not a mere product of the virus, but a result of our inability to heal our minds and the continued social neglect of these contemporary issues.

Whilst Jeamin Cha looks into the subjects of social structure, individuals within the system, and the alienated forms of people, Cha Ji Ryang unfolds his imagination through the cracks embedded in the social system. His work, After Life (2020) is a non-fictional video work produced through personal experiences of living in a small rural village called Naesae, which in English can be translated as ‘after life’. Through his soul-searching journey and voluntary migration to an unrealistically peaceful space, he celebrates a private but communal moment, recreating a ritual of community. In times when social distancing is perceived as a form of social vaccination, the viewers are invited to meditate on the life outside of the systems and our urban society, and re-think about individuals who negotiate daily under the unprecedented environment we are all facing.

Cha Ji Ryang, After Life

Cha Ji Ryang’s After Life (2020) is a 30-minute video with self-composed music based on the artist’s short-term experience of living in the small rural town called ‘After life’. This 3-channel video is filled with lingering shots of the village ‘After life’, an area that is currently almost abandoned. Though, it has been depicted as rather romantic; clouds in the sky, sunlight after a long rainy season, highlighting the natural changes of the seasons. With the visual narratives, Cha also employs socially engaging practices and participatory forms by creating a picturesque performance of the elderly in the village. By observing the movements of a mundane life accompanied by therapeutic music, the film provides the idea of continuance and the potential forms of collective healing to defy the crisis.

Artist Bio

CHA Ji Ryang has led numerous media-based participative projects and worked on initiating theme-based sites that focus on systems and individuals. He produced Midnight Parade (2010), Temporary Enterprise (2011), New Home (2012), K-Refugees Series (2014-), BATS Project (2016-), BGM (2018), Only people who decided to leave, can see everything (2012.12.20-2019.12.20), which have been presented through various media including exhibitions, interdisciplinary arts, and film festivals.

Credit

This video has been selected by Jaemin Cha

Tuesday, 04 – Monday, 10 May | Taey Iohe – A great circle with no rim

A Great Circle

Taey Iohe’s autofictive A great circle with no rim (2021) expresses the intersectional* embodiment of the migrant, gendered, and queer in the public space during the pandemic in the UK. A body departed, but yet to arrive, neither in step nor in sync. The non-binary body has always to be vigilant; the foreign body is perceived as unwanted contagion.

The title references Denise Riley’s 2012 essay, “Time Lived, Without Its Flow,” where she explored grief after the death of her son. The expansive ‘circle’ suggests at once the altered experience of stopped time after devastating loss, and the abyss of non-existence beyond. Iohe’s film alludes to how current living conditions with institutional closures, social distancing, and hyper-digitised working conditions, simulate a similar cyclical, suspended sense of time.

Connecting these complex personal and social conditions, Iohe intertwines her writing, art-making and running as aesthetic and critical practices in engaging the unwelcoming exterior with their own internal ambivalence. The film pairs intimate shots of the moving pen, with the runner’s slow circuit around the park. Tracing a direct inscription from the mental landscape to the paper, Iohe visualises her movement with dots across a sheet of paper, linking the dab to rice to the circle to steps – mapping the psychosocial, poetic, and political spheres of the discomfited agent. Iohe’s habitual gestures conflate how all writing begins with the desire to score the distance between points, and how running articulates the craving of the body to contour its interiority to its environs. Writing and running are both disciplines that require determination to reclaim public space – where it might currently be considered perilous to do so as an Asian queer migrant in the era of the double pandemic* – where the second virus of racism was fuelled in the aftermath of Brexit and the Home Office’s ongoing hostile environment policy that has spiked the rise of xenophobia against immigrants; and the surge of Anti-Asian violence worldwide after the racialisation of the Coronavirus.

Iohe expresses their urge towards the relational dialogics, where the post-illness and injury critical body must seek alternative networks of kinship and care. The poem is voice-narrated by Olu Niyi-Awosusi, a London-based black, queer writer, and Haein Kim, an international student now relocated back to Seoul, also Iohe’s place of birth. The running body in the film becomes a liminal site in flux, vocalised by multiple registers of socio-cultural histories.

This collaborative sensibility reflects Iohe’s broader practice that seeks to enable communal knowledge building and care. As a cultural organiser she has founded collectives, and been involved in various London-based groups and networks such as the Feminist Duration Reading Group, and Asia-Art-Activism. This intensive collectivising may seem compensatory for earlier years of experienced alienation, but is now coalesced around feminist politics of nurturning inter-community solidarity. Speaking of her newly instigated running collective, Critical Point Run, Iohe references the mathematical notion where one might seem to be unmoving, but at a crucial juncture, there is a sudden ascension to a different level. The film expresses an awareness of this moment of potentiality – with its wistful pan up to ‘circle of trees’ framing the sky, and the pen’s ever-expanding circle – to suggest the freefall delimitations of a reimagined, co-created future beyond its rim.

* Crenshaw, Kimberle, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8. Available at: http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8 accessed 20 March 2021

* Chang, B. “From ‘Illmatic’ to ‘Kung Flu’: Black and Asian Solidarity, Activism, and Pedagogies in the Covid-19 Era”. Postdigit Sci Educ 2, 741–756 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00183-8 accessed 20 March 2021

Artist Bio

Taey IOHE is an artist and writer working between art, literature and social practice, based in London and Seoul. She is interested in the liminal space occupied by women, migrants, and queers as a site of political, cultural and linguistic resistance. She works with spatial installations that combine performance, film, sound, photography and text to explore postcolonial and intersectional realities. Currently, her time is invested in collaborative productions, exploring collective knowledge building and the potential political resonances of the future landscape. In 2019, she founded the experimental learning platform, ‘Care for Collective Curatorial Practice’ which explores the idea of care, collectivity and curatorial thinking in critical practice. She is also a working member of the Feminist Duration Reading Group. She is currently taking up space as an artist resident at the Arts Catalyst and Asia Art Activism.

Credit

This video has been selected by Annie Jael Kwan

Tuesday, 11 – Monday, 17 May | Rice Brewing Sisters Club – Mountain Storytellers, Storytelling Mountains: A Tale Theatre

Mountain Storytellers

From home ground to homegrown. A grain to the circle. Body to body. This filmic pairing of Cheopcheopdamdam Iyagigeuk (2020) [loosely translated as Mountain Storytellers, Storytelling Mountains: A Tale Theatre] and A great circle with no rim acknowledges the antipodal conjunction between the UK and Korea, and its invariable connotations of here/there, and home/away. The films are linked by their similar concerns of centring an embodied reconnection to our environment, and employing poetic and performative collective expressions that connect the granular to the social and political.

Cheopcheopdamdam Iyagigeuk is the first film by the eco-feminist Rice Brewing Sisters Club (RBSC). RBSC comprises three artists: Hyemin Son, Aletheia Hyun-Jin Shin and Soyoon Ryu, who formed as a collective that identify as sisters whose artistic methodology employs the concept of “social fermentation” with the medium of rice – a dietary staple that entangles historical, cultural and political narratives for vast populations across South, Southeast, East Asias and its diasporas. RBSC was formed in 2018, after Son explored in a 2017 UK residency how to find new and adaptive ways in the UK to process and create the Korean rice wine with what was possible and available. RSBC have since worked in close partnership with multiple independent producers (farmers, brewers, writers, artists, theorists etc) and community organisations both within and outside Korea to experiment with brewing and fermenting with diverse participatory and bodily processes of creation.

Cheopcheopdamdam Iyagigeuk presents an experimental video where the poems and stories that chapter its segments are based on collective oral histories and co-imagining of folk tales, crafted with local collaborations and feature characteristic Korean popular inclination towards wordplay. Both human/non-human actors, performed by the residents and objects of Deokgeo-ri, Bongpyeong, South Korea, prance and gesticulate on a shared forest and agrarian stage, enacting fantastical interspecies tableaux of cooperation and coexistence.

The film expresses RBSC’s divestment in durational communal labour as an approach that creates alternative social relations, a form of relational and dialogic aesthetics as well as activates the traditional Korean collective consciousness of “woori”*, that perhaps could even be read as an extension of the Korean minjung movement with its engagement with the political conditions underpinning social issues. From its genesis, the collective name and first workshop were dedicated in solidarity to its participants that were involved in the concurrent MeToo movement in Korea. RBSC extended socio-political engagement with an eco-feminist agenda that is intertwined with the project’s concern with recuperating post-capitalist planetary depletion of resources via feminist agricultural movements in Korea. For example, one of their feminist farmer partners, Sister’s Garden, is an independent producer of rice amongst other local seasonal produce, which is sold directly via the market and online to consumers, and a portion of their yearly native rice harvest goes into the seed farm operated in the Sister’s Garden for preservation of species and the next year’s cycle.

Via wine and art-making congregations, RBSC wish to share their cross-disciplinary camaraderie and epicurean enjoyment, but more importantly, they aspire to a collective spirit that animates other bodies and voices alongside their own to co-create new imagined realities.

* Hee An Choi, A Postcolonial Self: Korean Immigrant Theology and Church, State University of New York Press 2015, c1.

Artist Bio

Rice Brewing Sisters Club (RBSC) is a collective of sisters who works with the concept of “social fermentation” as an art form. They expand the concept of fermentation beyond biochemical transformation, to an open-ended practice that gives birth to new synergistic modes of brewing and fermenting. They also experiment with the “social” and the “relational” by traversing multiple fields including visual art, performance, cooking, creative writing, oral history, ecological thinking, and auntie wisdoms. Operating on a yearly membership, RBSC takes collaboration as a core method. They collaborate within and beyond the boundaries of a collective, host open-ended platforms, and create a network of rice eaters and past-present-future dwellers that are both human and more-than-human.

Credit

This video has been selected by Annie Jael Kwan

Tuesday, 18 – Monday, 24 May | Minhwi Lee & Yun Choi – Viral Lingua

Viral Lingua

Commissioned by the 2018 Busan Biennale, Viral Lingua (2018) is a work resulting from the collaboration of musician Minhwi Lee and visual artist Yun Choi. As suggested by the title, the piece explores language and its virality – its potential as a vehicle for cultural tropes, for the transmission of political ideas and for the diffusion of new imaginaries in South Korean society – and unfolds as an audio-visual hexaptych, each section comprising a song written by Choi. Although each is thematically distinct, the clips are unified by Lee and Choi’s staging of a performer, mostly shot frontally and superimposed on various backgrounds, filmed or computer-generated. These visual layerings are further complicated through make-up, props and visual effects used by the performer and the artists which provide additional relationships between figure and ground serving the symbolic registers of the work in multiple playful ways.

For instance, in the first part of the video entitled Dear Nara, the performer wears make-up referring to the sunset she is singing in front of, reminiscent of those found in popular patriotic love songs. She does not look at the sun, instead her eyes have become suns. Moreover, this song to Nara – 나라 meaning ‘country’, or referring to a common first name – is not one of love, but of break-up. There are multiple suns rather than one – which would refer to one’s patriotic faith – which come together with the sentimentalism of the song which sings not one’s love for the nation, but one’s distancing from it.

Wildflowers (야생화, yasaenghwa), the second scene, plays on the polyphony of the word: ‘wild flower’ or ‘becoming wild’. Here, wilderness is manifested both through the scenery and the performer one can hear screaming ‘kill!’ (죽여라!, jukgyeora!), ‘eradicate’ (척결하라!, chokkyolheora!), etc. Such slurs can be heard at right wing protests on Korean streets, sonic phenomena the artists have likened to the sounds of wild beasts.

The third segment, Mouth to Mouth, explores various forms of the power of suggestion of whispered speech. Silent weddings, the spread of ASMR and its use in commercials and viral marketing inform this scene which sees the performer with two lips drawn on their face. Here, it is the mouth as the organ for the articulation of language, at the threshold of the audible, which is emphasised, in an associative play with phenomenon such as the belief and fear in spies (from North Korea) prevalent in South Korean society – unuttered but not without efficacy.

Living with Ah and Uh plays on the phonic variation of the two syllables (아, a; 어, eo) which results from the graphic mirroring of one similar element in these letters, or ‘a piece of paper difference’ as such minimal, yet radical, differences are referred to in Korean. Showing twins struggling against each other to survive, Ah and Uh ponders on the sense of sameness and otherness between the two Koreas.

Questions of national and cultural boundaries are further evoked in Heartburn which features a bodyless punctured head and a headless punctured body. The scene refers German writer Christa Wolf’s novel In the Flesh (translated in Korean as 몸앓이 ‘momari’, or ‘a pain in the body’). Cuts between North and South political bodies translate as bodily pain visualised through the superimposition of this emptied organism over urban and natural landscapes.

Finally, Do Not Trust Laughing and Crying Futures is a meditation on the political future of Korea. Using the language of fantasy flicks, the performer is presented here with schizoid traits in the face of conflicting – pessimistic or optimistic – narratives around what is to come.

All in all, Viral Lingua explores and associates spoken and written language, sound and musical motifs, and an uncanny theatrical visuality to express a structure of thought and feeling in response to politics, culture, media and history in South Korea. In the context of A Viewing Room which attempts to capture something of our experience of living in lockdown, Lee and Choi’s work might speak to a sense of disorientation in the face of information overload. Language is not only viral but, as Jacques Lacan reminds us, a disease, one into which one is born and by which one is parasited.

Artist Bio

Minhwi LEE has composed and directed music for various feature films, video art, and performances since 2008. Films she scored were invited to multiple international film festivals including Film Festival Rotterdam, the Berlinale, SITGES, and IDFA, among others. Lee is also known for her 2016 solo album Borrowed Tongue and her former band Mukimukimanmansu. She studied musicology in Seoul and film scoring in New York and Paris. She currently lives and works in Seoul.

Yun CHOI lives and works in Seoul. Choi compiles scenes from public places and popular media that capture a social climate. She repurposes these scenes by combining mixed-media installations and performances for her video works. Interested in pedestrian and conventional images, words and behaviours of contemporary Korean society, she focuses on the collective belief and fantasies that they imply. Choi had solo exhibitions at DOOSAN Gallery Seoul and New York, Art Sonje Center project space, and participated in group exhibitions held at Asia Culture Center, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Arko Art Museum, 2018 Busan Biennale, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul Museum of Art, and more.

Credit

This video has been selected by Adeena Mey.

Tuesday, 25 – Monday, 31 May | Rho Jae Oon – Dear John S#. 01. Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

In Dear John S#. 01. Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (2018), the artist Rho Jae Oon reads cyber-activist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation John Perry Barlow’s ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ (1996), a manifesto defending early netizens’ rights and freedom against any encroachment from the material world, represented by states and industries. The text read is superimposed on sequences from a virtual journey on Google Earth, itself overlapping with scenes from the North Korean martial arts film Hong Kil-dong (홍길동, 1986) – based on an eponymous novel by sixteenth century politician and scholar Heo Gun – as well as abstract computer-generated animation reminiscent of the early cybernetic cinema of the likes of artists-engineers John and James Whitney and Jordan Belson.

Rho’s work participates in the experimental tradition of the found footage film and of the cinema of appropriation which consists in sampling and re-editing pre-existing cinematic material. Dear John S#. 01. Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace is based on a principle of audio-visual disjunction, the confrontation of the signification of the text with the meaning of the visual footage feeding a dynamic of de-contextualisation and re-contextualisation of the video’s elements to produce an effect of estrangement in the viewer. Ultimately, this strategy defamiliarises meaning by creating new ones. Barlow’s techno-utopian text translates concerns quite symptomatic of its time, the 1990s and the early days of the World Wide Web, aligning with the then widely shared desires and hopes to transcend matter and material realities. As the essay’s concluding sentence has it: ‘We will create a civilisation of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.’ Recent history and the environmental costs of data storage, for instance, are enough to contest such cyber-libertarian naivety; however, it is telling of more philosophical problems such as the dualisms between mind and matter, or actuality and virtuality, which seem to be at the core of Rho’s piece. Indeed, in the opening sequences, as we hear Rho reading Barlow’s first paragraph ‘Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone’, we see close shots of the earth. While it is rendered computationally by Google Earth, the images emphasise the earth’s physicality and materiality. Such images of the globe are themselves part of a genealogy of techno-utopian ideas and their visual culture, projects such as the Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue and the publication of the first photographic images of the earth from space in 1968 being pivotal moments for conceptions of globalisation and the shrinking of spatial and temporal orders.

If, to some extent, the earth’s shots could be seen as echoing Barlow’s ideas, the former’s superimposition with protagonists and scenes from Hong Kil-dong appear to destabilise these narratives. Considered a kind of Korean Robin Hood, Kil-dong is the illegitimate son of a nobleman and of one of his concubines. Having to leave the household, he is rescued and trained by an old martial arts master. Kil-dong will go on stealing from the rich to give to the poor and fight Japanese invaders. The overlapping imagery from Hong Kil-dong introduces human figures and bodies into the audio-visual landscape of the work, as well as questions of class struggle and autonomy.

Around the middle, the video shifts to a Google Maps shot on Paul Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence, France, subsequently reverting its vertical vision to a horizontal one, the viewer then being taken around the neighbourhood. This also seems to refer to questions around the actual and the virtual. Writing about Cézanne in his book on Francis Bacon, philosopher Gilles Deleuze contended that ‘psychic clichés’ and ‘ready-made perceptions’ pre-exist their re-formatting on a canvas, taking as example Cézanne’s internal and external milieus: ‘The painter has many things in his head, or around him, or in his studio. Now everything he has in his head or around him is already in the canvas, more or less virtually, more or less actually, before he begins his work.’*

Finally, it is difficult not to see in Dear John S#. 01. Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace a nod to the Situatonist artist René Viénet’s film Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (1973). Indeed, Viénet already overlayed footage from a Hong-Kongese martial art films with a voice over iterating Marxist theory, an example of the Situationist strategy of détournement. Viénet saw in the latter applied to vernacular cinema the possibility to realise Marx’s critique of political economy, dubbing the characters’ voices which became vehicles for the diffusion of the proletarian critique of bourgeoisie. In this regard, Rho’s can be seen as an attempt at updating the strategy of détournement in the context of cybernetic capitalism, of which, with the current generalised pervasiveness of screens, we seem to be witnessing an updated version.

* Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon. The Logic of Sensation, London: Continuum, 2002, p. 86.

Artist Bio

Rho Jae Oon has produced a number of web-based projects including Vimalaki.net, AEGIPEAK, Bite the Bullet! and God4saken. Rho has had solo exhibitions at Insa Art Space, Art Space Pool, Gallery Plant and Atelier Hermès. He participated in numerous group exhibitions at venues such as PLATEAU, the Samsung Museum of Art and the New Museum. His work has been presented in international biennials including SeMA Biennale (2014), Busan Biennale (2012) and the Gwangju Biennale (2006). Rho is currently a director of C12 Pictures.

Credit

This video has been selected by Adeena Mey.

Links:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.