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K.NOTe no.48

Seo Young Chang


K.NOTe no.48

Seo Young Chang


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.


K.NOTe #48 Touching the Skin of Light Kim Jung Hyun Art critic

Visceral Fiction What is the “physicality” of a work of art? Box (2011) and In the Box (2011), two works by Seo Young Chang, may provide an answer as to what the body of a video looks like. The ways in which Chang has developed through the production of these two works demonstrates her continued interest in the intangible, or that which has no presence. The immaterial nature of video, the medium chosen for these works, also fits well with the theme. Chang’s interest in index and things that are only visible through traces left behind manifests in several of her works. The video works Box and In the Box form a pair, telling the story of a homeless person who passed away inside a box in an orchard in a remote part of Jeju Island, a place where he had hidden to escape from the cold. Excluded and erased from normal society, the life of this homeless man draws attention only in his death. His existence, made known to people through news reports, is conveyed only through an image of the “box” in which his corpse was placed. This narrative structure, where a life draws attention only in death, is repeated in By the Time You Hear This, I Won’t Be Here (2014). There, a performer walks through the corridors and stairways of a dark building, dropping pieces of bread while repeating the words “by the time you hear this, I won’t be here,” illuminated only by the dim light of a torch. The words are taken from the phrase most often used by teenagers in suicide notes. A life that has already ended achieved the freshest of resonance through “traces” in the form of that person’s final words. 4

In the Box, single-channel-video, color, 1'26'', 2011


A Monument for the Very Important Internal Organs (2014),  which begins out of the relationship between disease (object) and pain (index), is an attempt to invert the internal organs with the exterior. A doctor tells a patient suffering from pain that she is not sick, and in response the patient decides to switch the internal with the external, as though turning her socks inside out: internal organs on the outside, hair and skin on the inside. In this black-andwhite video, where the inside-out socks spin in circles in the air, the narrator’s words are soon turned on their head. On the outside, we have nothing but hair and skin, while on the inside, we have entire internal worlds in addition to our organs. More interesting than examining whether a slip of the tongue (or a sudden change in the reference point) is deliberate is witnessing the state that arises because of this reversal. What has been “reversed” is not hair and skin, but all of those internal worlds. What if we view the agent of the reversed body as the medium of video itself rather than as a human? Any routine thoughts we might have about video as a means of showing the world in a new light will change when we watch A Globe in a Flat World (2016). Showing a roadview of the restricted access area of Deoksu Palace, the video offers a first impression rather than a new perspective. When we can never see the real thing and have to make do with virtual reality, everything in the world is already inside the video. The index sign presumes some contact with the object. The objects and indexes – homeless person and box, young suicide victim and final words, disease and pain - are pairs mediated by contact with the object. While this differs from the “restricted access area and roadview” piece that uses video or photography as recording mechanisms, the former works have also been re-mediated through video in Chang’s work, and in this sense all four pieces can be seen in the same light. In particular, A Globe in a Flat World(2016) allows virtual exploration of the interior, while also positing the virtual as the only original that exists in the world. 6

^ A Globe in a Flat World, installation, size variable (video duration 5min), 2016 A Monument for the Very Important Internal Organs, single-channel video, 2min 30sec, 2014


Perhaps we can use the term “visceral fiction” to describe Chang’s work and the way she approaches video as an index of the world. The Talking Box In the Box series, the story of the homeless man’s death is relayed through the flat box that we call “video.” Box is a video with a script and subtitles, set against classical music with a rhythmic melody as the text is repeatedly typed out on screen and disappears. (Dark and Empty (2014) and Keep Calm and Wait (2017) differ in context and technique, but are also examples of Chang’s text video work.) Meanwhile, In the Box features an odd narration style, while the unusual ordering of words renders the meaning unclear, with jumbled or fragmentary words and phrases read mechanically by a performer, allowing no room for empathy. After filming, the pieces are put back together like a puzzle during editing to form complete sentences. The two videos in the Box series showcase two different styles of narration. Chang demonstrates her prowess as a screenwriter in several of her works, including Box. News reports about the death of the homeless man have been adapted into microfiction or monologue screenplays. As is the fate of all screenplays, they are self-sufficient while also calling out to be screened or acted on stage. In this regard, the text video Box emphasizes the selfcontainment of the screenplay more than the narrated video In the Box. Even without the presence of actors or a physical stage, a screenplay can be brought to life through several devices. In Box, the fast-paced, cheerful music clashes with the tragic quality of the story, producing a strong sense of tension. Chang has said that having the text write itself on screen and then disappear was an attempt to show that events and people can be easily forgotten, but the ebb and flow of the text seems to combine with the music to contribute to the performance of a silent narrated play. The theme of being easily forgotten is actually more evident in In the Box. 8

The performer’s reading of the tightly segmented script not only renders the content indecipherable, but forecloses the possibility of involvement, taking away even the opportunity to remember the event. Perhaps the forgetfulness of modern times is not due to the passing of time, but our lack of awareness and reflection. Most of the speech in Chang’s works is conveyed through narration or subtitles, but A Full Person 2014 is a notable exception in using role-play instead. The performer takes on the dual role of artist (Chang) and actor. What is notable is that the introduction of the concept of “acting” is connected to the division of the self. This division occurs first between the artist herself and the artist’s persona as played by the performer, and second as the replicated performer acts both roles across two channels. This split performance evokes the idea of the division that takes place through self-examination during the process of acting, rather than the creation of a complete virtual person. The subject’s self-image as mediated by the video is like looking in a mirror separated by time; the time difference will only grow. The exploration of identity confusion (as opposed to chaos) reaches its zenith with Who Is Lea? (2015). This work features photos, text and videos that allude to a woman called Lea, adopting the same strategy used in Joseph Kosuth’s seminal 1965 piece Three Chairs. Kosuth has now become notorious in the field of concept art. However, the real object is replaced with a video performance, and because watching the video alone is enough to create an ideological split or mismatch between the object and the language, the photos and text seem to serve only a decorative purpose. Yet these “decorative” features appear not superfluous, but closely related to the theme. In the video, which adopts a frame story format, the main character is an exhibition docent who describes how the video is set up and the other characters that appear. With the use of a docent, the riddle surrounding Lea’s identity overlaps with the 9


A Story of a Bear, Who Drowns Forever, Over and Over, single-channel video, 16min, 2013


riddle of art appreciation. As the descriptive language becomes more complex – as the linguistic embellishment grows, in other words – the riddle too increases in complexity. Though presented as a drama tracing the identity of one woman, the work ultimately becomes an allegory for art exhibitions. Moving Sculptures It comes as a surprise that an artist who mainly uses video media (tentatively) removed from actuality to create and play with a labyrinth game between the real and virtual has said that her aim was to create “moving sculptures.” Without a real existence, how can the virtual regress to having presence? In fact, awareness of the paradoxical coexistence between the immaterial medium of video and sculptural manifestations is not at all rare. Many artists have pursued this paradox, identifying their spatial origins at the cinema and seeking methods for temporal and spatial experience within the art gallery. There are two main forces behind the emergence of this video/sculpture combination: the first relates to ideas about the architectural installation of video works, and the second is a response to the distracted viewing approach of exhibition visitors. The first led to an expansion into installation art, using diverse forms of screen architecture tempered with decorative features, while the second led to an approach of using series of nearly identical, repeated images to create monotonous shorts or sequences. How and why did Chang add sculptural qualities to her videos? In the Box, which features fast shots of the performer throughout the running time, and A Monument for the Very Important Internal Organs, which presents the rapid, repeated movements of single objects, are both textbook examples of the latter. A more unique approaches can be found in Don’t Forget Me (2013) and A Globe in a Flat World (2016) – namely, exposure once 12

again to the light of video. In Don’t Forget Me, a series of slides featuring photos from news reports is illuminated from above by flashlight, so that the faces of the people in the photos are slowly erased. Heads are similarly erased in A Globe in a Flat World, but in this case flat images are clipped into white circles. This suggests a “punctured” space inside the video, which makes the images inside the video perceived as three-dimensional even though they have no physical substance. A Globe in a Flat World also features an installation of white balloons alongside the video, generating an effect where the empty 2D space inside the video appears to be three-dimensional. Perhaps we can say that the 2D images have bored their way through three-dimensional space. Black Hole Body 2016, which also features white balloons, speaks more directly to the transposition of the real and the virtual: “That is why I have to get out of my body.” Instead of emulating and replicating reality, the video mixes the internal with the external and turns things on their head, so that reality appears to be emulating and replicating video. In this situation, Chang complains of a kind of pain throughout her working process that cannot be defined by other people. All the analysis of video media in this essay could be overturned and reduced to an autobiographical story. Even then, however, the melancholy of touching the skin of light will not dissipate.



Black Hole Body, video installation,size variable (video duration 9min 4sec), 2016



Until Your Name is Called, single channel video, 26min 23sec, 2017



Black Screen steel frame, black mirror, 300×200×50cm, 2017 Black Screen, ink-jet print, 74×45cm EA., 2017



Nameless Disease, 2channel video, loop, 2016


Seo Young Chang Seo Young Chang earned her BFA and MFA degree in Sculpture from Ewha Womans University, and MA in Art in Context from Universität der Künste Berlin. Interested in an ambiguity and instability created by an environment, her work in a form of video and sculpture, explores a process of how one’s acknowledgement and awareness shapes one’s consciousness towards an existence within a social structure with a tool of texts,narrations, certain physical movements, and social constraints.

KIM JUNG HYUN KIM JUNG HYUN is an art critic and an independent curator. Kim is interested in the performative aspect of contemporary art, writes essays about performance and choreography, curates exhibitions and engages in some work as a dramaturgie or a performer as well. She was awarded 2015 SeMA–.HANA Art Criticism Award and selected as a visual art curator for AYAF by the Arts Council Korea. She Curated Pirate Edition (2017), Change Nothing (2016) and YEON MAL YEON SI (2015).



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