Total Museum of Contemporary Art Publisher
Nathalie Boseul SHIN Editor-in-chief
Juri CHO Editor
Daeil KIM Designer
September 2014 Date of publication
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The Strongest Weapon in The World, 2007 Image Credit: Bryan Derballa
Song Hojun, the (Media) Artist in Artist Cosplay
On April 19 2013, Song Hojun’s satellite flew into the space. It took him five years since he began the project in 2008. At the humble launching party of the Open Source Satellite Initiative 1), entitled “Satellite and BBQ,” I could not imagine that this (implausible) project would be actually realized. However, it came true, and the art world kept its silence over Song’s (reckless) challenge and triumph (?) even when it was completed, just as it did when the project began. Actually, it was the Daily Best (ilbe) website that responded to it, and much interest was given to it after it was featured on the TV program “Radio Star.” Then, finally, the art world gradually began to pay attention to it. The art world was slow, and while it has remained confused as to whether his work should be called “art” or considered science or technology, the “artist” Song Hojun became more and more famous. Song, who has been properly educated in engineering–graduating from the School of Electrical Engineering, Korea University and completing the graduate course at the College of Engineering, KAIST–always introduces himself as the “artist Song Hojun.” While often complaining that “the art world and artists are not that interesting, and they seem to lack imagination,” he still adheres to the “art world,” entitling himself “artist.” It was largely due to the prevalence of “media art” that his work began to be the talk of the art world while he had no previous connection to it. Simple programs or curious mechanical devices that might not be anything special in the college of engineering were transformed into media art to be displayed in an exhibition, and people began to call him “artist.” The art world was a strange realm in which an ambiguous meaning was enough to make something an “art work,” without a clear explanation or evidence. Song’s artist cosplay began then. Song’s work can be roughly divided between the OSSI (Open Source Satellite Initiative) and other series. His works other than the OSSI somewhat display the humor of an engineer, and seem to fit the standard of media art. Ppyong Ppyong (2006), which adopted the interface of an old-fashioned arcade game equipment to display heart shapes onto the screen and Elly, UAVs and Hyperbolic Geometry (2007) are typical interactive installations that respond to
This text was originally published in the exhibition catalogue <Artspectrum 2014> edited by Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in 2014.
1 http://opensat.cc/ Open Source Satellite Initiative, OSSI hereafter.
The Strongest Weapon in The World - I Love You, 2010
viewers through sensors. For Song, an engineering school graduate, it must have been not so difficult to rig up these strange devices. Then, these devices created for fun were put in the category of “media art.” As he said, those were “bling bling” works employing techniques that are unfamiliar and unusual to the public, and people loved them. Yet, he could not help but think something was wrong. The Strongest Weapon in the World Prototype 1 is the work that made him widely known as “artist” in the art world. This piece that Song designed to end the vicious cycle of world creating stronger and stronger weapons is a massive lump of metal weighing more than two hundred kilos–when a red light is on, words about love and peace spurt out printed on thin rolls of paper. In the second prototype, The Strongest Weapon In the World – I Love You, requires more active participation of the spectator. When one hits the hundred kilo mass of metal with a hammer according to the instruction at the exhibition space, the sensor and the audio module imbedded in it activates the audio saying, “I love you.” Song speculated that the reason why this work received relatively positive responses from the art world could have been because it metaphorically adopted the language of contemporary art and claimed to be “art.”
Radiation Jewelry, 2010
Although Song’s work addresses the issues of the society and the world, it does not try to deliver direct messages. The Radiation Jewelry - Uranium Necklace2) (2010) that began somewhat like a joke also evinces this characteristic. He thought if people could taste death before committing suicide, the suicide rate might be reduced–this was the reason he created the Uranium Necklace. Therefore, he ordered rough uranium from the Amazon website and made a necklace out of it through a systematic process. Then he uploaded it to eBay for sales with the pricing of 1,000,000 USD, and observed the reaction from people. What is important here is not the “uranium necklace” as a piece of art (object) but the various issues pertaining to the project. The process of purchasing rough uranium, the meaning of tasting death before one dies, systems and structures he came across while carrying out the project and how he addresses them through his work–these are what make his project a meaningful work and not a mere joke or hoax. Moreover, the fact he does not show off new, flashy technique in his work (although he is capable of it) makes his work all the more interesting. In fact, the power of his work lies in the unexpected imagination and questions brought about by a work disguised as “art.” These are questions that give a twist in the prevailing culture
2 http://hhjjj.com/work/ radjewelry/radjewelry. html
and technology in the consumer society. This clearly points out that the aim of media art is not confined to technology–this is what Song pursues and also the reason for us to think about media art once again. Song Hojun has become quite a celebrity today. It may not be an exaggeration to say that he is the most well-known media artist who gained public popularity in such a short period of time since Nam June Paik. Of course, in the meantime, there has been much misunderstanding, misinterpretation and mislabeling that has distorted Song’s original intention. As his popularity grew, having earned the epithets such as “a preacher of dream and hope,” or “a young man who is determined to achieve what he pursues against the odds,” the original story he wanted to address through the OSSI has been diluted. Moreover, people were quite at a loss how to perceive this artist who actually constructed a satellite and launched it into space. It seemed more appropriate to call him a scientist or an eccentric genius. Precisely for this reason, the art world still hesitated to call Song an “artist,” and label his work “media art.” However, for Song, the title “artist” was an effective detour to question and solve issues about media art and art (world), and to communicate with the audience. The cube measuring ten centimeters in width, length, and height and weighing one kilogram–in order to create this tiny satellite he spent five years and the enormous fund that amounts more than two hundred million Korean won. Its beginning was simple. While working in satellite manufacturing, Song became interested in creating his own version and to actually launch it. He became curious how an individual can carry out a satellite project that is usually run by a country or an institution. The rental cost of a rocket was estimated about one hundred million won. It was, (according to him) cheaper than he expected. Henceforth began this outrageous project. As in a movie, he rented a rocket from NovaNano, a French company that provides service for satellite launching–an unrealistic story has now become a reality. The fact that an individual succeeded in launching a satellite using open source does not stop at a success story of an individual, which is why it is worthwhile to pay attention to the OSSI. Structures, systems, authorities and other various problems that Song faced as the project progressed, and the discourses formulated in order to solve these problems address the issues that had not yet been dealt with in previous interactive media art works. For this reason, it
would be necessary to view the OSSI as an example of a successful media art project, not as a scientific, technological project. First, the OSSI questions the space and cutting-edge (or extreme) technologies that were never doubted before. To whom does space belong to, what is the purpose of constructing a satellite, what is the process of launching an object to space, and furthermore, who owns these cutting-edge technologies? If the story of Song Hojun, an “artist” who constructed his own satellite and launched it to space sounded absurd, this may be because of the tacit agreement that such technology cannot be realized by an individual, and the idea that space is not something that can be owned by us. Although the most advanced scientific technology is controlled by the government or state institutions, we are hardly aware of this fact since it is often concealed. The OSSI questions our preconception and creates a crack in it. Moreover, the artist’s plan to sell ten thousand t-shirts to secure the rocket rental fee of a hundred million Korean won suggests that government-led technology and project do not belong to an individual but are something that can be shared by many unspecified persons. In fact, Song’s satellite was created through the knowledge and technology he collected from the Internet and academic conferences on satellites in Korea and abroad. From research to realization, many people supported him and many “lay” professionals shared technology and information with him. What initially seemed impossible became possible through this process. Support and encouragement of many people hidden behind his success story (?) may be in fact the protagonist of this exhilarating experiment. As Song’s motto, “Science is Fantasy” suggests, there are many other issues related to the OSSI project: the relationship between numerous illusions surrounding science and technology and government power, the ambiguous aura surrounding art, the tacit, exclusive systems for the art world, and so on. There are many incidents surrounding materials Song has accumulated during the past five years of working on the OSSI and people he met in that process. Song showed these materials from the preparation process of the OSSI in a series of small and large exhibitions. In the exhibition Galapagos (2013) at the Ilmin Museum of Art he presented some parts of video works produced up to that time, and in Labour of Love, Revisited (2011) at the Arko Art Center, materials that were actually used for construction of his
In front of the Soyuz Rocket, 2013
Impossible is Expensive, 2013
satellite were displayed. Song also openly shared various technical information including a manual book through his website, and explained the reason why he began the OSSI project through various seminars and public talks. Regrettably, however, once the satellite was actually launched, the story of all these processes disappeared, leaving him the “eccentric person who launched his own satellite.” However, if Song should develop the OSSI project into something more than just an event that once attracted some public attention, further steps from now on are more important. Of course, the OSSI is not a manual book for individuals who want to launch their own satellites, and therefore there is no obligation for him to summarize the enormous data of four terabytes or to produce a documentary on a grand adventure of launching a satellite. Rather, he should ponder what messages can be read and what other issues can arise from this long-term project that lasted for five years. He has to think about what kind of new questions can be raised at this point. Now Song Hojun is positioned in the center of the boring art world that he had always complained about. Not as a scientist, but in his “artist” cosplay, he can amplify the common notion of art and the estrangement between art and reality in a cheerful way, creating a creative fissure. The story of Song Hojun, the artist in the artist cosplay, who launched his own satellite, is nothing more than an episode. It is time that he should begin to unfold his story in earnest. Therefore, April 19 2013 should be remembered as the day when the OSSI project as “art” finally began, not as the day when the OSSI was completed.
Song Hojun (b.1978- ) Song Hojunâ€™s work is about making narratives and bringing questions by making absurd objects like radiation jewelry and the strongest weapon in the world. Recently he launched his own small satellite. His satellite project encompasses from hard core engineering to T shirts selling. By showing a series of works and their processes, Song Hojun likes to question some of conventional thoughts on art, design and science and eventually, he shows how to link those to our daily issues.
Nathalie Boseul SHIN (Chief Curator at Total Museum of Contemporary Art) Nathalie Boseul SHIN is a chief curator of Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul. She studied philosophy at Ewha Womanâ€™s University and aesthetics at Hongik University (M.A). Currently, she is a Ph.D candidate in Hongik University. Since 1997, she has developed her curatorial career in Korea, engaging various exhibition plannings and art projects. In 2002, she started to work with an expertise of media art after working for Art center nabi. Further, she furthered her experience at Seoul International Media Art Biennale 2004 by leading exhibition team as a manager. And then, She curated a series of exhibitions including Eujeongbu Digital Art Festival: News after the News (Dan Perjovschi), Postcapical Archive: 1989-2001 (Daniel G. Andujar), Danish Video Art Exhibition Subtle Whispering, etc. Since 2010, she has been organizing various annual international projects such as Roadshow, Playground in island (Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia), the show must go on.
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