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K.NOTe no.47

Sojung Jun

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K.NOTe no.47

Sojung Jun

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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 Coordinator Taeseong Yi Educator Haeun Lee Intern Jisu Hong, Sooeon Jeong Designer Heiin Son Sponsor Arts Council Korea Date of Publication 2018.01 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 #47 New Familiarity, Old Strangeness: The Video Work of Sojung Jun Kim Nam-See Ewha Womans Univ., Department of Art and Design

The Habit of Art In some respects, tying together Sojung Jun’s video works – The Old Man and the Sea, Something Red, The King of Mask, Last Pleasure, A Day of Tailor, Time Regained, My Fair Boy, Treasure Island, The Warm Stone, Angel of Death, and The Poem of Fire – into an “everyday professional” series is merely a matter of convenience. The title could be misunderstood as inferring that the works are documentary-esque pieces of “human theater” that portray various jobs that are in the process of disappearing. But this is not a documentary, nor are the people depicted in it used simply to serve as relics of their era or practitioners of disappearing crafts, evoking nostalgia for jobs of the past that are now in decline. The non-documentary nature of the work is clear from its form. In video works that aimed to serve as documentaries, there would be a certain harmony sought between showing and telling. They exist in a relationship between that which is told, such as using words or narration to explain or elaborate on the images, and that which is shown, such as using images to demonstrate or prove what is being said. Through a combination of showing and telling, images and sound, a documentary tries to say, “This is not fiction. This is real.” Sojung Jun’s works are different. Jun intentionally tries to disrupt the harmony between showing and telling. In these videos, the narration does not match the people depicted onscreen. The word “I” is not mentioned. But this does not mean there is some narrator talking about the action that is taking place 4


 The Poem of Fire, 2015

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in the actions or images unfolding on the screen. The text that appears on screen could be called “free first person indirect speech,” a new style that Jun created based on interviews. It is not reduced completely to the person onscreen or to the artist. Likewise, the narrating voice is neither the artist’s nor that of the person depicted. The narration feels clumsy and unprofessional, sitting awkwardly with the documentary-esque pictures onscreen. It is not due to the special nature of their jobs that these people appear: a machinist, film sign writer, tightrope walker, kimchi factory worker, doll maker, piano tuner, female diver (haenyeo), fisherman, taxidermist, stone collector, potter and mask changing entertainer. It is because of their distinct physical movements – their “habitus.” In Last Pleasure (2012), the tightrope walker says, “The worst thing to happen is the opening of eyes and ears. On the rope, eyes should be gone and ears should be shut. And thoughts should not remain on the ground. If not the rope will notice immediately and scold me severely.” The King of Mask tells the story of a mask changing entertainer “in the darkness and deafness under the masks.” “Blocked eyes and ears only have to believe myself.” the narrator says. According to fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea (2009), the key to catching fish does not lie in seeing or hearing. Instead, catching fish is about “believing in your luck. That’s all.” and It’s all about technique, time and belief.” For the film signwriter depicted in Time Regained 2012, “Time piles up on the sign solid and thick. I could see even though not visible.” Teetering on a tightrope in midair, changing masks in the blink of an eye,  “She enters the water deep as can be floundering her way inside.”  and “The path to death is right around the corner” (Treasure Island, 2014), hitting notes that “The notes inaudible for the eyes.” (The Twelve Rooms, 2014) – all of these are feats that cannot be done simply by relying on your eyes and ears. This requires a familiarity with the ability to “Blocked eyes and ears only have to believe myself.” In The Poem of Fire (2015), which tells the story of the 6


potter, this is described as “Mastering with heart, acquiring the skill.” It appears that Jun believes art should be conducted in the same way – or at least that the foundation of art should be learning to feel with your body and mind instead of relying on your eyes and ears. The Habit of Art (2012) depicts a number of scenes where people display skills learned through repetition, such as holding a ball on their fingertips, carefully building a tower of matchsticks, walking a balancing beam without spilling glasses of water, or jumping through rings of fire. As the title suggests, this video relates the concept of art to a “habit” that becomes engrained in your body and mind through repeated practice. This “habit of art” does not produce anything that is of practical use in our lives. In the video, the scenes of steady, repeated practice attempt to capture the moon’s reflection shimmering in water, or are interspersed with images of water flowing out of a pot with a hole in it. Just as a carefully built matchstick tower can collapse in an instant, so the habit of art is also ultimately “Work in vain, endless steps in vain. Endless march in place, reaching nowhere.” (A Day of a Tailor, 2012). This means that the “habit of art” in this context does not refer to the habit of making art; it means “art as habit” or “the habit called art.” If a habit is produced by learning to feel something within one’s body and mind, then it is no different from living itself. Art is not like a helium balloon that is inflated for a single event; it is the process of thinking about and planning for the event, and the habits of body and mind that such a process produces. Three Ways to Elis (2010) instructs us on this kind of “Work in vain.” It is the most documentary-esque of Jun’s videos, tracing the life of a former dancer who built a house in the middle of a forest in Finland and lived there alone. He(the dancer) “installed” a number of dolls and objects in this house, and spent the rest of his life 7


dancing alone in the forest for them. For him, art was the habit called life, no different from “marching in place without ever going anywhere.” Of course, when it comes to this kind of art, simply showing and telling solves nothing. The perplexing thing is that those who encounter art have no choice but to rely on their own eyes and ears. Art must use the seen and heard to open up something beyond what can be seen or heard. The Medium of Video When I first saw Jun’s video works, I thought that video was simply the medium she had chosen to convey her ideas, and tried to look “within” to find something that might correspond to a message or meaning. Soon I realized that the video itself – the combination of sounds and moving pictures – needed to be experienced as something inseparable from the work’s content. For Jun, video is not simply a frame used to convey her stories. It is the expressive center and core of her works. As a combination of sound and moving pictures, video is a product of modern technological advancement. According to German media theorist Friedrich Kittler, modern forms of media such as gramophone, photographs, and video are responsible for splitting sensory experiences that were once integrated. Before the advent of the gramophone, our sight of a person or object was always accompanied by sound. Whenever we heard a sound, we knew that the person or object that produced the sound must be within an audible distance, and we could hear the sounds produced by any person or object that we saw moving nearby. The phonograph changed this, as it was able to store and replay sounds. Thanks to the phonograph, we were able to hear a person’s voice speaking or singing even when no one was around us. This led to a temporal and spatial disconnect between aural and visual experience. 8


The Twelve Rooms, 2014

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The Twelve Rooms, 2014

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Similarly, early silent films, in which moving images could be recorded and replayed independently of sound, allowed us to see people or objects moving without hearing the sounds they produced. The advent of sound movies reunited images and visual experience with sound and aural experience, but this media-based connection did not take us back to the days of experiencing sight and sound together in the real world. Instead, it tied the two together in imaginary terms. The result of this was video media, which combine images and sound through showing and telling, but in a way that differs from real-life experience.This has provided us with a new kind of sensory experience. If you wish, you can match the sounds and images so that the image on the screen corresponds with its real sound, but other, completely different combinations are also possible. Jun opts for the latter, taking full advantage of the fact that video media can be created in a way that arbitrarily combines images and showing with sound and telling. In Jun’s work, what is shown and what is told operate independently from one another, and the diverse combinations that this contrast produces create a superb aesthetic effect. Theater can be defined as unity between the visual and aural; unlike a film, the movements and sounds of actors in a play cannot be separated. In The Finale of a Story (2008), however, the stage and the movements of the actors are separated from the sound, appearing in the video as purely visual phenomena. The juxtaposition of the fantastic, fairy-tale action on stage with unfamiliar voices and sound effects produces a unique kind of imaginary reality. In Story of Dream:Suni(2009), Jun explores the possibilities of video media to the fullest. This video uses a silent film style, combining camera shots that skim over her drawings with inaudible subtitles. The movements produced are combined with sounds (sound effects) that are slightly out of step with the action onscreen, using the medium to reenact a dreamlike sensory 12


experience. In The Old Man and the Sea (2009), there is a scene where clouds, seagulls, wind and rain, trees, sailboats, anchored ships, joggers, and waves move onscreen for about 80 seconds without any sound. Created by combining sounds and images in a way that does not reflect real life, these silent “actors” help the audience to feel the patience of the hot-tempered fisherman waiting to catch herring. In the first scene of Treasure Island (2014), images of waves rolling in are combined with the sound of waves receding, evoking thoughts about the irreversible nature of time. In her latest work The Ship of Fools (2016), Jun combines images of skateboarding with the sounds of waves, and vice versa. Associating a skateboarder traversing the streets of Barcelona with boats of refugees floating precariously in the Mediterranean Sea creates a unique sensation in both body and mind. Jun uses the technological possibilities offered by video media to create arbitrary combinations of showing and telling, allowing the audience to experience things which they cannot see or hear. This is precisely where the skill of a video artist meets the “habit of art.” The combinations of sounds and images, which appear naturally combined in our reality, can sometimes fool or even endanger us, or prevent us from understanding important things that are happening in the world. By combining sounds and images in unfamiliar ways, art affords us the opportunity to experience things with our body and mind that we cannot see or hear. Art has this power because the ancient human habitus – things we learned with our bodies and minds instead of our eyes and ears – still lies within all of us.

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Three ways ro Elis, 2010

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Three ways ro Elis, 2010

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Sojung Jun Sojung Jun is an artist based in Seoul. Her works have been featured in the exhibitions including, Synchronic Moments(MMCA, Gwacheon, 2018), Tell me the story of all these things. Beginning wherever you wish, tell even us. (Villa Vassilieff, Paris, 2017), The Eighth Climate (11th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, 2016), North Korea Project (Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, 2015), What We See (The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Osaka, 2013) She is the recipient of the Noon Art Prize, Gwangju Biennale 2016

Kim Nam-See Kim Nam-See is a professor of studies in visual art at Ewha Womans University. He translated Moscow Diary of Walter Benjamin, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness of Daniel Paul Schreber and is currently translating the book of Friedrich Kittler and Boris Groys. He is also Author of what is seeing, Madness, Art, Writing and writes art critics.

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Sojung Jun

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