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K.NOTe no.36

Jang Bo-yun

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K.NOTe no.36

Jang Bo-yun

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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, Seungeun Lee Designer Heiin Son, Yesol Woo Sponsor Arts Council Korea Date of Publication 2017. 12 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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K.NOTe #36 Records of One without Antibodies for Loss: The Photography and Writing of Jang Bo-yun Ahn So-hyun Independent Curator The bewildering thing for her, from beginning to end, was loss, from beginning to end. Things cast aside, things lost, things departed by someone – these were Jang Bo-yun’s motivations. She photographs the items left behind in an empty home (Un-Vanished Memory), rewrites others’ diaries (Memory Devices), sends letters as though from others, and erases others within photographs (Preface of Memory: K’s Slides) and , finds the places in others’ photographs and letters, documenting in writing the intense sense of loss she felt in the process (Acquainted with the Night). Why does the artist do this, dredging up the losses of total strangers, only to confirm in the end her own unresolved loss? When I first saw Preface of Memory: K’s Slides, I immediately hastily concluded it was an intellectual game. I assumed she was saying something about autobiographical the transfer of authorship (an issue that was fresh to me only for a time), taking others’ photographs as her own and applying concepts such as “artistic appropriation” and “confusion of the authentic.” Yet Jang’s writing was surprisingly filled with subjective, emotional chaos, an inability to accept loss as self-evident. There was none of the joy of past truth revived by the senses, as Marcel Proust described in Rin Search of Lost Timeemembrance of Things Past, or a grand attempt to elevate private past into inevitable history, as Walter Benjamin showed in his Berlin Childhood around 1900. Neither dispelled nor elevated, the sense of loss in Jang Bo-yun’s photographs and writing merely took on weight. What led me to latch onto her work further was when I learned that her recording of places from others’ memories in her photographs and writing was part of a repeated search. 4


It was like a journey of foreordained failure, offering no hope that the sense of loss might ever be recovered. Time Unregained I am not going to talk about grand topics like the fundamental solitude of human existence. The issue here is the fundamental abyss in the places where Jang Bo-yun seeks some kind of correspondence, making the very act of trying to bridge it appear reckless. To begin with, Jang follows the tracks of people she has never met before. Using the photographs and records left behind by others, she dares to speculate on and share their experiences, based solely on a few pieces of information about time and place. The natural approach might be to use analogy to gather what others are feelings, but Jang Bo-yun’s form of empathy grows larger and larger throughout the working process until it borders on the possessed. Acquainted with the Night 1 began one day when an old man named “Jack Martin” living in New York State gave the artist an album belonging to a woman named “Lisa,” which he claimed to have found in a garbage dump. The album contained records of an ordinary life, but in its pages she found that Lisa had

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Jang Bo-yun, Acquainted with the Night, Seoul: Doosan Gallery, 2011/2014. Quotes are based on the 2014 revised edition; only the page numbers are indicated in the text.

experienced the death of the man she loved. Imagining the loss that Lisa must have experienced, Jang went in search of traces of the places where Lisa had lived. Astonishing, the journey led her to imagine “speculate not just about Lisa’s sadness, but about the landscapesscenery, the air, the weather and streets that she mightwould have seen”. Even after striving to represent Lisa’s different experiences, from the simple sensation of cold to the healing process and acceptance of a loved one’s death, an ineradicable feeling of emptiness remained, leading Jang to finally look for someone to take the place of childhood Lisa. The very attempt to infiltrate someone else’s memories in this way appeared dangerous. Proust’s protagonist is left unable to locate the meaning in sensations he himself experienced; to attempt to share, in a few photographs and writings, the experiences of some other person who had never shared a moment of her life – and 5


experiences from the distant past at that – seemed as plaintive as watching someone tracking down the whereabouts of a departed lover. Phenomenologists may justify this sort of empathy through some vague concept of intersubjectivity. Yet Jang appears to hold no interest in any conceptual rationalizations. She merely confirms how much more lucid the sense of loss becomes in the process of seeking a substitute. The artist thus takes on the sense of loss that the past other would have felt; another sense of loss from the fact that she cannot fully experience it; and even the sense of loss owing to the fact that others in the present do not share in her sense of loss. Amplified throughout the journey are the sense of helplessness and futility experienced as an outsider visiting the places in the photographs. She even meets Jack again, the same person who gave her Lisa’s album, only to have him project a sense of inexplicable wariness. Beyond that, there is the fact that the photographs were things discarded, things passed along to others, things that were not treasured, plunging the artist into a sense of loss and rumination at the fact that others cannot share in her loss: “I thought it quitefelt sad about the fact that her pictures photos were not seen by anybodyfacts and things she probably never revealed to others”. Another abyss lies inside the artist, with her inability to accept change as self-evident. Jang Bo-yun does not accept disappearance as something natural. She feared the loss of the relationship she formed with elderly Jack. She writes, “What I feared, so to speak, were things anticipated in conversations with him . . . imagining ahead of time the death that would someday visit Jack tooI was afraid of imagining death that will visit Jack someday.” The artist explains this as being due to memories of her own grandmother’s sudden death, but to respond so keenly to the basic order of existence is the mark of someone who has lost her immunity to loss. As a result, even the vividness of the past records struck her as unfamiliar: “For a moment, I began to imagine the time and places in the story. Between the present with nothing left and the vividly described past, there was no place for me to 6


stand. Their past still existed even though it happened in the past. It seemed that my troubles like that wouldn’t be solved at all.For a time, I began imagine the places and times in those stories. I could not find anywhere to position myself between the moments of today where nothing is left and the points in the past that were so vividly portrayed. Their past was ancient history, yet it was still present. And that conflict inside of me seemed like it would never be resolved”. What therapy should she have sought, this person who like Proust’s protagonist could not find the hidden meaning or the joy of correspondence – who could not, in other words, recover regain lost time? Incomplete Records of One Looking Back Even after she has shown how the photographs and writings of others cannot heal the divide between past and present, Jang Bo-yun leaves her own new photographs and records behind. Why, having realized already that these media cannot bring a fundamental correspondence, does she leave these new records, the roots of another sense of loss? Photography is often described as a medium for “capturing moments.” To one who lacks antibodies for loss, however, it is a brutal medium. Like the control group in a laboratory, it makes loss something definite. Writing is no different. Over and over, Jang Bo-yun sees how the things captured by language cannot take the place of what is lost. “I try to imagine the images the language draws from the articles related to her boyfriend's death, which she cut out of the local newspapers. His death expressed in language comes back as a great emptiness and an echo with the disappearance where the object is absent.I find myself thinking about the articles about her boyfriend’s death that Lisa painstakingly clipped out of local newspapers, and the images painted by the words,” Jang writes. “Rendered through language, his death returns as a great void and resonance amid the absence of being, where the subject of language is not present”. Jang even resorts to photographing only the background of an 7


existing photograph or erasing people from it, intentionally producing something that is not whole. “With the people and places appearing in K’s memories, my intrusion creates a deepening spatial and temporary divide in memories that will never be filled,” she said of Preface of Memory: K’s Slides. “The spatial and temporal gap between K’s experiences and my works is deepened by my intervention which it cannot be filled anymore.Through my ‘intervention,’ the past memories of others transform into things that are not the whole things of the past.”(www.jangboyun.com/ index.php?/kslide/text/) Why does she seek to visually confirm this lack of correspondence? Does doing this bring some kind of a reward? The answer lies in the process of Jang explaining about the “Lisa” character’s actions. “Lisa was Orpheus,” she says. “Although Lisa collected things in regards to Jake to remember him like Orpheus, I thought it would have aroused another sense of loss coming from Jake’s death and his absence. The clipped articles in Lisa’s album made Jake disappear forever. I thought that Lisa was like Orpheus in the way she collected things about the dead Jake to remember him, but all that act would have done was to generate another sense of loss from the dead Jake and his absence. The articles in Lisa’s photo album made the dead Jake disappear forever” (pp. 82/83–85). In the myth, Orpheus tries to rescue his wife Eurydice from death, only to lose her forever when he breaks his promise not to look back at her. This was Jang Bo-yun’s journey. Leaving on a long journey to escape her sense of loss, only to be plunged back into loss after seeing it, is the artist’s destiny as achieved, and accepted, by Jang Bo-yun. Starting from her emotions, she writes, she “returns to the artist’s shame.” As foolish as it may appear, however, looking back is not nothing. To Jang Bo-yun, substitutes for loss are a kind of reward. “I know that what I felt on Route 22 cannot reenact the past and that of which Lisa experienced," she writes. "I am compensated for the loss by perceiving the absence of the beings that once existed and facing and experiencinge the substitutes. Lisa’s past was being filled with my questions, imagination and comments among the 8


records where oblivion and remembrance entangled.I know the feelings I experienced on Route 22 cannot fully replicate Lisa’s past,” she writes. “My reward for loss comes as I recognize the absence of things that once existed, as I confront and experience the things that take their place. Lisa’s past is filled with the questions, the imagination, the footnotes I add amid the mixed records of remembrance and forgetting”. Perhaps it was only natural. The loss experienced in being unable to achieve correspondence in the photographs and records of others led to photographs and records that may harbor the potential for yet more loss – serving as a driving force so that the endless chain of emotions and images, the malfunctioning immune system that functions as the source of Jang’s artistic strength, can never be restored. “What Proust began so playfully became awesomely serious,” Benjamin writes. “He who has once begun to open the fan of memory never comes to the end of its segments; no image satisfies him, for he has seen that it can be unfolded, and only in its folds does the truth reside.”2 The chain of loss may have been an essential element for artistic inspiration. Orpheus may have had no choice but to look back in order to play the harp beautifully enough to move even Hades. Deleuze writes that while Proust’s characters seek reward in some subjective sense within the “objective disappointment” experienced in the face of past objects whose meaning can never be understood, this cannot be found in the inherent properties of the objects; its true meaning, he writes, was

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Walter Benjamin, “A Berlin Chronicle” Berlin Childhood around 1900, in Walter Benjamin, Reflections, tr. Edmund Jephcott Korean trans. by Yun Mi-ae,  Seoul: Gil Publishing, 2007, Schocken Books, 1978, p.6160.

found only in art. 3 3

Sending-Away I have a confession to make: in the past, I never really saw the appeal of artworks that withdraw within a state of profound emotion. Faced with such work, I used to exhort the authorsmyself

Gilles Deleuze, Proust et les and Signes, PUF,  Korean trans. by Seo Dong-wook and Lee Choong-min, Seoul: Mineum, 19971964,  pp. 67–68.50.

to break free of that extravagant frailty, to quit and emerge outside the ego, to create something universal, refined and sublimed, rather than raw individual feeling, to stop describing the contradiction as simply “sad.” But in following the loss that confronts Jang Bo-yun in 9


her dogged pursuit, I came to the realization that the reaffirmation of inescapable loss is a process that we must go through before any of the demands that I mentioned above. Just as grains in the water rise up constantly to sink a stone, so Jang Bo-yun realizes amid the chaos that we must repeatedly reaffirm loss to be able to sink the sadness, leaving only refined emotion behind. Her actions are ones of sending away. “Sending away” – the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to fall short of the idea. The things that leave us go away of their own accord, and there was an unfortunate, forced quality to positioning myself as a subject “sending” them on their way. Jang’s travels, her photographs, writing, and erasing, are an act of finally accepting all the things that have gone away, of “sending-away” with the self as subject. As it happens, I wrote this on the first anniversary of the deaths of 304 others I had never met before.4 Some have said that it is time to leave the loss of those left 4

The sinking of MV Sewol. In 2017, four more victims were identified when by salvaging the ship was salvaged.

behind to finally setting, to elevate it into sublime expression. But as someone lacking antibodies for loss, Jang tells us with her attitude toward the death of others that it is still too soon for all those things. “I had doubts,” she writes, “about the fact that anybody who had experienced the death of his or her beloved could record their death with such equanimity. I personally think that one can only start to record death only when one has come to deal with the fact that the loved one is truly gone. In other words, only when we are ready to face the fact they are gone and let go, is it possible to record. For this reason these photos felt like condolences after finding the replacement of extreme sorrow. It was like ‘facing death.’.I still had questions,” she writes, “as to whether it is even possible for someone who has experienced the death of someone close to them to record that death in a composed way. I saw that record as only being possible once we have accepted the truth of that person’s death. And so the photographs seemed like the consolation that comes when we have experienced the height of grief and sought a substitute for that sadness. I thought of it as something akin to ‘an encounter with death’”.

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› 4th of Meeting Places Mungong A Single Channel Video 00:05:51 2016"

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› 1968, Summer, At the Beach Ink-jet Print 76×110cm 2009

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› Continuous Landscape Ink-jet Print 76×110cm 2009


› Show Me Your Face Digital Pigment Print 56×80cm 2011

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› AHS I Digital Pigment Print 80×120cm 2011

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› Day Swimming Digital Pigment Print 35×50cm 2011

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› Bulguksa Temple, March of 1988 Digital Pigment Print 80×120cm 2016

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› Wonhwa-ro242, August of 2016 Digital Pigment Print 86×130cm 2016

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› Gyeongju Museum Parking Lot, March of 1988 Digital Pigment Print 76×110cm 2012

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› Starbucks in front of Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal Digital Pigment Print 80×120cm 2016

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Jang Bo-yun Jang Bo-yun graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Western contemporary art from Seoul Women’s University and a master’s degree in Western artfine arts (pPainting) from Seoul National University. Her work involves using photographic images to represent the memories and histories of things in different ways. Starting from the act of “seeing” a photograph, she reproduces the subjects of photography in images and writing: tracing things connected to those subjects, immersing herself in vanished moments from the past, and traveling to the places where they occurred. She has taken part in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including Acquainted with the Night (Doosan Gallery New York, 2014), Your First Year (Gallery Hyundai, Seoul, 2013), Acquainted with the Night (Gallery Factory, Seoul, 2011), and Preface of Memory: K’s Slides (Brain Factory, Seoul, 2009). bluelood35@gmail.com http://www.jangboyun.com/

Ahn So-hyun Independent Curator (6620) Ahn So-hyun studied aesthetics and museologyum science and has planned a number of exhibitions, including Peace like a River, X Sound: After John Cage, and Nam June Paik and After, Tenacious Tireless Refrain, Nam June Paik on Stage, Good Morning Mr. Orwell 2014, Degenerate Art and Salt of the Jungle 2015 Random Access. Her interests include the relationship between writing and the visual arts, communication through exhibitions, and the political nature of art.

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Jang Bo-yun

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