London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Exhibition visit: Transfer / 갈아타다 at the KCC

Simon Morley
Simon Morley discusses his ‘After “L’ Homme Révolté (1951)” 2014′ (2023) – Single channel video of photo by Park Chanwoo with sound by Nomis, 11′ 6″

It involves several levels of meta to post on a webpage a digital image of an exhibition that explores questions of what is lost when a physical work of art is recorded digitally and then reproduced. When the image records  a talk by one of the artist-curators of the exhibition discussing his own contribution to the exhibition – an animation he created of a photograph of his own monochrome painting of a work by Camus – we are beginning to get closer to a meta mille-feuille.

Transfer - the introductory text

The current exhibition at the KCC starts from the fact that much of our interaction with art is via reproductions : a photograph printed in a glossy book or a newspaper; a post on a website or a social media channel viewed on your smartphone screen. But a digital or analogue reproduction of an artwork can never be a substitute for experiencing the real thing. When we look at a collection of holiday photos, those that mean most to us are the ones that enable us to recall the memory of how we were feeling and what we were experiencing at the time we snapped the image. Similarly, in a real life encounter with an artwork you can view the artwork from different angles, examine the brushwork, the texture of the canvas, see how the colours change depending on the light in the space, feel the size of the work in relation to you, the viewer. All these experiences are lost when viewing a reproduction on a page or on a screen without the original personal encounter.

The UK-Korea collaborative project at the KCC explores different ways of capturing an abstract painting digitally that are more ambitious than a simple photograph. In documenting Alan Johnston’s Nagoya Suite, Ian Skelton’s digital still felt like an enlargement of part of the original, focusing in on a single element. This was the most literal approach taken to the documentation theme; most of the other responses involved digital video, either by the artist herself (in the case of Anna Mossman and Sooyeon Hong) or by another artist (eg Simon Eaves’s response to Daniel Strugis’s abstract work). Techniques involved relatively straightforward documentary style to close-ups that zoom in on and imaginatively distort the original. Capturing such reproductions on a cellphone’s digital camera for the purposes of this blog post is pretty much an impossibility.

Lim Taek Sang’s monochrome abstract work on canvas (Breathing Light-Breeze 2) is documented in two ways: first in a 22 second time lapse by Kim Eun Sic entitled 담 (Daam) as we experience the changing light playing over the work during the course of a day in a Korean gallery space; and secondly in a video by Park Myungrae entitled Work Process that documents, in close-up, aspects of the work’s creation, as we look at the paint seeping into the canvas like a rich consommé being filtered through muslin.

Sooyeon Hong’s abstract work Synchronicity 08-21 (2021) is created almost at random as the pale white pigment finds its own way around the blackened canvas. The result is a mysterious organic shape of the sort that might be encountered in a sophisticated ink-blot test. Hong chooses to document her work by digitally capturing individual segments of the work and animating them, with a result that resembles asteroids dancing with each other as they mysteriously drift through space.

Inyoung Kim, known for her paintings that depict abstract landscape created out of layers of thick enamel paint, takes things a step further, highlighting the distortions and inaccuracies involved in making digital records. Instead of displaying the original work she put it through a scanner, printing the result on large acrylic sheets. As we all know from scanning documents, the process does not always go to plan, and the artist has played with this fact by deliberately misaligning the print on the acrylic sheet and producing effects as if the painting has been dragged and shifted mid-scan.

The work by Lee Ufan has undergone the most radical digitisation, possibly reflecting the difficulties involved in attempting such a taste. Instead of attempting a literal reproduction of the tiny grey comma-shaped dash of paint on a field of creamy white, the artist Rafaël has videoed ten artists and critics responding to questions about their reactions to the painting. The commentators speak simultaneously, in Korean, meaning that even a Korean speaker would be hard-pressed to distinguish what is being said. Of all the digital responses to physical originals, this work was the most elusive, the cacophony of voices being at odds with the calm minimalism of the original, but nevertheless perhaps conveying that an art work is nothing without an audience to experience it.

Installation view
Left: Kim Eun-Sic’s video of Kim Taek-sang’s work. Right: Michael Kidner: Emperor’s New Mind No 3 (1997). Video coming soon

Building on the importance of an audience’s experience at a particular point in time and space, the exhibition will generate another work: at the opening event a video camera was placed in front of Michael Kidner’s abstract work Emperor’s New Mind No 3; a work will be created out of that footage of the visitors at the gallery that evening as the pass in front of and interact with the painting.

We also hear that there will be a conference in Seoul to take the ideas explored in this exhibition further.

Thanks to the KCC for presenting this curator talk, which should itself have been captured digitally to inform future visitors to the exhibition!

Transfer / 갈아타다: Korean and British Abstract Painting and the Digital Document continues at the KCC until 15 April 2023

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