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Ten Single Shots, 2013 Video Installation, 8’56” Loop, Six Channel Video Installation, 5.1 Channel Sound **
Image Credit Courtesy of the artist
Indulgence in the Freedom of Paradox - Video Art by Jungju An The motive or conviction behind using machines for human artistic acts functions as an important element in the stages where the artwork, a result of such artistic act, is criticized and assessed. When we look at video art, we are inspired by the mysteries of the recorded world, and start to explore the secrets veiled behind another façade of this world. The moment the works are placed in the network of communication, they are subjected to the ever changing flow of creation, at times receiving criticism that perpetuates and affirms the work. Whether desired or not, they are sometimes also troubled by being buried in condolences from objects with hollow words, while at other times demonstrate a warped imagination about the hopeless world. Video art is given the fate of repetitive process of emptying and filling. This text introduces the values in the practice of emptying and filling to which all video artists are obligated. After graduating from the Department of Eastern Painting from Seoul National University in 2004, Jungju An has consistently worked mainly with video. In his solo exhibition Video Music in 2005, most of the video sources were recorded during his travels abroad. His travelogue is filled with signs that are quite different from that of mix-match TV travel programs. While An’s videos introduce places in the world that do not seem to exist in this very same earth in the same period, they do not present shallow unfamiliarity or frustration encrusted in sophistication. The remote, seemingly nameless place appears like a dream without any specific visual variation. What are also captured are extremely mundane rituals of those who abide by the laws of their gods so as to not fall behind in the world. Actually, a tourist walking around with a video camera is plentifully a common sight in today’s media age, in which the act of remembering the other has become popularized. The scenes of life across the oceans are being captured through a ‘familiar’ perspective and being delivered to us in this present day when the Korean government has become extremely lenient about its citizens travelling abroad. Countless places that we have never even laid our foot on are somehow familiar and are naturally registered and presented in our mind. The symbolic system and method of representing exotic scenes allows us to momentarily forget the contemptibility of today. Suddenly, we escape the labors of reality and become a tourist, leisurely indulging in unfamiliar places.
Shan Lim Text Sunhye Hwang Translaltion This text was originally published in the catalog of Arko Media Critique Series (2012) by Arko Art Center, Arts Council Korea.
The excessive desire for ‘there’ is satisfied, just like that, through mediating images that are usually taken out from context of tourism and naturalized into a cultural text. As such travel programs are meant to comfort the public, they are equipped with technical and narrative abilities for more or less an allegorical sketch. In contrast, Jungju An’s video source is charged with the artist’s own way of observing the world, which hopes to see the background of what is captured, perhaps in order surpass the powerless limitations in the given frame of sensation and subsequent habit of cognition. In Their War 1 (2005), a young tourist, who temporarily deviates from his life in the merciless city, transforms bleak poverty to joy that fills the screen. Their War 2 (2005) inserts completely everyday elements of nature in a sacred space of silence and awe. The collective memories of pleasure are engraved in a place which should be filled with sounds of ideology, trying to solve the inherent perilousness of the place. It seems that An has fitfully chosen to work with the world of frustration and hopelessness with the distinct artistic sense that he acquired through travelling. However, he does not focus on intensifying this world; rather, he first of all records the accumulation of ‘human’ problems of various dimensions. Thus begins the rhetoric of his ‘paradox’. Jungju An’s thoughts on military, capital, war and nation have probably spread to a more extensive and profound level through the process of documenting and editing video footages from his travels in Ethiopia, Israel, Pakistan and China. The technique through which the footage is converted onto the screen employs a type of cultural fantasy. There is almost no trace of desire for connection between figures that appear in An’s work, as if pain from desire has already vaporized even before it is conveyed. While he does not try to conceal the actual situations, he also does not propose the will to overcome them in accordance with contemporary social structure, nor apply image symbols that call forth a new world. While exotic colors do stimulate the viewer in An’s videos, which rearrange the present through times of the past, an aspect that is even more overwhelming is how ‘filtered’ sounds are revived into ‘live’ sounds. In such edited world of video-sound, reality is delightfully violated, and all that remains is the calm ambivalent paradox of travelling that nonchalantly takes place in a completely different time and space. An’s paradoxical video is an attempt to spatialize aural information to visual one by transforming the physical mechanism that produces sound. First, he records everyday sounds and movements that seem to have a special presence as a song in a conservational
The Bottles, 2007. Two Channel Video, 00:04:30
form, then bestows intended pattern on the raw sound by restructuring the footage. In the final work, the footage mimics the acoustic characteristics of certain music (song) from reality, ultimately serving the artist’s listening-oriented objective. This kind of listening experience is not all that unique in the new world of multi-sensorial environment in which the body becomes an extension of a collage of cutting edge media. Therefore, it is not easy to grasp the entirety of An’s work only through the clichés of contemporary media as a collage of senses or coexistence of aural and visual worlds. One thing we should not miss out on here is the extension and expansion of the sociocultural and archaeological meaning in such image-sound relationship. An’s sound dilutes the conventional narratives of the image on the screen. Through this process, the viewer separates and creates the system of aural codes from the social context of acoustic environment, at times even holding back the possibility of subconscious resistance. For example, The Bottles (2007), which was presented in Turn Turn Turn, An’s second exhibition in 2007, captured the Soju bottles endlessly rotating on a conveyor belt. It did not strike me that the rhythm of the mechanical noise resembles the rhythm in a popular hit song at first, probably because my hearing does not function independently from my vision. Instead, the work conjured up a news report presenting how many bottles of Soju Korean men drink per year on average, what health complications follow too much drinking, and how absurd the drunken office get- togethers are in Korea. Looking at the perpetual movement symbolizing the flow of capital, and the
movement of the singular object Soju bottles, I came to draw an analogy between such circulation with the circulation of human beings, and the vanished human labor. There are probably a few sociological ideas that are roused up by human recognition of the meaning in such order and pattern. The counterattack of An’s ‘planned’ sounds seems too meticulous to indulge in such arrangement of intellectual thoughts. The variable facets of sound are revealed in the dull placid video. The sound emerges as dormant creative energy the moment the viewer’s eyes lose their focus on the mechanical movements in the video, and start to doubt what he or she is seeing. The raw sound without any message is reconstituted through machines, and reinvented into a specific song. What the listener witnesses is the process through which the raw sound, more like static noise, forms a new aural space, and this signifies the listener’s poetic will to embrace the elapsing of time as a continuous event. However, such verbal variation is secured when video, as a medium, gets involved in the construction of the meaning of the work. By operating ‘visible’ signs in order to find ‘invisible’ sounds, An’s work takes on an extremely semantic approach to explicitly turn the movement in the video into a message. An’s work is also a double manifestation which fills the space of subconscious imagination and aspirations of invisible sound with visual elements. Meanwhile, An’s technique of double superimposition which works with the aspect of time in his raw footage prompts us to think about the media culture that advises us the ‘technique’ of listening to sounds. With paranoia energy, our everyday life resonates with sounds that seize our consciousness, and sound becomes a signifier that takes our vision to the origin of sound, turning it into a gaze. When the process that is firmly held by the reality of sound pursues living sound, and also chases the visual movement of objects that are interlocked with it, the continuity of footage clarifies the tightness of the sounds. In Their War 3 (2005), sound does not merely arrive at the idea of nation. The flag, army uniform and soldiers in the work tightly weave together the multifarious relationships between sounds. While hostile spaces like borders root down deep into the memories that preserve national identity. However, the ‘technique’ involved in listening to An’s work treats the hostile space as a place of coexistence. Therefore, An’s space of surveillance and animosity actually presents an opportunity for introspection. The human ears can affirm new life and recognize the principles of the video medium, and if we follow An’s curiosity of a tourist, we can experience sounds that are excluded from the deductive acts of
social reality. For example, Drill (2005) intervenes in the listener’s conventional cognitive structure, which shifts from tangible materialization to totalitarian sensibility. We tense up with a ritual that is repeated at a fixed time in a fixed place, and the sound that accompanies the ritual functions as a psychological requisite that enforces ritualistic constraint. Observing the Chinese soldiers on a close-order drill in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing, An said: “Drills are not something unfamiliar for me as I have served in the army. Travelling turns the ordinary into unfamiliarity. Individual identity is never something that can be found in drills, which is a perfectly collective action.” Such restrained movement is probably not only required from the body, as the human civilization has long since tried to maintain conformity in pursuit of harmonious whole. Thus such restraint simplifies an individual under the collective. However, one can easily overlook the intention in An’s sound editing if we see his video as a mere romantic outlook on restraint and collectivity. Most of us find it uneasy to see the rhythmic clapping of worshippers of strange new religions or their cries in so-called ‘praying together’ that we sometimes see on televised news, as it shows a side of this tedious and anxious world. This is because we try to avoid the familiar world of conventions that tries hard to suppress the countless possibilities of freedom in the moment of transformation from world of fact to world of perception. For an artist — especially a media artist who records and modifies sensorial information and challenges the act of dividing and arranging to symbolize through image — it might be interesting to newly establish the way image and sound exist. The artist chose video as a means of casting an honest light on his inner world, and created sounds that turn public events into personal memories. Therefore, as An had once said, it seems that the aural image he proposes is a paradoxical realization that musically elaborates on the psychology involved in perceiving ‘ordinary’ as unfamiliarity, and the rebellion against the disciplined stoicism. Breaking to Bits (2007) captures the moment a building, whose essence is threatened by uselessness, is taken down to the ground in dust, shedding light on the common experience in which ‘sound’ is forgotten through visual experience. However, An does not get carried away in what the sound is trying to say and affirm the subconscious peacefulness. In other words, he takes pleasure in the aesthetic experience of noises that inspire him rather than the noises as they are, while taking into consideration the competency of technological medium in order to protect the musical presence in the noise. An makes sure that no acts and sounds of violence enforced on the building is excluded.
This work does not attract the viewer by enlighteningly editing man’s selfish argument — that destruction leads to the birth of a new life — which infinitely relies on the magic of fictive world. Therefore, listening to the sound in An’s video does not signify listening as an intellectual leap over the enclosure put up by the stable structure of the video footage. Actually, by responding to the everyday language and sound and the balance of infinite conventions that follow with a ‘heavy’ burden (of meaning), we live with the misconception that we can become more involved in the creation of art work. Well aware of such, An tries to reject staying in the conventional process of such image interpretation as much as possible. An then proposes the audience to share the ‘light’ freedom which warmly welcomes the existence of such sound. The artistic freedom he asserts becomes complete not through directly relating to the certain decisiveness of meaning, but through creative sounds that do not make a detour or dismiss such relationship. The freedom which allows the new continuity of sound follows the cycle of recollection and violation in the attributes of the video medium. The form which escapes time, while still being based on traces of time, materializes the hierarchical reading of the video, effectively forming the paradoxical freedom in An’s work. He selects images that are familiar and not difficult, which are overlapped with newly edited sound. While everyday life is inherent in sound itself, what accompanies reality is a process of forming sounds that can never be formed naturally. Therefore, what is expressed in An’s work is the marvelousness in which reality is made to vanish or is replaced by man-made reality. At that moment, An perceives his own presence and makes his art ‘appear’. I would like to refer to this as the moment when his freedom is endowed with a more profound artistic depth. When we see images of ‘familiar’ daily life in An’s art, we are mesmerized less by the honest portrayal of the everyday than by the existence of extinguished time and transformation of things that seem new through it. An’s video is a manifestation of the will to discover sounds that might be living in somewhere hidden, and presents a new space of communication with a man-made reality created by such sounds. An’s distinct use of paradox began with the Lip Sync Project 1 and Lip Sync Project 2, produced in 2007-09. Although the screen shows situations that should be overflowing with sounds of manmade objects and voices, unexpected periods of silence fill the space here and there. The momentary world of panic feels much longer than one thinks. The viewer’s eyes are locked in the screen every
time a sound is heard or a movement is detected in the video. At the same time, one discovers that he or she is completely focused on the sound that is about to be heard. In SMoking (2007), people come out to the balcony to take a break and smoke a cigarette. Their actual aural context is completely eliminated from the video. What is heard through the silence is the voice of another, mimicking the sounds that would have been heard by subtle movements such as inhaling and exhaling of a cigarette. Interestingly, the sound establishes itself not as natural sound but as superimposed sound. Like the voice of caster broadcasting a smoking game, it is difficult to eliminate the feeling as if the sound is strictly objectifying the video. When sound after a certain movement is layered upon the movement, and if that conceives the grammatical function of language, the meaning and description of the movement in that moment is bound to be amplified in whichever possible way. However, the situation would change if that sound rids itself of the burden of ‘storytelling’, and thus triggers the lightness of just an auditory surface. In other words, Smoking places sound on image, forcing a smile from the viewer through the rhetorical coexistence of image and sound. At the same time, it also presents alternative ways of looking at the way in which oppressive image or sound is concealed by the common reconciliation in image-sound juxtaposition in daily life. An’s Lip Sync Projects progress on to remark on more cultural explorations through his Harmony series. The places in this series of work are of famous tourist attractions in Europe. During his travels, An documented the monument areas in tourist attractions. The camera is fixed, maintaining a specific angle. The ‘patriotic’ structures in Brussels, Innsbruck, Berlin, Madrid and Paris are completely familiar to us, perhaps because they are places which tourists automatically visit more out of a strange sense of obligation than anything else. It is certain that they are spaces that verify a long period of time in history. However, anything that could be called an event in such places occupied mainly with tourists is supported by words that are lighter than feather. Sound could be insubstantial to that level in a scene soon to be filled with ceaseless background hubbub of public transportations, tourist exclamations, familiar acronyms between fellow travelers and mechanical murmurs of indifference between strangers. The artist selected such places and eliminated all sound from them. And as if to put on a mask on an image, the artist has filled the places of disappeared sound with human voice. Why would An want people to hear ‘other’ sounds that substitute the original sounds from reality? To answer this question, An said:
Drill, 2005. Multi Channel Video, 00:03:30
Harmony at The Porte, Triumphal Gate, Harmony_ Lip Sync Project II in Paris, 2008. Single Channel Video, 00:03:24
Harmony at The Puerta, Alcala Gate, Harmony_Lip Sync Project II in Madrid, 2008. Single Channel Video, 00:03:23
“Sound took the most active role in the Lip Sync Projects (20072009). While I wish to continue to experiment with properties of sound through video, it is more enjoyable if the sound cooperates with meaning. I am undertaking a kind of method of expansion, and I think that this is about maximizing the meaning in the source.” Thus, the exploration into ‘difference’ first involves separating the natural sound form the video, substituting it with ‘other’ (verbal) sound, then focusing on the dual sensorial activation of the newly created image-sound combination. In other words, the words provided through the secondary ‘lip performance’ demonstrate their will to look at every subtle detail in the video. The people who participated in the Lip Sync Projects in Korea and abroad focused on the visual movements in the artist’s video, and dubbed their own voices and languages over the movements. The sound they make is a manifestation of their inner consciousness, and has the original value as an extension of bodily mechanism. The listeners, who listen to their voices on the premise of knowing that the sounds are not raw, take the conscious attitude of knowledge acquisition rather than going through a subconscious experience. Through this process, the visual experience of the famous tourist attractions momentarily ceases its dominating effect due to the newly created auditory order. The seemingly very personal and creative experiment of an artist actually demonstrates a strict social guideline. As a result, the sound obviously has an external effect as if it is controlling the video image in the final outcome of the work. Furthermore, the way the sound is replayed in An’s video shows the tendency to take itself out of the context of history and placeness in the space. The viewer’s eyes inevitably become optimized in accordance with the new sound, and one could even go as far as asserting that invisible process of control is delivered in tact to the viewer. Onomatopoeia and mimetic words from various countries are superimposed on the images that capture a sense of heaviness shaped by multifarious interests or traces of long history. Even then, one can feel the artist’s sense of liberty which does not approach the work with a common logic that reflects and processes troubles of reality. Thus, the artist probably escapes being trapped by the customary definitions of ‘lip-syncing’ and ‘dubbing’ due to his particularly ‘relaxed’ way of seeing and being in the world in terms of playing around with the boundaries of sensation. Recently, An is working on a new form of art which anticipates new ways of recording and replaying sound as a result of controlling the acoustic environment. As evident up to this
point, An sees the relationship between image and sound as ‘time difference’, and particularly observes the rank in perception through adjusting the realism of sound. In the process in which artists — especially those who work with video — use recorded or edited sound source instead of the original sound, there is the troubling desire in how they want the sound to be received by the listener. The act of watching a video is not just simply a practice of finding the balance between vision and hearing. When the ear hears something that is not in the video, it could be an interpretation or a special effect. In this regard, it seems that An feels the need to further testify video’s potential to approach the essence of events. Although one would not go as far as saying that An’s solo exhibition Honest Person at Project Space Sarubia in 2012 had a bombastic mission of verbalizing what cannot be said, the exhibition demonstrated the intention to visualize what is hidden or invisible, and a kind of ‘healing’ strategy to more or less neutralize the dogmatism and subordination entangled in recognized topos. Night Fishing (2012) captures the viewer by granting movement in the video without using the technique of moving the camera at all as shown in his previous works. This work is different from previous works in the sense that the actions of figures in the video clearly lead a narrative. ‘Narrative’ here refers to a type of frame which invigorates the flow of time along with the structure of incidents that take place. The elderly who participate in community track- and-field are lined up in the track to receive a small present from the host of the event. They all have a dull expression. They put in their fishing rod in the large box when it is their turn, and then someone hidden in the box attaches a present at the end of the fishing line. When they draw their rod and receive the present, their expression turns into complete joy. This work captures the pointless concealment of something obvious, along with those who enjoy being tricked by something so apparent. Edited into slow motion, their expressions and sounds of joy strangely delay the affirmation of aural sensation. The sound, like indistinct noise, seems to vaporize the meaning of reality, just like the meaning of the fake fishing. In particular, Troll (2012) or Rose of Sharon (2012) — works which rely on the semantic message through language — do not wholly deal with the thematic dimension of music listening in An’s video works focused through criticism so far. Instead, he inserted the verbal message which repeatedly appears and vanishes as a sound effect through editing, describing every joint in the plot of the video. Lyrics in songs like “We can do it”, “Love for our nation is
Troll, 2012. Three Channel Video, 00:04:35
Rose of Sharon, 2012. Sound & Installation, Calligraphy
Smoking, 2007. Single Channel Video, 00:02:30
unconditional” and “The happiness we can create” which circled our ears during presidential election period signify powerful instigation and discourse of fabrication, and are nothing more than simple ‘trolls’ as the title of the work suggests. When sound persists in our mind in the form of rhythm and meaning, it can function as a political and cultural metaphor. It is not too surprising that such form of violation is directly employed by An, who observes ideologies and the government with doubt and disavow. However, it is inevitable that we feel a bit of awkwardness in An’s attempt when taking into consideration the fact that since a certain point, the subversive sensibility in Korean art has patterned the immaterial self- reflection under disguise of objectiveness. It will be An’s role to distance away from visual art world that merely revives the emotional function towards the essence of things by indulging in cultural icon or intemperate choreography of language. When I think about the world that will be captured in An’s future work, what conjures up in my mind is the words of a poet who said that there is void even in between wind. As An said, people with good pitch are good at experiencing the healing through sound. It is exciting to see how such this master of sound sees the world. Rather than struggling with helplessness in the logic behind impenetrable life, I hope that his videos capture the courageous connection to the logic behind such life. I also hope that when he comes face-to-face with the reality of paradox, that sound can allow his eyes and video to take the leap into freedom.
Jungju An Jungju An studied painting in Seoul National University, and media art in graduate school of communication & art of Yonsei University. Since 2004 he works mainly work with video media dealing with social phenomenon. Recently he showed solo exhibition named Ten single shots and participated exhibitions The Shadows of the Future at National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest, Center Biennale Giovani Monza 2011 in Italy and Fukuoka Asia Triennale 2009 at Fukuoka Asia Museum, and so on. Web page for more information: www.anjungju.com
Shan Lim (Art Critic) Writer Shan Lim immersed himself in the questions of possibility and identity in the creative medium while he was thinking about the ‘freedom of paradox’ in Jungju An’s work throughout last summer, in particularly while thinking about the creative alternative of living together with ‘sound’. Thinking that perhaps it was a naïve dereliction of duty for Lim to have confronted the undue desires and pseudo solidarity of everyday life as a reliable and ideal researcher/ educator, Lim attempted to discover the seeds of multiple possibilities of life that can shed light on the humanistic imagination of society. Thus Lim’s objective is to extend his academic interest in amalgamative and experimental approach to art and culture to a more practical knowledge rather than confining it to an obvious level of mixed criticism. Lim hopes that his recent publication Aesthetics of Convergence: Nam June Paik’s Early Works in Germany, 1956-1963 functions as a small stepping stone for such resolution.
K. NOTe is a monthly digital publication that aims to introduce Korean artists and curators to overseas audiences. Much like an exquisitely interwoven Korean ‘Knot’, K.NOTe hopes to become a medium that creates strong ties and solid knots within the contemporary arts scene by publishing e-notebooks of Korean artists and events that are worthy of ‘Note’.