History of Kunst Doc
22 JUNE - 05 JULY 2012
Kunst Doc, SEOUL
Immeasurable Multiplication of Emptiness
It was a French writer, philosopher, and literary theorist Maurice Blanchot, whose speculation could be seen as multi-dimensional. In his
unique speculation regarding existence, he has delivered a poetic ideology in the form of abstract language that drives from the abyss. His last
fiction ‘L’Attente L’Oubli’ (Awaiting Oblivion) is a love story of a man and a woman. In this romantic narrative, one is in wait while the other
escapes to forget. Important are the ambivalent emotions that balance both towards the edge. The one in wait remains in a state of illusion
seeing the other existence approaching. Yet for the one to forget the other exists only as an abstract existence in his or hers fading memory.
Blanchot states that oblivion is not about erasing memory but is making memory abstract.
“Do you see me?”
“Naturally, I see you.”
“That is precious little; everyone can see me.”
“But perhaps not as I see you.”
“(…) would you know how to see me even if you were unable to see me?”
Maurice Blanchot, Awaiting Oblivion (2009)
Would you know how to see me even if you were unable to see me?
The space at Kunst Doc Gallery is empty. There are no pictures. Only some papers are installed on a large wall. Yet, as I come closer to this wall, I realize that it is an ‘image’ of the wall. From a distant view, ‘it’ was unidentifiable, but then it becomes a photographic ‘image’, which consists of every detail of the wall itself. This unidentifiable object could be described as non-existent. The paper installed on the gallery wall creates coordinates between the ‘image’ and ‘it’self. What are the processes that trigger me to raise these questions?
The artist has photographed sections of the wall; to highlight all the details on the surface of the wall, he printed them in matt inkjet paper and installed these images over the same place, which he photographed before. Of the four walls in the ground floor gallery the artist displayed only two works. Each work installed in the same location where the photographs were first taken. Is the existence of the wall been replaced by an image? If so, is this existence hidden? Is it now impossible for the viewer to see the existence of the wall? A viewer can be confused at his first encounter, as it is difficult to guess and imagine the existing wall behind it; besides, it is made difficult to understand what the viewer is supposed to actually see. Would the viewer remember leaving the room without actually seeing anything? Responses could vary. The viewer enters to see nothing but might see everything: - just as Blanchot’s fictional lovers are in a constant state of confusion.
Lovers always live in a sense of urgency, not seeing each other objectively. Living in anxiety, even though him or her see each other smiling in proximity. It is no difference whether him or her is seeing or not seeing, because they are seeing yet not seeing; not seeing yet seeing. The outside/inside, representation/content, seeing/meaning repeats its communication and discontinuance. The relationship the viewer experiences between existence and image behaves similarly to the confusion between Blanchot’s fictional lovers. They are not separable but not always inseparable. Then, what are we seeing in reality? Are we seeing existence itself? Or are we seeing only an image?
'History of Kunst Doc' is not an exhibition interested in the history of the gallery. From Kwon’s perspective, history signifies memory. However, memory in this case is closer to oblivion, which becomes a shadow of memory or an abstract shape of memory. Kwon discovered the surface of walls some years ago. This sudden awareness, which arrived accidentally, and was so spontaneous, that contrary to previous experiences, this was specific and evidential. It became a metaphor for the apparent and invisible. Walls are un-noticed by most, even though the wall preserves and emphasizes past activities; its scars can carry the beauty and ugliness of a surface of a planet and form a memory landscape. The wall needs to be seen with closer introspection. But, do ‘I’ exist only when I am seen by somebody? In order for it to be formulated, the eyes of the others are required. It could be that I exist only in the presence of someone who sees me. The wall remembers all events at Kunst Doc but is submerged in a state of oblivion. Kwon uncovers this history inside the space in an attempt to bring to light the records inscribed on the surface of its walls, which we have become oblivious of. The surface of the Kunst Doc gallery walls preserves the traces of time covered in numerous stains of paint and nails. These wounds are now oblivious, being left behind after the presence of the artworks has been removed. Kwon’s gaze reveals this existence, which describes seeing but not seeing. The wall in its symbolic meaning becomes a background of the sacred and absolute idea, and consequently survives as a support of the past. Art requires space. An empty gallery space with no exhibition, feels like an abandoned house, a space devoid of personality. A space that lacks existence becomes a place of oblivion. Blanchot’s conclusions imply that non-personalized memory is a memory of commonality, abstract memory does not instruct particular events well. Kwon’s images of walls are not merely a representation of the actual surface, but more specifically is a hyper-real and exuberant representation. Kwon’s images are representations of the fine traces that record texture, shadows and smudge in such an elaborate way than would be perceived in reality. The image comprises the death of existence but simultaneously generates another life.
“The one who, forgetting, is effaced from us in this forgetting also effaces in us the personal ability to remember; then the impersonal remembrance is awakened, the personless remembrance that takes the place of forgetting for us.”
Maurice Blanchot, Awaiting Oblivion (2009)
Uprising of the detail
“The actual experience in life, as a whole, could not be archived, since it consists of fine details which to our experience are not conveyed nor could be conveyed”
Daniel Arasse, Le Détail. Pour une histoire rapprochée de la peinture
Kwon’s photographic image consistently interrogates the ambiguity of existence. Is it here and present? Does the object I am now seeing actually exist here? His questions examine this existence analytically by the use of photographic media. The visual perception of the first cubist artists, emerged from their attitude to refuse to work with perspective illusion, they discovered a distinct viewpoint within the object itself. The perspective cognition implied feudal spatiality which could be comprehended through the hierarchy between subject and background; closerange view and distant view. On the contrary, the cubist cognition implied a diversified vision. The objects in the picture are no more interpreted from neither perspective view nor from the front to the rear, nor from the left to the right, or vise versa. The objects only exist as they are and the hierarchy between its subjects became meaningless. However, this step was not sufficient enough. Subsequently emphasis on the position of the viewer as an active participant appeared, and replaced the solid position of the author. The so-called ‘liberated viewer’ is the neo-species who could voluntarily interpret art in their own right. They depend on their own sensation to see the picture instead of accepting it as a given meaning. On the other hand, the interest towards detail and the microscopic perception is a way to deconstruct genealogy which is connected to totalitarianism or formalism. The discovery of the detail neutralizes the authority, which suppresses freedom. Daniel Arasse, a French art historian, observes classical painting in its details. In his opinion seeing the picture in a close-range view is a way to approach the pictorial expression without understanding the meaning of the figure. Pictorial expression indicates valueless effects caused by chance from the outside of formalism. The pictorial expression, such as the stain and trace of the brush, in contrast to the figure represented by the given meaning, delivers joy of the substance itself. His questions about the existence of the real also connote a concern on the virtuality of existence. Many of these questions are of concern as well as a source to Kwon’s creation.
For Kwon, photography is an instrument that enables him to
take pictures for him, neither to capture a specific moment
nor to materialize an aesthetic image. His camera acts like an
instrument available to a surgeon who diagnoses a patient. The
processes when shooting are similar to a performance of a coroner
examining and analyzing a case. The concept of taking a picture,
for him, is to gather and collect information rather than creating
an image. Therefore, his practice is better described as scanning
The image exceeds the existence.
The relation between existence and illusion remains still a mystery,
in the same way as the eternal debate about the origin of humanity
and civilization. According to Plato’s allegory of the cave, it was
the man inside the cave who was able to understand the world by
its shadows only, mere reflections from the real world projected
inside the cave walls. This man could only perceive the world
through his own senses, reading the world from its images and
echoes only. The man inside the cave relied heavily on his senses
to interpret life. However, his circumstances change when he is
released out of the cave. In Platonic ideology, the world of light
corresponds to ‘substance’ and the world surrounding this, is
understood by ‘knowledge’. If so, did Plato accept both ‘substance’
(outside the cave) and ‘image’ (inside the cave) as part of the same
existence? The answer is no. For him, the ‘image’, which could also
be translated as illusion, carried a negative attribute because it was
false and perceived through our unstable senses. A genuine life
could only come close to truth through thinking and as a result
‘knowledge’. For the man that never escapes the cave, the only
reality is ‘image’ and therefore outside of the system of ‘knowledge’.
The man who remains inside the cave, he becomes the Homo
Sacer, a sacred but stigmatized being.
The Homo Sacer sees the world through ‘image’, always living an existence away from ‘substance’. Those who live outside of the system and still live inside of the cave understand the world by its shadows and echoes only. ‘Image’ and ‘substance’ are separated. ‘Image’ cannot become ‘substance’ such as ‘substance’ cannot become ‘image’. When ‘image’ becomes an ‘icon’, an exception maybe considered. This is based on the authority of the ‘icon’. It is therefore that ‘images’ especially in the medieval time have been treated with irreverence except for the ‘icon’, which is thought to have been introduced from the outside, a sacred message sent from the divine. Sacer, which translates to “the sacred man” in Latin, carries two meanings: the divine and divided. The divine being unattainable by man, makes the Homer Sacer a stigmatized scapegoat but also a priest or shaman who is able to translate the signs of the divine. The ‘icon’, which is image of the divine connects heaven and earth, while the Homer Sacer, his interpreter is condemned to an exile outside of the world of ‘knowledge’. The Homo Sacer never gets to exit the cave, in other words, separated forever from the world of ‘substance’. Then again, this existence itself is an illusion. Illusion being a shadow of the ‘substance’; forever only a reflection. This makes the Homo Sacer who is consumed by the ‘image’, merging into the same species as the ‘image’. When we talk of ‘sanctity’ we often associate it with a religious perspective. However, these concepts are opposite. Religion has an etymological meaning of ‘linkage’. It is a regime to link the difference in order to form a community. ‘Sanctity’, when discussed in religious terms, is visualized by the peak of faith; therefore also implies a meaning of separation, which could be understood as isolation. While ‘substance’ signifies rationality, authority, order and truth, the world of ‘image’ signifies irrationality, sensitivity, disorder, chaos and falsity.
The questions raised above have also a contemporary meaning. Today, we can observe how desire become superior to its original shape and form. It can provoke that the ‘image’ generates its own life and evolve by itself. For instance, a good example is the modern obsession with a slim body. Whereby our body is no longer our property. The body becomes an image that is considered and conscious of the other’s eye. This removes our body from its own essence. It is through judgment and valuation from the others eye that one dictates changes to its own body form and shape, in an attempt to satisfy this desire. It is here that the ‘image’ in the sense as we know from the man in the cave is evolving and producing new meanings. Thus, the ‘image’ has started to evolve into a new being that exceeds its own existence.
Anxiety of Simulacre
Before Kwon has moved to London, he was working on a previous
project called ‘Hyper-Space’. The title of this project, was a concept
he borrowed from the movie ‘Starwars’ in which space time
traveling was made possible by transcending time and space. This
concept was also reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures
in Wonderland’ where characters move and transform in time and
space. Kwon’s project had two subtitles, which were ‘The Road’ and
‘Sub-’. In his series of ’The Road’, the city seems to be intoxicated;
drawn by lines made of lights, full with speed, in the darkness
of the night. His works are collaged and assembled by various
shots and angles taken in the same space. Inspired by the cubist
perspective, that was described earlier, the monistic viewpoint has
been deconstructed and transformed to reveal a multi-focused
space. The science-fiction virtual imagery deconstructs the order
of time and space. Kwon’s new interpretation of the cubist’s ideas
wants to reflect on the psychological anxieties that exist today
towards existence. In the series of ‘Sub-’, the interior space of a
subway has been altered into a virtual reality panorama. The
actual interior space of the subway train mutates several times
into a space that is disassembled and re-composed back again.
This underworld scenery references the cave mentioned earlier,
but instead is looking into the future and more reassembling the
interior of a spaceship. It’s a dark representation of man who is
expelled from nature, and essentially asks the questions if this is
what is beheld for mankind?
Going back to the essence of what is ‘image’, Kwon makes us feel that normal things can look uncanny. ‘Image’ can never really represent the true original form. Any attempt to imitate and represent ‘existence’ can be two completely different acts of interpretation. Imitation, in other words, presents two parallel ‘existences’, whereas representation adds a new existence fused with new meaning to ‘existence’. An image, which has been assigned a new meaning, will exceed the ‘existence’.
‘History of Kunst Doc’ provokes a discourse between existence and illusion; existence and its representation. An image is created and then separated from its original; therefore becomes the new representative of the ‘existence’. A flat surface of the ‘image’ can represent more accurately the ‘existence’ than the original itself. The method of approaching this concept in Kwon’s new work seems to be different from his work in the past. However, it does not differ in terms of the artist’s perspective to the world. If ‘Hyper- Space’ was an image of a materialized virtual-existence, ‘History of ’ is concerned with the ‘image’ that is created from the ‘existence’. Let us look back at Kwon’s background for a moment. He grew up in Israel, where it seems that his father who is a theologian influenced Kwon’s interest towards the origin of humanity. In addition, it seems that his enthusiasm for Science-fiction is also linked with the same reasons. The emergence and extinction of our world depicted in futuristic Science-fiction books and movies have always resembled various interpretations and annotation made in the Bible. It is also in the Christian view of the world, that man is understood as a creation based on a divine likeness, an image of ‘existence’. Kwon’s photo-installation creates this duplex perception. It makes the eye of the viewer feel anxious when he contemplates the relationship that lies between existence and virtuality, i.e. Kwon’s image substitutes and overlaps the original. However, Kwon is not assigning a meaning himself to the ‘image’; there is no subject in the image. It only signifies a specific object, the wall; there is no additional narrative that accords with the ‘image’. Instead of a narrative, the artist has made visible the appearance of ‘detail’. This abundance of ‘detail’ advices the viewer to look in a new direction: the artist calls it ‘uncanny-seeing’ rather than the practiced seeing. This ‘showing seeing’ exercise as described by W.J.T. Mitchell, is one way to accomplish the first step in the education of any new field of seeing, and that is to lift the veil of familiarity and awaken the sense of wonder in the viewer. - William J. Thomas Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? : The Lives and Loves of Images