Features / Focus

Media Art, the Door to Multi-Worlds: Media Artists

posted 17 May 2021

Bae Uri(Monthly Art Journalist)

The Korea Creative Content Agency unveiled its blueprint for nurturing ‘untact (non-face-to-face)’ immersive content at the ‘2021 Supporting Projects Fair’ that was held online on January 25. The total budget to support projects this year is KRW 484.2 billion, which is KRW 54.4 billion or approximately 12.6% more than last year. The plan aims to nurture and promote Korea’s content industry into one of the nation’s main industries, setting ‘three initiatives for the content industry’ and ‘digital new deal growth strategy’ as policy directions for 2019 and 2020, respectively.

This energy immediately spread throughout the art world through the streets of the city and at immersive exhibitions. Examples include 〈WAVE〉 by D'strict as well as intuitive pieces such as 〈teamLab: LIFE〉 and 〈Bunker de Lumières〉. Since the 1990s, media art became a general genre of art with continued various support from different organizations and activities, but it was not a genre enjoyed by the majority. It has now, however, become a part of our lives following the recent development in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies as well as the commercialization of 5G and the rapid advancement of the so-called ‘untact’ culture. Encountering artists not at galleries, but at the surface of cities will change the paradigm of ‘publicness’ art has contemplated for long. This world, which seems to be here so suddenly, was foreseen. Media artists and those involved already foresaw the multi-world and projected a layered world with the illusion of nonsubstance. It is no exaggeration to say that the particles they created one by one built our today.

In the March edition of 《Monthly Art》, we met with media artists and urban media art. Now, all we need to do is to pass through the door of intuition that they have opened. There may be several doors, but the world beyond these doors will be closer to a world where we do not get overwhelmed in the tsunami of consumption and instead, row our own boats.

Kang Yiyun

Kang Yiyun obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Seoul National University, a master’s in design and media art from UCLA, and her doctorate from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London. She currently teaches at the RCA as a visiting lecturer. Kang’s career includes Changdong Residency at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, SeMA Nanji Residency at the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA), and a Digital Art Residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in the UK. The artist held exhibits at the V&A, Venice Biennale of Architecture, Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism / Architecture, Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, Ilmin Museum of Art, SeMA, and Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). Kang won a Red Dot Design Award for 〈Deep Surface〉, commissioned by Max Mara. yiyunkang.com

For Moving People

왼쪽 〈Drawing Social Bubble - 슬기로운 공간생활〉 인터랙티브 설치 가변설치 2020. 오른쪽 빅토리아 앨버트 박물관 캐스트코트에 설치된 〈CASTING〉. 장소 특정적 프로젝션 매핑 설치 가변크기 10분 2016. 사진제공 월간미술.

LEFT 〈Drawing Social Bubble - Wise Space Life〉 Interactive installation dimensions variable 2020. RIGHT〈CASTING〉 Installed at the Cast Courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Location specific projection mapping installation variable 10minutes 2015. Image provided by Monthly Art.

The speed of research led by academia cannot catch up with the speed of the development of technologies and software. In the three years she spent writing her doctoral dissertation on projection mapping and spatiality, the practice of media art advanced further, artist Kang says. Maybe that is why media art was not caught for a long time. It does not mean that media art is something new. For example, the artist’s specialty, projection mapping, was already experimented with in the 1930s in the form of film projection. Kang Yiyun feels that there has been some misunderstanding around projection mapping, not being accepted as contemporary art, because it requires a lot of collaboration due to the nature of the medium and because the platform of showcasing works is not “the art world.” Of course, there are also mistakes made by media artists - talking only about the technology. Kang does not put forth the technology side of her work up front and creates pieces that do not require an explanation. Regardless of knowledge, gender, and age, anyone can easily understand and experience the artist’s works. One example is Kang’s 〈Drawing Social Bubble〉 showcased at the Art & Tech platform of Arts Council Korea. Visitors can intuitively move around the work, occupy the floor, bump into others, sensing from time to time the present situation with an order to stay apart. This piece will be available in September at Paradise City, Incheon, once more. Not at an exhibition hall, but along a corridor.

The artist’s talent in transforming an entire space into an immersive VR world is amazing, but her anecdote around 〈Casting〉 (2016) displayed at the Cast Courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum is also interesting. The Cast Courts, which opened in 1873, house a collection of reproductions of the world’s sculptures and buildings for educational purposes. Pieces that were almost destroyed because they are not originals, but copies, now replace the originals that were ravaged during the two World Wars. Kang, who was already working between the real and the illusion, could not, of course, just pass this space by. She persuaded conservative museum officials for three to four months and finally casted the large sculptures with light. Not light, but shadow repeatedly created the cracks of the sculptures, dismantled them, and built them back up again, creating an aura of illusion that distinguishes the real from the fake, the surface, and the depth. The piece became a permanent collection on the first day of projection mapping. The really interesting part came next. The museum curator created a new ‘projection mapping’ category in the museum’s collection list, archived all digital renderings, digital drawings, real drawings, and mockups, and even opened a projection mapping workshop to install the pieces themselves. It is a notable attitude and environment.

Kang, who predicts that LED monitors, which deliver the highest resolution, will be replaced by another medium in 5 years, shares her curiosity of the near future where the physical world and the media environment will coexist. Whether it is unfortunate or fortunate, the artist will help us recover our active cognitive ability until the day only our heads remain to absorb commercial advertisement and nourishment.

Kimchi and Chips

Kimchi and Chips is an art studio founded by two artists - Son Mimi, who studied digital art at Middlesex University London and interaction design and design research at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID), and Elliot Woods, who studied physics at the University of Manchester. They create synesthetic large-scale installations that the materiality of materials and the non-materiality of light create under the concept of ‘drawing in air’, while at the same time, pursue activities to help the expression of and collaboration among art and technology, and culture and society in various perspectives. The two artists participated in exhibitions at ZKM, KPH Volume in Denmark Copenhagen, and the Times Art Museum in Beijing. Their work 〈Light Barrier Third Edition〉 commissioned by the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, Korea, won the Prix Ars Electronica’s Award of Distinction (2017) and Media Architecture Biennale Winner of Media Art. kimchiandchips.com

Intuitions We Briefly Meet through Light

 위 〈LIGHT BARRIER THIRD EDITION〉 오목거울, 프로젝션, 연무, 스캐닝 1400×800×600cm 2016 광주 국립아시아문화전당 설치 전경. 사진제공 월간미술.

〈LIGHT BARRIER THIRD EDITION〉 Concave mirrors, projection, haze, scanning, 1400×800×600cm 2016. Installation at Asia Culture Center, Gwangju. Image provided by Monthly Art.

Son Mimi, who studied interaction design, and Elliot Woods with a degree in physics founded the Seoul-based studio Kimchi and Chips in 2009 focusing on media art. Inspiration brought on by media art must be a big part, but the various events, research, and presentations by Kimchi and Chips seem to be the driving force behind the team. While leading discussions on contemporary media art hosting ‘Media Art Kitchen’, Son directed the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture’s first ‘Da Vinci Creative’ (2014), while Woods directed ‘UNFOLLOW Festival’ (2019, Paju) for avant-garde techno and electronica music. Recently, Kimchi and Chips hosts a series of dialogues themed the Pacific, moon, brain, and air, gathering examples of contemporary media artworks, on ‘Clubhouse’. The studio archives and publishes live notes so that participants can continue their research even after the discussions.

Showing with light is a new way of questioning the real and the material. 〈Light Barrier〉 creates large-scale images in the air using light reflected off mirrors, recomposing the chaos and ambiguity made by material and non-material, real and virtual, being and absence. The installation uses computer vision, VR, projection mapping, and machine learning. Identifying light beams flowing in the air and bringing them together to a designated spot requires Kimchi and Chips’ computer vision. The audience can enjoy the banquet of lights that rebuilds the space without an understanding of these technologies. Anyone who wishes to learn more can find out about the technologies they use via the work process Kimchi and Chips shares or the online open-source platform. Sharing to contribute to practicing social value is also the driving force behind their ambitious works that require a huge amount of capital. The most recent piece they are working on requires two large precision optical mirrors and an optics company gave them an estimate of USD 10 million. Because this is a ridiculously high price for artists hoping to use them in their work, they have decided to take a different route, focusing on making the mirror within the strict scope of allowable error by talking to a community building astronomical telescopes and through research.

Starting June this year, the studio’s work applying astronomical telescope-building technology and 〈Halo〉, which was unveiled in London in 2018, will be displayed at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Seoul branch. 99 robotic mirrors of 〈Halo〉 reveal a small sun, or halo, that suggests the sun above the mist. Halo emerges and disappears over and over again in the moments that the sun, the wind, the technology, and the waiting audience meet. Like some spirit that must always run away to avoid being subjected to anything, or, like the experiments and attempts of Kimchi and Chips.

Lee Yeseung

Lee Yeseung graduated from Ewha Womans University majoring in Korean painting and obtained master’s degrees at Ewha Womans University graduate school and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The artist held many solo exhibitions, including 〈Ars Electronica Global Project: Variable Scape〉 (2019, Hyundai Motor Studio), 〈Movement in Movement, Movement in Silence〉 (2016, Artside Gallery), 〈Moving Movements〉 (2015, Gallery Chosun), 〈The Green Cabinet〉 (2014, Boan 1942), and 〈CAVE into the Cave〉 (2013, 523KUNSTDOC). She also took part in several media art special exhibitions. Lee currently works as a researcher at Hyundai Motors ZER01NE Center Z-lab, continuously unveiling pieces using art content convergence, including AR, IoT, and projection mapping. yeseunglee.net

Contemporary Oriental Painting

위 보안여관 개인전 설치 광경 〈the Green Cabinet(초록 캐비넷)〉 듀랄리움 아크 스크린, 마이크로 컨트롤러, 디밍 라이트, 20채널 영상, 20채널 사운드 설치 가변크기 2014. 사진제공 월간미술.

Boan 1942 Solo exhibition installation 〈The Green Cabinet〉 Duralumin circle screen,micro-controller, dimming lights, 20-channel video, 20-channel sound installation dimensions variable 2014. Image provided by Monthly Art.

There are times when people are mischievous based on their view and understanding, and it was no exception to artist Lee Yeseung, who studied Korean painting and pursued media art. Many wondered how she started with Korean painting and ended up in media art, and why she worked in front of a computer instead of holding a brush. All she could do was to find an answer, one that she herself could accept, on the relation between Korean painting and media art. Multi-view perspective. There is a lack of understanding that Korean painting majors mostly paint flat with bad composition. Being used to multi-view perspective, however, means that you are not only free with X and Y axes, but also on a ‘Z-axis’. Before moving to the new medium, the artist already built layered screens, frames one can look from several perspectives, and drew paintings big enough she needed a ladder. Perspectives of oriental painting, overlap of translucent screens, the motility of scroll painting, and a disposition of an early adapter led the artist to the medium of screen. In no time, it seemed like paintings of precious vessels and flowering plants or landscapes had been moved to the spaces she created, and the audience enjoyed the artist’s work from various points of views and perspectives.

Media art may have needed time to ripen. The era of the kind of media art that delivered flashy technology has passed. In fact, Lee felt that her work before her exhibition at Boan 1942 in 2014 was those of a learning period. It may seem like media artworks are created based on accurate calculations, but they require repeated practice much like brush strokes. After a certain amount time, the artist became bolder in reflecting Eastern philosophy in her circulating circle screens or layers. Lee’s recent piece 〈Variable Scape〉 brought in Pangu myth and created a system that works by connecting bulbs, speakers, screens, and objects. Various perspectives change depending on where they are located within the space the artwork dominates, and by what medium they are sensed. A mixture of experiences without linear narrative mirrors the experience of understanding the world in fragments. While walking between the objects the artist arranged, we become aware that our bodies sense the world along with machines.

Lee Yeseung also actively utilizes AR, which allows the audience to imagine both being and absence. This event that enables audience to encounter images that were not there via QR codes suggests that enjoying art will become more accessible. It is the golden days of media art. We live in a time where electronic advertising boards flash and daze our eyes. The problem is ‘how is it going to remain as art’. Lee differentiates her work by building on her observations of spaces and thinking. She even intentionally made objects of antiquity move slowly across the COEX digital billboard.
Popular trend may become a cliché one day, but in the journey, our understanding of media art will enhance. And the artist believes there will be a media artwork with an aura that will move our hearts.

Lee Leenam

Lee Leenam has a BA in sculpture and master’s in fine arts from Chosun University. The artist then completed a doctoral course in Yonsei University Graduate School of Communication & Arts and obtained a PhD in Arts from Chosun University. Lee held many solo exhibitions and more than 800 group exhibitions in Germany, China, Qatar, New York, Singapore, and Paris, showcasing his journey pursuing eternal value through media installations and videos. Lee also unveiled projection mapping works at the Gwangju Biennale Art Gwangju and the opening ceremony of Universiade Gwangju. He received many awards, including the 22nd Fine Art Award in 2010, the 3rd Nanjing International Art Festival Outstanding Artist Award in 2017, the 7th Seoul Good Lighting Award in Media Facade Content category in 2018, and Art Korea TV 2020 Artist of the Year award in video category. leeleenam.comm

Commemorating Light with Light

위 빅토리아 앨버트 박물관 캐스트코트에 설치된 〈CASTING〉. 장소 특정적 프로젝션 매핑 설치 가변크기 10분 2016. 사진제공 월간미술.

Lee Leenam 〈Museum-Reborn Light〉 LED screen 350×3500cm 12 minutes 7 seconds. Image provided by Monthly Art.

Artist Lee Leenam is a brand. There is a slight sense of being detached from contemporary art dialogue maybe because his works exist deep in our lives, or because of the artist’s small hope of asking for only ‘to see’, but his works always guide us to the path of contemplation and deep thinking. His works are easily found at special exhibitions of various fields, whether it is oriental painting or media art, as well as in everyday spaces such as the opening ceremonies of various international competitions, the streets, or the National Library of Korea. Thanks to the nature of media art, being unrestricted of time or place, passersby (like at the Gwangju tollgate) become audience encountering Lee’s works at unexpected places.

Lee’s pieces, which developed through private conversations with great artists of the East and the West, are once again evolving in the face of the placeness and history of where his works are installed. 〈Park Yeon Waterfall〉 was reborn into an artwork displaying Posco’s citizen’s charter at Posco Center in 2020. The artist named the red and white colored waterfall piece, 〈Four Seasons of Steel〉, inspired by steel casting. Collaboration accompanies an extremely difficult journey, but the artist never turns down the opportunity so long as it can reflect the keywords win-win and coexistence. In the end of March, the artist will unveil a media facade that is 325m wide and 16m high in Henan province, China, based on the region’s legacy, 〈A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains (Qianli Jiangshan Tu)〉 and 〈Along the River During the Qingming Festival (Qingming Shanghe Tu)〉. At night, audience can enjoy the 60,000 screens of layered projection from the seats connected to a huge wheat field. The classic images the artist repeatedly demonstrates, and the series of layers made by those images connect different times and places and capture what fades away. In the process, Lee captures the slightly far away ideal of “eternal value”. It is why his work shines brighter in the images of classic paintings he appropriates in is work.

To make his work more accessible, Lee opened a coffee shop/gallery at his studio that opened in Yangnim-dong, Gwangju in November 2020. When the exterior media facade and exhibition hall is completed, visitors will be able to enjoy his pieces wandering around the entire space. At the beginning of entering an era of ‘untact’ and the end of the era of ‘face-to-face’, the coffee shop, which has immersive videos that move slowly, may seem out of date but may change the space into a space of the still very valid act of ‘meditation’.

Lee Leenam has been collaborating with MR. MEDIA LAB’s AI team for the past three years. Instead of simply using AI as a technology, they are studying the perspectives on AI that are moral and of an Oriental way of thinking. So, the artist may be able to answer the journalist’s stubborn question, “how can we compete with the flood of digitally reproduced images” through his work that will enable the audience to intuitively experience the providence of nature and the universe.

Choi Chansook

Choi Chansook received her Diplom and master’s at Universität der Künste Berlin. After her first encounter with the audience in Korea through a young artist support program by Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture in 2010, she held solo exhibitions at Sungkok Art Museum, the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, Art Sonje Center, and Digital Art Center Taipei, and displayed her work at Kunsthal Aarhus in Denmark, Ars Electronica, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, among others. She received the Grand Prize at the international media art competition hosted by Bibliart and the Pergamonmuseum in 2008, was selected for the Elsa Neumann scholarship for up-and-coming artists by the City of Berlin in 2009, as well as Visual Artist of the Year by the Dr.-Otto-und-Ilse-Augustin-Stiftung Foundation hosted by the City Museum in Berlin in 2017. chansookchoi.com

Round and Round, and at Every Twist and Turn

왼쪽 〈음양수화〉(2017) 베를린 훔볼트포럼 미디어파사드 전경. 사진: Gaspar Betta. 사진제공 월간미술. 오른쪽 〈양지리〉 멀티미디어 설치, 사진, 사운드, 모형, 텍스트, 비디오 매핑 가변크기 2019 〈DMZ〉 문화역서울284 전시 전경. 사진: 김재범. 사진제공 월간미술.

LEFT 〈Yin Yang Su Wha〉(2017) Berlin Humboldt Forum media facade. photography by Gaspar Betta. RIGHT 〈Yangjiri〉 Multi-media installation, photograph, sound, model, text, video mapping, dimensions variable, 2019 〈DMZ〉 Culture Station Seoul 284 exhibition. Photography by KIm Jaebum. Image provided by Monthly Art.

The artist began media art because of the school she went to for one class that put on an exhibition on the screens of subway stations. The appeal of media art to the artist was ‘scalability’. Media facade, especially, is all the more appealing due to the fact that it can be displayed large-scale in urban setting. Choi fortunately projected her work 〈Yin Yang Su Wha〉 at the Humboldt Forum, the building she had picked to one day present a media facade on the first time she arrived at Berlin, in less than a decade. Last year, she applied for ‘Seollo Media Canvas’. Choi wanted to display the somewhat shocking scene of when parents of children with special needs fell to their knees at an open debate on building a special needs school in Gangseo-gu, Seoul, at the center of Seoul’s most expensive land. And Seollo Media Canvas was the perfect location. You don’t know who sees them, but facades are definitely a good medium to loudly penetrate the hard ground. The artist keeps what she wants to say around her waist, round and round, and ‘poof’ suddenly shows her message at every twist and turn when she’s found a perfect location. Her works transform to fit the different locations. 〈Black Air〉 was first unveiled at the ‘Vision Hall’ in Hyundai Motors’ Mabuk campus as a nominee of the 3rd VH Award in 2019. It was then displayed on the screen of Ars Electronica, then as a two-channel installation in Berlin, and the most recent small monitor.

Choi continues to express her feel of the land of Yangjiri, a village located north of the Civilian Control Line between the South and North Korea. Not in a safe and calm way, but the opposite. It is because the existence of land has become an object of possession, not a subject of communion and coexistence. The otherness sparked from the subject of migrant women is naturally passed onto land. The large deserted red land, mined for copper, and with multinational radio telescopes installed for meteorological observation shown in 〈Black Air〉 float and scatter, and in the end, move into the black, empty space. The artist shows land that is not objectified and cannot be caught.

Land. It has not been so long that humans began splitting boundaries and possessing land. This concept of possession has recently moved onto the virtual world. Possession in the non-material virtual world becoming more distinct - this is the ‘funny’ subject the artist, who is already used to moving from places to places around the world and from screens onto other screens, would like to address. The content on land that is ungraspable move as non-material data, transplanted onto various screens. On land that coincides with the virtual, and on the surface of the city, the artist overlaps shadows to express new landscape or region. In a way that does not occupy any space.

※ This column is published in the March 2021 edition of Monthly Art, posted by Korea Arts Management Service under a content agreement with Monthly Art.

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