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K.NOTe no.20

Yeondoo Jung


K.NOTe no.20

Yeondoo Jung

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Publisher Total Museum Press Pyungchang 32gil 10, Jongno-gu, Seoul Korea (03004) Tel. 82-2-379-7037 total.museum.press@gmail.com Director Jooneui Noh Editor in Chief Nathalie Boseul Shin, Yoon Jeong Koh Cordinator Hyosup Jung, Taeseong Yi Intern Minseo Park, Eunyoung Park Designer Hein Sohn Sponsor Arts Council Korea Date of Publication 2017. 4 Š Author and artist The reproduction of the contents of this magazine in whole or in part without written permission if prohibited.

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^ Six Points 2010 Dual channel HD video with sound 28’44’’

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K.NOTe #20 Perspective is illusion Park Pyung-jong Art/photography critic 1 “Perspective is illusion.” This contradictory declaration may be able to serve as a guide to understanding the photography of Yeondoo Jung. Why should perspective be illusion? In the most direct terms, it is because illusion originates from perspective. Without perspective, there is no illusion. Indeed, perspective is so self-evident that it is all but identified with perception, to the point that it is difficult to imagine perspective and perception failing to correspond. This transparency of perspective leaves no room for questioning misjudgments of perception. Yet none of us can know whether the objects we see truly are as they appear. The objects appearing in a human eye are clearly different from those appearing in a dragonfly’s. We simply trust in the object as it appears to us in our eyes. This is where the illusion starts.

2 Of the works that address the issue of perspective as illusion, the most interesting is Six Points. It consists of photographs taken while moving one step at a time through six streets in New York’s Indian, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Italian, and Spanish neighborhoods. Taking the form of a video linking together thousands of pictures taken at each point, the work’s beauty lies in the way it offers the viewer an utterly new form of sensory experience that no photograph or film can convey. Pause it along the way, and the image is no different from a snapshot, yet once the video begins, what appears is similar to a movie. Because the scenes keep changing, the viewer may succumb to the illusion that 6

he or she is watching a film that shows reality as it actually is.


Yet the movement is purely the camera’s, while the scenes within the video remain stationary. The buildings and people in the video are stationary; why, then, should we sense a vitality that is “somewhat” similar to reality? Obviously, it is because the video flows – because time is intervening, so to speak. But that time operates solely on the viewer’s end. Moreover, that time is different from time in reality. At each stretch, the photographer varies the rate at which the photographs are assembled, so that time flows by “discontinuously.” The differences are subtle, but time does not pass at a fixed speed; sometimes it moves slowly, other times quickly. The viewer is ultimately transfixed by the oddness of it, as though he or she were experiencing a world where time had stopped. In experiencing this world of stopped time within the flow of time, the viewer is made to question his or her own perspective. In this way, Six Points functions as a metaphor to reveal the code of the illusory image. In truth, all photography and all film is illusory image; the stronger the realism, the more the illusory effect is amplified. In Six Points, these two codes blend together. First, photography. Passersby on the street are photographed by the code of the snapshot. Yet momentary images are overbilled, presented as though by revealing the realm of the “visual unconscious” that normally goes unperceived by human eyes, they are capturing the “truth.” By this code, the viewer perceives the passersby as “reality.” That code, however, is immediately dismantled with the flow of time. Here, what is influencing the viewer’s perception is the code of film – or, more precisely, the code of time. Film offers a nearly precise representation of real time, yet in this video it is an entirely different code of time that intervenes. The viewer attempts to perceive the snapshots as though they were a film. But because the film is “actually” stationary, “normal” perception does not occur. The photographer also uses artificial lighting in the filming process to present the street as if it were a film set – a fictitious space, in other words. Through this odd mixture of snapshot code and cinematic code, the viewer comes to perceive through this video that his or her perspective is illusion. 7


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B camera 2013 Diptych Photography

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3 In B Camera, the photographer shows this structure of illusion even more explicitly. Images in the series consist of two photographs. One is a frontal view showing a staged scene from a well-known film (such as a Hitchcock film or The Wizard of Oz), while the other is a set photograph showing the structure of that staged scene. The first is perceived as belonging to the realm of illusion with its fictitious staging, the latter as falling in the realm of reality and exposing the structure of illusion. The staged scene appears “plausible,” like an image from a film, while the photograph showing what happens behind the scenes incorporates all the structures of the lighting installations and the coarsely constructed set. In a word, the latter holds firm beside the former, like a piece of evidence showing it to be illusion. The two images are merely photographs of the same scene from different perspectives, yet they belong to completely different lineages. The first, as shown in Location, is an image of processed reality, but one marked with the effects of illusion, thanks to the artificial lighting and the various props and structures reminiscent of a film set. The latter, meanwhile, is a device structurally depicting how those effects of illusion emerge. With the juxtaposition of the two photographs, the fictitious nature of the staged photograph comes through very concretely. In that sense, B Camera picks up where Location left off. The latter exists as mise en scène to show that our perception of the former is illusory – the mise en scène’s mise en scène, so to speak. In a sense, both are mise en scène. Why, then, should the latter proclaim the former to be illusion? Conversely, why is it able to present itself as mise en scène – to pretend, in other words, that it is not illusion? It is because of our concept of the scene presented by the mise en scène. In the former case, our concept of the scene within the film is established as “fiction.” Yet the latter, which is staged as a “record” of the scene, is established as “reality.” In a word, the same mise en scène is recognized in one case as illusion and in the other as reality, depending on our concept. What generates the illusion is thus not the eye as a sensory organ, 10


but our idea about the object it is taking in. In truth, the eye is merely a sensory organ, “neutrally” taking in the object of our perspective. Perceiving it is a matter for the consciousness. It is also up to the consciousness to decide if that perception is correct or incorrect. In short, there is no such thing as illusion for the eye as sensory organ; perspective per se is neutral. The problem thus shifts to the relationship between perspective and concept. 4 Starting with Wild Goose Chase, the photographer has been exploring the question of perspective from a different standpoint. Chase began out of the photographer’s meeting with a blind Japanese man named Shiratori. Every day without fail (apart from rainy days, since he had to walk with a cane), the man would photograph the streetscape with his digital camera as he went back and forth between home and work. Fascinated by the photographs taken by this blind man, Jung gave him a digital camera as a gift. He also selected around 80,000 photographs the man had taken and reconfigured them into a slide show set to the rhythm of a jazz piece he liked. (The title of the work comes from the song in question.) At first glance, the photographs seem similar as they change rapidly to the jaunty rhythm. They were, after all, taken while passing over the same street every day. What had the man photographed? He had photographed what he did not, or could not, see. In other words, he photographed not things that he himself perceived, but things that he could not perceive. The blind man’s perspective may, as the title suggests, be a vain effort. The camera is an extension of the eye – a surrogate for perspective, in short. The blind man chose the camera as a medium for eyes that could not see, but the effort is ultimately futile. Or is it? Clearly, he cannot perceive the objects. But perception of concrete objects is not the only perception. If we close our eyes and wave our arm, for example, we perceive the movement of the muscles. The object of perception in this case is motion itself. Yet that object disappears when we stop moving our arms. Can we then say that 11


the perception also stops? No – our perception is the perception of movement being suspended. In the same way, the blind man’s eyes may not perceive objects, but they perceive the “absence” of the visual object. The blind man’s perspective is thus connected with perception; he simply does not have concepts for the objects of his perception. His other sensory organs are also far superior to those of other people. His senses of hearing, smell, and synesthesia are such that he is capable of an almost perfect perception of the street he travels every day. While he may not perceive specific objects, he perceives the space itself. Indeed, Descartes offers a detailed account of the blind person’s ability to detect space in his Dioptrics. The long and the short of it is that the blind perceive space even without perspective. Strictly speaking, the photograph generates illusion by compressing space into two dimensions. The photograph, in other words, is completely different from space as we perceive it. What, then, of the spaces and photographs perceived by the blind man? He cannot tell the difference; he is unable to compare. Ultimately, there is no hallucination for him, no optical illusion. To put it differently, illusion emerges from concepts. Optical illusion emerges when concepts function as our yardstick, so that we determine a visual object to be false. Those concepts in turn form through the amassing of countless perceptions. In that sense, Wild Goose Chase may be said to show the perspective of one who has no optical illusions, or no understanding of optical illusions. So what about the perspective of the one who takes what he or she sees at its face value? What effect is produced from the separation of concept and perspective? 5 It is this question that is posed by Blind Perspective, a work that begins with the placement of enormous heaps of industrial waste in the gallery corridor. The venue is overwhelmed with garbage, chunks of tsunami debris brought in and piled above human height on both sides of the hallway. This is the reality. Meanwhile the viewer walks along the corridor, wearing a specially produced 3D scope (HMD). 12


^ Wild Goose Chase 2014 Single channel HD video with sound 4’49’’

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Blind Perspective 2014 Mixed media (assembled waste sculpture, VR headset, ultrasonic sound positioning system, tactile guide path for the visually impaired)

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As he or she moves along, the device shows pre-produced virtual images. They are images of a beautiful landscape formed from a mixture of flowers and trees gathered from nature. The images seen through the HMD represent a virtual world, one with no connection to the setting where the viewer is, yet he or she sees only that world. In short, the reality perceived from his or her perspective is completely different from the actual reality. The viewer may become transported by the virtual world, which changes as he or she moves around. The forest is a magical place, covered in beautiful flowers and green grass. This is the false reality that the viewer perceives. The viewer’s gaze is directed toward a heap of garbage, yet what he or she perceives is a lovely landscape. Only when the HMD is removed can the real image be correctly perceived. What conceals that perception, then, is perspective itself. As long as their eyes are open, the viewers cannot see the reality correctly. Conversely, if they close their eyes, they at least do not perceive the false reality. At this point, the viewer’s perception is no different from the blind man’s. His gaze seeks to perceive the scene presented before him. What he perceives, however, is not the object in front of him, but the concept. The photographer refers to the blind protagonist in Wild Goose Chase as presenting an appreciation of the artwork as he views it, as though he had seen the real thing. To be sure, the artist’s work is not perceived by the blind man through the visual modality. Yet he does perceive the work. He perceives it according to concepts – in whatever way he wants, so to speak. Phenomenologists call this a product of intention: consciousness perceives objects according to one’s own intention. In these moments, consciousness may perceive the things vision captures as they are, or it may distort them. This is why the same object is perceived differently depending on who is looking at it. A stone resembling an apple, for example, may be perceived by one person as just a stone, and by another as an apple. As a result, perception may exhibit some deviation according to the nature of intention. Viewers of Blind Perspective are oriented to the virtual world 16


presented by the HMD. Their intention here is fixed on the object of perspective; in other words, they are oriented only to what the eyes see. But the blind man’s “orientation” is free and open – because there is no object of perspective. When they remove their HMD and see the reality before them, viewers ultimately realize that illusion stems from belief in the object of perspective. 6 With Magician’s Walk, the photographer is now personally following the blind man’s perspective. Adopting the format of a road movie, this work traces the same path walked by the protagonist in Wild Goose Chase. The camera’s point-of-view represents that of the blind man, as it shows the street the blind man could not see. The guide for this video is a magician named Eun Gyeol Lee. In a sense, viewers are being guided by the magician as they experience the blind man’s perspective for him. Because the video consists of a long take , the viewer believes there is no interference from the manipulation of editing or illusory devices. In other words, the video has the documentary effect of a faithful record of the reality. Indeed, most of the video shows the streets encountered by the magician as he walks along, giving explanations of each area. He also puts on the occasional magic show so that the viewer does not become bored. The magic that he shows here acts as a metaphor for hallucination and illusion. The viewers have no choice but to believe the astonishing magic unfolding in front of them. Such is the allure of magic: one cannot help questioning it, yet one cannot help believing anyway. Indeed, viewers are forced to believe the magic even as they know it is fake. It is, after all, the reality they are personally witnessing. Because perspective leads directly to perception, in other words, the surprising reality before our eyes is perceived not as fiction, but as “real.” Consciousness, however, cannot easily admit that reality. As a result, our consciousness questions our own eyes – better to blame the eyes for seeing incorrectly. What is magic, really, but deception of the eyes? 17


^ Magician’s Walk 2014 Single channel HD video with sound 55’15’’

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In fact, with the exception of the magic show, the entire long-take video generates no optical illusions of any kind in the viewer. But with the viewer already questioning his or her own eyes, the street he or she is being guided down by the magician starts to take on an illusory effect. In contrast, there is no illusion for the blind man, who cannot see the magic. The place where the magician arrives – the final destination of the video – is the workplace of the blind protagonist in Wild Goose Chase. A jazz pianist he likes is playing there. We see something of a connection with Bewitched here, in that the model’s dream is being made to come true. Next to the piano is a tripod; children come running over to attach white balloons to it. The magician calls over the cameraman filming the video and fixes the camera to the tripod. Here it is revealed that the cameraman has been the blind Shirotori, and that the video we have been watching has represented a blind man’s perspective. At this point, the video’s point-of-view changes. The camera that has been filming up to now floats up into the sky with the white balloons, revealing an aerial view of the whole street. At the end of the video, there is a scene showing the camera being retrieved from the air where it was lifted by the balloons. We see the rope attached to pull the camera back, which the viewer had not noticed before. In effect, we are being shown the making of the video, the behind-the-scenes process. Here, too, the structure is no different from B Camera. Through this scene, the viewer ultimately sees that the whole video has been “staged.” In this video, the viewer sees what the blind man sees, since the camera’s perspective and the viewer’s perspective coincide. Of course, the blind man has not “seen” anything. But even he has a perception. So is his perception the same as the viewer’s? Obviously not. The viewer perceives the magician’s show as optical illusion; the blind man does not. He hears the magician’s explanation and perceives, through concepts, what to him is a familiar street. He perceives the magic show in the same way. The magic the viewer sees is not at all magic to the blind man, since there is no optical illusion. Like viewers of Blind Perspective, 19


viewers of Magician’s Walk cannot perceive the actual reality because they do not question what they are seeing – in a word, because perspective is believing. With Blind Perspective, viewers were able to correctly perceive the reality around them when they removed their 3D scope. With Magician’s Walk, viewers can only see that the video is fiction when they question their own eyes. The perspective of the camera in the final scene, when it has floated up into the sky, shows a full aerial view of the entire ground-level image. Removed from the cameraman’s hand, the camera symbolizes freedom from the perspective of an operator controlling the device according to his intentions. At this point, the video acquires an omniscient perspective – a perspective that can at once see both reality and fiction, a perspective that can distinguish reality from mise en scène. It is also a perspective that recognizes illusion as illusion. This cannot be said to represent the blind man’s perspective. While he has perception, it is patently true that he does not have a “point-of-view.” He is merely playing the role of guide, showing the structure of the illusion. It is thanks to the blind man’s perspective that the viewer can finally perceive the illusion. 7 The issues addressed by Yeondoo Jung in these works converge finally on the grand topic of perspective. These days, we are confronted with a cultural environment where there is a broader spectrum of perspectives than ever before. Here, it is technology and media that have provided the crucial impetus. Media expand the senses. Recording devices have broadened the horizons of sound perception; photography has transcended the limits of the human eye, expanding the realm of vision into the existing invisible world. Video has added movement to that. New media continue to provide new forms of senses. So have the human sensory organs also evolved? In other words, have those organs undergone a qualitative change amid these expansions of the senses? Jung seems to view the same media that expand the horizons of the senses as actually sources of sensory error. 20


Hearing, in a word, is auditory hallucination; seeing is optical illusion. He uses the medium of the photograph or the video to show more explicitly how visual media are instruments of illusion. In that sense, Yeondoo Jung’s work shares a vein with media criticism. Media determine the senses. In other words, human perspective is determined by media. But how that is to be taken is up to the human being. Will we trust what we see or not? How should we take it, anyway? This is the question posed by the work of Yeondoo Jung.

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Location 2004 C-print

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Yeondoo Jung Yeondoo Jung studied as an undergraduate in the Seoul National University sculpture department before going on to receive a master’s degree from Goldsmiths, University of London. He has used his imagination to build virtual worlds, which he has then juxtaposed or blended with reality. Bewitched , he paired an individual’s reality and dreams; in Location, he created a virtual world resembling a movie set, which he then overlaid with reality. In Handmade Memories, he used memories of the past as a foundation to build a different world. Through this work, he has explored the magical power of the image. Jung was awarded Artist of the Year honors by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, in 2007 and an Asia-Europe Foundation Award at the 2008 Shanghai Biennale. He has taken part in a number of solo and group exhibitions, including Documentary Nostalgia: Modern Mondays Program (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008) and Spectacle in Perspective (PLATEAU, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, 2014). His works have been included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, the Calder Foundation, the Estee Lauder Foundation, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. jungyeondoo@gmail.com

Park Pyung-jong

Art/photography critic

Park Pyung-jong graduated from the Chung-Ang University photography department and received a doctorate in fine arts from the philosophy department of Paris Nanterre University. In addition to his university lectures, he also studies modern art and photography theory. Along with his photography criticism, he has published several books, including The Autogeny of Korean Photography, Bewitching Photography, and The Dismal Golden Age of the Photographer.

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